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Grace in the Wilderness

November 2, 2013

Over the month of October, we spent some time in worship considering the message of the prophet Jeremiah, particularly his words spoken to Israel at the beginning of the Babylonian exile.  He was speaking to a nation who had been devastated by their enemies and who had been removed from their homes.  After so much loss, they were desperate for any vision of hope for their future.

One phrase that was beautiful to me was:

“The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness…”

Jeremiah 31:3

These words imagine and proclaim that God’s grace can be experienced not only in seasons of plenty and joy, but also in moments of need and pain.  In desperation and in heartbreak, God is still with us.

This is an important theme for the community in Inner East Belfast because there are many ways in which life can seem painful.  We have shared in previous posts about the challenges of unemployment, the high rates of depression and suicide, a lingering sectarianism, and the feelings of uncertainty about cultural identity.  On top of this, there has been a recent increase in local drug-related crime.  All of us have times of ‘wilderness’ in our lives (for any number of reasons) and these broader community-wide challenges can add to the sense of helplessness that people feel.

In this spirit of Jeremiah 31:3, I wanted to share about two moments of grace that I have experienced this past month.

Britt assists with a 'crazy science' show

Britt assists with a ‘crazy science’ show

Festival Fun

One of these occurred during a festival day that we hosted at EBM for the community.  Skainos square was buzzing with a variety of events – people planting something in the community garden, others enjoying a science demonstration, and others learning something about the ancient languages of this island.  We had incredible, sunny weather, and hundreds of people were milling about.

The significant moment for me came at the end of the day, as two volunteers shared how great it had been to help to help with the day.  They had been around for six hours, watching kids at the bouncy castle, helping with crafts and also enjoying the day themselves.  As we celebrated the day, I realized that it had been exactly a year since I met them, at the previous year’s festival day!  Now, this couple has become interwoven with the community at East Belfast Mission, attending church every Sunday, volunteering with the children’s ministry every Friday night, and helping share encouragement with others.

Praying (together!) for peace

In the past year, one encouraging development has been a greater level of interaction between churches in our neighbourhood.  Within a few hundred yards of East Belfast Mission, there are churches representing the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Pentecostal, and Baptist churches as well as other Methodists that are not too far away.  As I learn their history, it seems that all of these churches used to be overflowing with people (or at least that is their memory!), while most of them are now struggling.  Though there has been various levels of co-operation in the past, the recent past has been a time of isolation and seeming apathy between these churches.

It has been encouraging, therefore, to see the re-formation of a local minister’s meeting over the past year.  Several of us have been sharing news and praying for our community together.  There is a sincere desire to speak well of one another and to see God’s blessing shared across the community.  In one of these meetings in September, about eight of us were huddled in a giant cathedral building – and one person prayed about a vision that this huge space would one day soon be filled to capacity with the sound of worship.

Gathered for prayer

Gathered for prayer

Alongside these meetings, as a response of the increased crime levels mentioned above, a larger gathering of clergy occurred about three weeks ago.  It was decided that a good response to the violence would be a united gathering of prayer.  Just 5 days later, the largest church building in our midst was filled to capacity with folks from 35 churches in the east Belfast area.  People wrote prayers of blessing for the community and made a giant paper chain with these prayers that stretched the entire length of St. Patrick’s cathedral.

Praise God for grace in the wilderness.

On the family front

Smiles at Dundrum Castle

Smiles at Dundrum Castle

The girls have been off school this week and we have enjoyed a couple of wonderful days of adventure and fun (one trip to Dublin where we toured the Butlers chocolate factory – yummy).  Another joy is that my mother has arrived to be with us for a couple of weeks – it is great to have “GG” with us.  She took this picture at the weekend as we explored Dundrum castle.

Please pray for:

* Our congregation to have our eyes and hearts open to people in our community who are isolated, lonely and hurting.  Help us to welcome others as we worship God.

* Cooperation between local churches in East Belfast – that the prayer gathering mentioned above would not be an isolated event, but that we might find a way to further build relationship.  This is a task that requires humility and flexibility (two things that usually challenge churches!!)  There is a meeting of local clergy on November 12th.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Candie Whitney permalink
    November 4, 2013 2:14 am

    Britt & Alison, We are continually keeping the Gilmores and your community in prayer. Know you will enjoy GG’s visit. God Bless & Hugs

  2. gwen gibson permalink
    November 6, 2013 10:45 pm

    I will keep you and the community in my prayers. My prayer is for people’s hearts to be open to the peace that God wants us all to have

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