Finding Faith 2014 - Day Seven

Friday 16 May: Rostrevor, Co Down to Buncrana, Co Donegal

For one week in May 2014, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling around Ireland to hunt down stories of faith, life and reality. Each day, she will share her journey and introduce the people she meets along the way.  

My final day begins with Lauds at 6.45 am - the first office of the day for the Benedictine Monks at Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor.  It is a beautiful way to start the day with sung Psalms, scripture readings and prayers, as well as an extended time of personal prayer in silence.  Meals here are also taken in silence and, without the distractions of wifi, this really is a haven.

I have arranged to meet Fr Mark at 8.30 am to ask about the history of the monastery and their commitment to reconciliation and unity among Christians.  Protestants and Catholics alike use the monastery as a retreat and a place of prayer.

"All those who come are to be welcomed as if they were Christ Himself," Fr Mark shares.  "But we also feel greatly enriched by those who visit us.

"By being centered on Christ, we can find ourselves and each other. We need a holy hope in Northern Ireland - hope that does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5: 1 - 5)."

From Rostrevor it is a relatively short drive to Belfast but the city provides a stark contrast to the tranquility of the monastery!  My first stop is with Susan McFarland who is leading a new church in an East Belfast housing estate.

Susan McFarland

Susan McFarland

The short, cafe-style church service which meets in an old Church of Ireland church hall has already attracted in new families from the Braniel housing estate.  One family began coming regularly and the father offered to help out with the new youth club (which is already attracting in up to 20 teenagers).  

Susan shares how one day the man came to her with "good news and bad news".  "The bad news is that I won't be able to help out with the youth club for a while," he told her.  

"But the good news is that I've decided to do an Alpha course.  I have everything but I know there is something missing in my life and I'm really searching for something."

"Of course, I didn't mind being short handed at the youth club for that reason," Susan grinned!

A short drive brings me to Willowfield Church, a thriving Church of Ireland parish at the heart of a deprived loyalist estate in East Belfast.  I'm meeting with George Newell who is the community worker for the parish and I'm immediately impressed by his passion and excitement about reaching out and into the densely-populated area surrounding his church.

George is soon sharing idea after idea, project after project… from a small beginning 11 years ago, this church has become energetically involved in addressing the needs of their community: food banks and fun days, Harley Davidson motorbikes and healing on the streets, debt advice and drop in centres… the list goes on.

I'm struck by George's description of Holy Week at Willowfield.  "We began with a real donkey on Palm Sunday followed by a fun day in the church," he says.  "On the Monday, we ran a jumble "give away" (everything from DVDs to sofas) and we reenacted Jesus turning over the tables in the temple - the give away was a demonstration of grace, something that was missing when the money-lenders and stall holders were taking advantage of the people who came to the temple in Jesus' day.  

"On the Wednesday we had an international food tasting and invited people from different backgrounds to bring a native meal.  We had 17 different countries represented and somebody explained how the last supper was for all peoples.

"On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we created a tomb outside the church and we had Roman soldiers on guard 24 hours a day complete with a fire pit until dawn on Easter day when we rolled the stone away. People were coming out to chat with the 'soldiers' even in the middle of the night!"

My last stop is in Castledawson close to Magherafelt in Co Londonderry.  This meeting was only arranged two hours earlier.  I sit down for a coffee with Andy Carroll, who like the folks in Kilkenny, is planning a special even with South African speaker Angus Buchan in June.  

Andy is brimming with joy as he shares how God has opened the doors for a small group to run two days of meetings in Magherafelt town centre on June 12 and 13.  (Find out more at www.healingtheland.co.uk).

I'm struck by Andy's passion for God.  He shares how in 2005 he became frustrated with the endless round of church meetings.  "I began to seek God every night and then after three months I had an encounter - a bit like Jacob wrestling with God - that changed me forever," he says.  "From that point on I felt a desperation to draw near to God but also a desire to take God into the community."

Giving out 10 hampers one Christmas was an incredible experience as Andy connected with people in desperate need.  He tells story after story of individual lives touched and changed.  

Glenshane Pass, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Glenshane Pass, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland

We part with a prayer and I climb into my car for the final drive of the Finding Faith tour… home to Amazing Grace Country and my lovely husband who has cooked dinner for me!