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Opening things up!

November 19, 2012

After 12 years of vision, dialog, partnership, and construction, the past month has been one of “firsts”.  The first day of staff moving into Skainos.  The first worship service.  The first event welcoming the community.  The first meals in the new cafe.  The first youth events.  The first tenants moving into their new apartments.

First worship service

These first experiences are the fruition of a long journey to see the Skainos facility open up.  And it has been enjoyable to be a part of it!  Our first two Sunday worship services in the new building were packed.  Some of the guests were from other churches, there to help us celebrate the opening.  What is more significant is that new faces from the community have also joined us in worship.  We have welcomed people who frequent the mission cafe, and a few residents from our homelessness project.  Several have been back to join us again, including one man who says he has not been to church in over 25 years!

On 19-20 October, we held a community festival called “SkainosFest” during which we welcomed between 800-1,000 people to see what was happening within East Belfast Mission and the surrounding community.

We hosted a wide range of local organizations (i.e. churches, charities, educational projects, the Police and Fire Department, etc..) to share what they do in the area.  The day held a myriad of activities for youth and children, like face painting and dance workshops.  There was also a variety of entertainment, from singers in the cafe over lunch to yoga sessions and interactive drumming workshops.

Serving up the BBQ

Facepainting at Skainosfest

A musician brings a smile at SkainosFest

Getting information about local community organizations

One highlight for me was seeing a whole room of people enjoying the talents of local Irish dancers.  In  working class areas in Belfast, Irish culture has traditionally been embraced by only the Catholic population.  These dancers crossed a boundary in joining us: they came from a nearby community centre based in a predominantly Catholic area.  Their presence was a result of friendships that have been nurtured across divided communities.  We also hope it is a sign of further things to come.

In the midst of the excitement of moving in, the staff at EBM and the congregation are all in the midst of the emotional transition that comes with such dramatic change.  We are in the space that everyone has been looking forward to, and yet we do not feel quite at home.  I have been rereading a book called “Transitions” by William Bridges and he quotes the following lines from Alice in Wonderland.

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar…

“I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

Bridges notes that when there are changes in our lives, there is a period of emotional adjustment that he calls a “wilderness period”.  In the Bible, the people of Israel literally journeyed through the wilderness after they left Egypt.  With their new-found freedom came a whole range of emotions from elation and praise to confusion and bickering (see Exodus 15-16).  Both the congregation and the EBM staff are moving through the emotions of transition as we settle into normal routines.  So as we seek to invite others and extend ministry, we also keep in mind the need for patience with one another!

All of this is happening in the midst of a community that has significant and profound needs.  This has been recently evident by the increase in referrals to the counseling service at EBM, which is comprised of Alison and two others.  There has been a marked increase of suicide in East Belfast over the past few months, and the majority of clients who come to EBM for counseling come with severe depression.  Right now, Alison and the other counselors are struggling to find time to meet with the volume of people requesting the services.

We appreciate your prayers and support, especially during this time of possibility and new beginnings.  Below are some specific prayer requests:

  • That relationships with new people coming to church or other EBM groups would deepen.  Pray for people to find a place for friendship and worship.
  • The ongoing process of ‘settling in’ for EBM staff and congregation.  Pray for all of us to have patience with one another as we move through the emotions of transition.
  • For good initial connections to be made with the new residents of the Skainos apartments who are moving in over the upcoming weeks.
  • For Alison and the other EBM counselors – for wisdom and compassion in dealing with their clients and also personal rejuvenation after the difficult work of therapy.
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Approaching the completion of Skainos

September 11, 2012

The front of the Skainos site

Since we arrived in Belfast last July, we have been observing the progress and anticipating the completion of a large redevelopment project called “Skainos”. And it is almost done! This facility will house the work and worship of East Belfast Mission, as well as a number of other partner tenants. Over 100 people will be living on-site, in a combination of our homelessness project, and both private and public housing apartments.

The pictures in this post were taken last week and give a better idea of what this space will look like.

