The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has been looking at how it can begin to get back to ‘normal’ and move forward.
Throughout May the Church has run a number of special online events for churches in its Northern Ireland presbyteries to support congregations come out of lockdown. These have included its County Antrim congregations in its Route, Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Templepatrick presbyteries.
Called ‘Fanning the flame’, the initiative is part of PCI’s Refined series of resources that it has developed throughout the pandemic to support and develop ongoing congregational life.
Explaining the rationale for the series, Rev David Thompson, Secretary for the Council for Congregational Life and Witness (CCLW), who organised the sessions, said that it was important for congregations to retain flexibility for the road ahead.
“Since the start of the pandemic, it has been an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone.
“For our congregations in Northern Ireland, it has been a very stop – start journey.
“Thankfully it does feel like we are turning a corner and entering a moment of greater hope, optimism and opportunity, but it won’t be without its challenges.”
The title for the series comes from 2 Timothy 1:6-7, which says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God [...] For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Key leaders from each congregation in Northern Ireland, including those across County Antrim, were encouraged to participate.
David Thompson said that he was pleased that each presbytery has responded positively to the Moderator’s invitation to be part of the programme. “Timing is key in building progress and trying to do so too early may lead to frustration.
“Leaving it too late, may mean we miss an important moment. This is why we began with our northern presbyteries this month, with events for congregations in our southern presbyteries taking place in June, which seems about right given their setting and circumstances,” David Thompson said.
Running the events has involved a significant leap of faith and rapid learning by staff in how to harness the potential of digital technology and presentation.
Lynne Herbison’ PCI’s Programme Development Officer added, “The team involved have learned a lot and those new skills will be invaluable in opening up a world of possibility in how we can now engage with congregations and their members in the future.
“Nothing compares to being physically together, but we hope our digital platform will be able to supplement that and improve the reach of what we can offer to our churches and their members.”
Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, who took part in the events, said, “This has been a massive undertaking, delivered in a very short window so as not to miss this crucial moment as we continue to turn this long awaited corner.
“ I really want to commend everyone who has made this important series possible.
“We have been through exceptionally challenging times and I don’t want to minimise that and the suffering that this pandemic has caused. In my contributions to each event, looking at how congregations can begin to move forward, I tried to convey a sense that change often forces reinvention and reconsideration, opening up new pathways and patterns that overlay the old familiar foundations of church life that we cherish.
“Exploring this, I am looking forward to welcoming our Republic of Ireland presbyteries to ‘Fanning the Flame’ in June.” he said.
Dr Bruce concluded by saying, “In the long history of God’s people there have been many times like the months we have experienced, and in those dark days God was at work, and He is today.
“It is my earnest prayer that we will see tangible signs of His leading, so that we can press on with confidence into this new beginning.”