The inspiring story of one of Dublin’s newest churches
By Ruth Garvey-Williams
(From the July - September 2019 issue of VOX)
On a run-down industrial estate in Glasnevin, Dublin 11, a remarkable faith story has been unfolding over the last 12 months.
Across Dublin, there are several large and thriving Romanian congregations. But like many immigrant populations, they face a serious challenge when it comes to the second generation of “new Irish”.
Caught between two cultures, young people with Romanian parents who have grown up in Ireland and attended Irish schools feel they don’t entirely fit in either world. The same is true in church (many congregations are 100% Irish or 100% Romanian in language, style and traditions). “We were not able to find a church where we felt accepted for the combination of everything that we are,” one young person explained.
Recognising the problem, a group of young leaders began to pray and to dream of a new congregation to meet the needs of these young people and to provide a safe haven for those who are wrestling to find their identity.
With the full support, blessing and encouragement of three visionary church elders, these young leaders established Peniel Church and began to look around for a building where they could meet.
“I’m incredibly grateful that the elders realised the problem. They knew that we needed to do things a little differently. A lot of people are afraid of the unknown but our leaders are okay to walk in faith. They are just supporting us,” Debbie explained.
Rather than appoint a pastor as sole leader of the new church, the young adults formed a leadership team with each person playing their part. “God is truly amazing. He works in people’s lives separately and then puts them together and it just becomes a big masterpiece,” said Rebecca. “It is taking shape now with all of us coming into Peniel and working together for God.”
“In some churches, it seems as if one leader is like a pillar supporting the whole structure - this leads to burnout for the leader. Here it is more like scaffolding. We are all supporting each other. Even if one part is broken, the others can be a support,” explained Sammy.
Finding a derelict warehouse in Dublin Industrial Estate, Glasnevin, the team began with the tough task of convincing the owner to take a chance on some “weird” Romanians with big dreams. Eventually they were able to secure a 10-year lease and began work on renovations.
“The building was a complete mess,” Debbie explained. “There were no windows and no ceiling. A lot of people in our community are builders and everyone pitched in. We saw miracles every single day. People would come in and say, ‘I heard this is a church, what do you need help with?’”
One person turned up with a donation of €10,000 while others took time off work and donated their labour for free. When the windows needed to be put in, so many people turned up to help that they accomplished the task in a single day!
“Today we owe nothing on this building. Everything we needed was donated,” Debbie said.
Turning up at a carpet warehouse, they asked whether the owner had any carpet on sale. “I’ve been keeping a roll of carpet in my warehouse because nobody wants to buy it. I’ll give it to you cheap if it fits,” he said. When they went to fit the carpet, it was a perfect fit for the new sanctuary - that single roll of carpet was the exact size that was required. The salesman couldn’t believe it!
“God is definitely moving. He is doing something. We don’t yet know what. Everybody feels something is going to happen, just watch this space!” Debbie smiled. “We are a bunch of broken people but we are making it work.”
David (Debbie’s husband) added, “I think God has great plans for this generation and for the next generation. All it needs is a bit of faith to step into something new, trusting that God will take care of everything. And then, every day becomes a blessing!”
From One Generation to the Next
In January 2019, there was standing-room only in the sanctuary for the first Sunday morning meeting of Peniel Church. Supported by the elders, the young leaders are ministering to a large and thriving youth group of (mainly) Romanian-Irish young people.
“It feels like I can help the youth with what God has taught me and with all that I’ve been through. I can tell them how God has helped me,” explained 26-year-old Rebecca.
Tabitha’s ministry is in hospitality as part of the welcome team in the church. “This feels like a home,” she smiled. “We finally belong. The church wasn’t meant to stop within its walls and that is what we are trying to achieve here. We are discovering a new way to walk with the Lord!”
Bogdan is part of the worship team. “I decided to learn to play the guitar because I thought nobody knows when the church will need a guy who plays the guitar. God was preparing me. When God said, ‘Now is the moment,’ I was so stressed but at the same time I was really happy [to use my gift].”
The church has implemented a “big brother, big sister” mentoring programme to support each individual and ensure that people are cared for. Miriam, who is 18, remembers how she felt in a previous youth group, where she was desperate to be liked. “As a youth leader myself, I want to extend to people the love that I wish I had found when I was younger. I want to help them find a relationship with God.”
“I’ve realised that the young people are like copies of us,” Sammy explained. “They take us as their role models. The gospel is spread not only through hearing but most powerfully through our lives. If I show my love by helping people, that will encourage others to do the same.”
Tabitha recalls planning a programme for International Women’s Day but at 10pm the night before, God challenged her, “You are teaching the girls that their worth is in themselves, but they need to know that their worth and their value is in Me.” Tabitha worked through the night to change the programme, sharing examples such as Elizabeth Elliot and Corrie ten Boom. “We wanted the girls to know that their worth is in Christ and that God calls women to a greater purpose. It got really emotional. Everyone started crying. It was a beautiful mess!”
John, one of the church elders, sat watching and listening as the younger leaders shared their passion and vision. Instead of being threatened by their enthusiasm, he has found a deep sense of joy in releasing them, ““You know when I have the best relationship with God?” he asked. “It is when I see other people spread their wings and fly!”