Windows of Hosford – a homelessness project at EBM

As you look at them, it is important to remember the context of the surrounding community. This is a neighbourhood with high unemployment, low educational achievement for young people, and a legacy of conflict, prejudice, and violence that runs deep in the psyche of the residents. In one picture you can see a mural of a paramilitary gunman through the window. This is only one of several stark images nearby.

The completion of this building project is an important milestone in the life of East Belfast Mission. For the past 12 years, this vision has been developing and growing. For the past 2 and a half years, the activity of the mission has been in temporary accommodation during construction.

The sanctuary from the front

We have been borrowing and renting space in a few places across Belfast, and everyone has been looking forward to this season. As EBM seeks to continue serving the people in this community, this is a time of new partnerships and expanded possibility.

During these next couple of months, we would especially appreciate your prayers for the following:

Many children will be running around in this hall!

  • for endurance to get through all of the tasks associated with transition while still working to conduct weekly activities and remain open to the needs of people in the congregation and community.
  • for our SkainosFest event on October 19-20th, which is an opportunity shortly after we take possession of the building to open the facility wide to the community. Over two days, we are arranging a lot of children’s and youth activities, live dancing and music from a variety of cultures.

    A reminder of the context

    We pray this will be a successful introduction of this space to the community – that people feel they are safe and welcome in this space.

  • for the staff, congregation and community to be patient through both expected and surprising hardships that we encounter in the process of moving and settling into our new building. All of us are aware of the dreams, the expectations, and the responsibility that this major investment holds. Anticipation and excitement come with their share of tension and anxiety! May we be faithful with our time, and at the same time gracious with others through this move.

Summer Reflections

August 17, 2012

Summer Reflections – Pondering Parades

Do you have any memories of watching parades? I remember marveling at the colors and the sounds of the electric light parade at Disney World. I remember sitting near the television on Thanksgiving morning, wondering what new gigantic balloons would appear on the Macy’s parade. I remember enjoying a BBQ with friends at First Church Orlando while we watched the Citrus Bowl parade move through downtown. Why did these parades happen? I think my answer would have been fun, entertainment, or celebration.

I had never thought of parades as controversial until I came to Northern Ireland. In the summer here, there are dozens of parades across the country that have ingrained political meaning.

In early June, I was on my way to a session of the Methodist Annual Conference, when I saw the police blocking the road. I realized that a band parade was about to move through the center of the town, the same direction that I was heading. Rather than wait for a half hour, I decided to park along the road and walk with the parade for the last mile of my journey. A quality silver band led the way, and I was enjoying the various tunes they were playing as I wove my way in between the people watching on the road.

Behind the band were hundreds of people marching in green uniforms, part of the Ulster Defense Regiment Association (UDR). This group was commissioned as a reserve force of the British Army during the Troubles. They defended. They secured areas. They were controversial, as some of them passed weapons and information to Protestant paramilitary groups. They suffered, as nearly 200 of them were killed during the Troubles. They were 97% Protestant.

As I approached the church where I was to join with the other Methodists from around Ireland, the band played one final tune. It was the tune to Charles Wesley’s hymn “And can it be”, one of the most well known and beloved hymns of Methodism. The words flowed through my mind:

And can it be that I should gain

an interest in the Savior’s blood!

Died he for me? who caused his pain!

For me? who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be

that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be

that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

What does this song mean to me? It reminds me that there is brokenness, pain and violence in this world. In both obvious and subtle ways, we are all participants in this violence. None of us can say that our hands are clean. And yet God’s amazing love comes to us in Jesus – even though it meant that God would be vulnerable and would be hurt.

I was moved by hearing this song as I approached a meeting of worship. I was also troubled by hearing it played as a military group marched through the town. Something didn’t seem quite right. Then it hit me – “And can it be” is a hymn that belongs with a mood of repentance and humility and the attitudes of marching season do not match with the hymn.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on the beginning of Ephesians 4. The letter says to “lead a life worthy of the calling”. In order to do this, we are to be humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with one another in love, so that there might be unity of the Spirit.

