Saturday, 5 May
From 1 - 7 May, VOX Editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling around Ireland hunting down stories of faith, life and reality. Follow the blog each day for a "taste" of the stories, meet the people she encounters and experience the highs and lows of the journey! (Of course, the summer issue of VOX will be packed full of these stories and more).
It was lovely to receive an invitation to stay at Coolnagreina, the YWCA centre in Greystones and I was completely blown away by what I discovered there. Right in the heart of Greystones, within a stone's throw of the harbour, this lovely centre has become a popular destination for church retreats, training sessions and visiting university groups as well as holiday makers. It is a delightful and beautiful haven (the room was so comfortable - it felt like 5 star luxury!). After a good night's sleep, I was treated to a lovely coffee, some breakfast, and a chat and tour with Clare Williams, (assistant to the manager). Take a look around with our little slide show below!
The team at Coolnagreina has a vision to start a Youth Café in a small building in the entrance to the property. Once opened (hopefully later this year - VOX magazine will keep you posted!) the cafe will provide a safe place for teenagers to relax and hang out.
There is a strong Christian ethos at Coolnagreina and the YWCA vision (empowering women to lead and effect change through Christ) is worked out in everything that they do. Disabled access has been a strong emphasis, "The decision was made to make Coolnagreina even more accessible than was required by law. The idea is that you can roll right from your room to the sea front!" Clare explained.
For many people, being at Coolnagreina is a healing experience. Clare says, "Personally, I've experienced the kindness of God through people here. What I’ve learnt is how God cares for us as a whole person." It was encouraging to hear that at a training session, Clare and others used an article from the last issue of VOX to think through "Self Care" - so glad and thankful to the folks at The Big House who produced that resource!
It was time to move on but I couldn't resist a quick stop to photograph this beautiful view!!
Next stop, was the home of the Christmas Shoebox Appeal - Team Hope in Leopardstown. It's a bank holiday weekend, but CEO Niall Barry has taken time out to meet me. I'm one of 2,000 volunteers who help with the annual appeal, so it is always good to check in with the team that makes it all happen. Per capita, Ireland sends more Christmas Shoeboxes than anywhere else in the world, Niall tells me! "Irish people are incredibly generous," he says.
Niall is preparing for retirement at the end of May. "I absolutely love what I do but it is important to make space for younger people and I'm delighted that someone 30 years younger than me will be taking over as CEO of Team Hope. The fact that we call ourselves "Team Hope" is important - because it is all about the team!" And of course, Team Hope does so much more than shoeboxes!
"We are heavily involved with our shoebox partners delivering clean water, education and health care all year round," Niall explains. I enjoy a lovely coffee and chat with Niall before heading off again... this time for a quick personal visit to see my daughter at DIT Grangegorman (she is a final year Fine Art student) before driving the short distance to Abbey Presbyterian Church on Parnell Square in Dublin City Centre.
I'm absolutely bowled over to find a gathering of 11 people waiting to chat with me at this multi-cultural, inter-generational city centre church - the most people every gathered in one place to meet me during a Finding Faith Tour (so there's a challenge thrown down for next year!) We spend an wonderful hour and a half chatting about faith, life and reality and I feel so privilege to gain an insight into the lives of such a lovely group of people.
As a church in the city centre, Abbey Presbyterian is home to more than 20 different nationalities and often welcomes visitors from all over the world. Minister Alan Boal and his wife Ruth had been working in Malawi and always intended to return. That never happened! Instead during their ministry over the last 20 years, God has brought the nations to Alan and Ruth, including many people from Malawi!
Nine-months-pregnant, homeless, alone and feeling devastated, Natasha from Malawi found help, hope and family at the church.
Pat and David were born and bred in Dublin. When their daughter was rushed into hospital with Addison's Disease (a diagnosis missed by her doctors at the time), it was an extremely difficult time. "They told her that she had two days to live," Pat explained. But through desperate prayer and medical intervention, their daughter lived and today has children of her own.
Finding himself in "Direct Provision" was tough for Felix from Cameroon but his late father's advice to stick close to God (summed up in the hymn "Abide with me") helped him to keep going. "Everywhere you go, you have to look to the Lord and stay close to Him," he said.
As this wonderful group of people shares story after story, I am inspired and encouraged. Working in the very heart of Dublin city is not easy. There is a constant revolving door of visitors from all over the world... but this church is seeking to make every single one feel welcome and valued!
"Each peson is unique and special... They enrich our lives!" Ruth Boal says.
A phone call with my friend Chloe reveals my next appointments have been cancelled - owing to some tough circumstances so the folks at Abbey Presbyterian join with me to pray for those affected. I'm grateful for a (fairly) early night!
This blog cannot do justice to the stories I've heard today... so remember to get your copy of VOX magazine this summer to read all of the stories!