Roots and Reaching Forward
This month it has been great to return to Northern Ireland and enjoy the generosity of the Irish Baptist Network. It was a wonderful privilege to preach in three of the Baptist churches there – Windsor, Belfast; Tobermore, Co. Londonderry; and Ballynahinch, Co. Down. It was a joy to share in lively vibrant church communities who are reaching out to their wider neighbourhoods.
For me, this was also opportunity to retrace my roots. I lived in County Down from the age of 4 to 12 – important years of my schooling - and, although I was born in England, my mother was from Northern Ireland and I was able to go back and visit the small hillside cottage where I had lived as a child. From the house, there are magnificent views of the Irish Sea and the Mourne Mountains - which were the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’ Kingdom of Narnia. Memories flooded back and I recalled being asked one day on the bus going home from school: ‘Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?’ Memories, too, of being taken by my Mum to a local church and a meeting house amongst the hills where monthly services were held and I was first invited to read the Bible publicly. Thanksgiving filled my heart for the ‘rock from which I was hewn’.
This was not, though, just a trip of nostalgia. Our early experiences shape us for good or ill. And this visit reminded me of the importance of a loving family environment and of solid early educational experiences. I could then trace out where my own journey had taken me down the years. Being brought up aware of ‘living with difference’, and experiencing a tolerant upbringing made me aware how peace-making and bridge-building are fundamental parts of the Gospel.
Reflect on your own roots and your ongoing story. Can you trace the elements which have brought Life to you?
Although the past shapes us, it is not meant to determine who we are. We do have our own history, early life experience and culture but we have also come under another influence – the transforming experience of Christ. The Living Christ is still moulding and shaping us, helping us to transcend our culture and value the ‘dignity of difference’. Paul illustrates all this well in Philippians 3.
(Ernie has prepared a series of 6 Bible Studies ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ based on our Assembly 2013 theme: ‘Reclaiming Philippians for Today’s Church’. Copies of this are available from the online shop – priced £3. Ernie encourages churches to join a conversation based on the themes of the study – see www.likestars.org.uk throughout this year)