Saturday 23 May: Co Roscommon to Dublin via Tullamore, Co Offaly
For seven days, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams and her husband Andrew are travelling around the island asking, "What is God doing in Ireland today?" Along the way, they meet inspirational people who are living out their faith in real life. This blog brings a round up of each day's journey! There will be much more in the summer edition of the magazine.
Waking up in the beautiful surroundings of a converted monastery, we were so privileged to listen to our host Rodney Gale, playing two of his own compositions before he headed out to work (Rodney is a vet and so he was on call for the weekend). With two lovingly-packaged parcels of muffins for the road as a gift from Heather, we set out again, conscious of physical tiredness but refreshed and encouraged by our time here.
Transforming lives and communities
First stop of the day is Lacken House home to OM Ireland, which is working alongside churches in Ireland to share the gospel. As former OMers, it felt like coming home and we were delighted to see friends and former colleagues Alastair Kerr (OM Ireland national director) and Tim Montgomery. We visited the new Big Red Bus - home to creative children's work - and heard exciting plans for three-weeks of schools work in June.
In the kitchen, we met Angela and Kevin Janzen (who take care of hospitality at the centre) and together with Tm and Alastair, we all enjoyed coffee and some of the most delicious scones we've ever tasted! This was a chance to hear about what God is doing in some of the local churches.
Church in a pub
Angela and Kevin are part of Ballinasloe Christian Fellowship across the border in Co Galway. A small group from the church were visiting a local pub recent and one of the girls was invited to sing and play the guitar. "I only play worship songs," she told them. But they still urged her to play! "Hearing her play worship songs like 'Amazing Grace' in the pub and seeing people from our church mingling with people from the pub was so awesome," Angela shared. "And we've been invited back!" We also heard how the church had hired an old pub building (The Black Pig) and to run a "LIVE" Nativity at Christmas - bringing to life the real meaning of Christmas!
Church in a Park
Tim's father Dominic is the pastor of Cherith Baptist Church in Athlone, Co Westmeath and Tim shared encouraging stories of how the church has grown in confidence to reach out on the streets. "For so long in Ireland everything seemed to be such a 'plod' but now there is a sense that something is stirring," Tim said. "We used to do kids clubs in local housing estates but we felt we should be more centrally located, so we ran the entire programme in the town park and on the final Sunday we also had Church in the Park!"
Stories flowed, the scones disappeared and we enjoyed more coffee before finally and rather reluctantly deciding to get back on the road. Watch out for more in the next issue of VOX!
Having heard so many stories about it, we decided we would drive to our next appointment via Ballinasloe and were determined to track down The Black Pig pub. When a quick wander around the town failed to bear fruit, we turned to Google and soon discovered where we needed to go. Time for a few photos before we were off again.
I was a stranger... and you welcomed me in!
We headed for Tullamore, Co Offaly. (Correct me if I'm wrong but I think this is the first visit to Offaly on a Finding Faith Tour? We've driven through but not stopped). Here we meet up with old friends William and Rhona Hayes and their delightful two children, James and Isobel.
William is the minister at Tullamore Presbyterian Church. This is a small congregation with a big heart and we hear wonderful stories about how William and other local clergy have been instrumental in seeing the Alpha course introduced to 5th and 6th years in all three local secondary schools!
In the last two years, William and Rhona and their church have been invited by the local council to support refugees from Syria as they integrate into the community. Mobilising people to befriend the new arrivals and providing care packages, practical advice and support has helped to smooth the transition for people who fled persecution in Syria.
"They faced a terrible situation in Syrian and we've been able to show them God's love," William said.
We linger in Tullamore knowing that we had no evening appointment. Sadly the Innovista Gala Dinner in Dublin, which we were set to attend, has had to be postponed until later in the year. Innovista Ireland is a great organisation which is empowering young leaders and helping teenagers in Dublin to fulfil their potential through community projects and a mentoring programme!
Instead we head to our hotel, grateful to be writing the blog slightly earlier than usual and for the chance to get to bed before midnight!