Is there a relationship in your life that needs greater unity? If so, it maybe worth taking a moment to pray, “God, help me to relate to ____ in a way that reflects something of your amazing love for me. Help me to care for them, to be patient with them, to recognize their perspective.”

Well, I never expected a parade to lead me on reflections about God’s love and our call to be humble and patient. Yes, parades sure are different here!

A vertical garden

May 16, 2012

We safely returned to Belfast 10 days ago, and have gotten settled in after 5 weeks in Florida.  Many people have greeted us here by saying, ‘welcome back to the cold’!  The weather, and returning to the routines of life, is indeed a bit of an adjustment after being away for over a month.  Yet we are thankful for the gift of our time in Florida – the experience of meeting other mission servants sent out by the United Methodist Church, the precious time with family and friends, and the hospitality we received at two churches we hold dear – First UMC, Orlando and St. Lukes UMC in Windermere.

View of the Skainos project on May 16th

One fascinating thing we witnessed last week was seeing over a month of progress on the Skainos project site.  On the left side of this picture, you can see many panels facing the road, all of which have been handpainted by a local artist to reflect the various views of the Belfast sky, along with a few splashes of yellow representing the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes.  On the right side of the picture stands the newly planted vertical garden, which is literally making news (see the article below).

BBC article about the vertical garden at Skainos

After witnessing the thought and prayer that has gone into this project over the past 10 years, it is exciting to see it so close to fruition.  A large part of the ethos of Skainos is that of ‘shared space’ – space that will be available to all in the community – no matter your age, your economic standing, your level of education, or your practice of religion.  In a city that has known a large degree of division and segregation, the idea of sharing space speaks to me of the kingdom of God.  Paul speaks of how Christ Jesus has broken down the hostility between us – Ephesians 2.

In a similar manner, the design of the Skainos site shares the possibilities of both beauty and life in the artwork and the vertical garden along the front of the site.  By God’s grace, the activities, projects, and the variety of organizations within Skainos will help bring those possibilities to life in the day to day experience of people here.

Peace be with you.  Britt & Alison Gilmore, along with Ellie, Emily & Jake

Missionary Training

April 29, 2012

For the past two and a half weeks, we have been between Leesburg and Tampa at a training for UMC missionaries.  Tomorrow afternoon (April 29th) this group will be commissioned as Missionaries, and then recognized at General Conference in Tampa.  Here are a couple of reflections from this time.

“From Everywhere, To Everywhere”

Do you have a stereotype in your mind for a missionary?  What do they look like and what do they do?  This is one of the questions our group was asked when we first gathered nearly 3 weeks ago.  Many of us shared that all of the missionaries we encountered growing up were sent from the United States or Western Europe to lesser developed countries.  They shared Christianity by proclaiming the message of the gospel, and some provided practical help by sharing “modern” medicine and technology.

       One of the phrases that is often shared by the Global Ministries leadership is that the United Methodist Church sends missionaries “from everywhere, to everywhere”.  There is no longer a perception of a one-way flow of spirituality from the west to the rest.  Of the 24 missionaries being commissioned tomorrow, there are people from Brazil, Chile, Canada, Columbia, Congo, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States.  It has been a beautiful thing to hear the stories of how these individuals came to know Christ, and how they discerned God’s call to their current service.  Some of them are from backgrounds and places drastically different than ourselves, and we are grateful for both the new friendships and the opportunity to see glimpses of God’s Spirit at work all across the world.

Image

A group shot of those being commissioned as UMC Missionaries tomorrow, along with a few staff from Global Ministries

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

This quote come from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  He is sharing about the humility and servanthood demonstrated in the incredible life of Jesus (Phil 2:1-11).

       One who had power and yet surrendered that to walk among us.

       One who had knowledge and wisdom and yet poured himself out as a servant.

       During our training, we have reflected on how this action of God coming among us offers a model for Christian ministry.  Being a servant and a witness to another culture (or to another person, for that matter) means first walking with them in love, learning to understand their life, their passions, and their spirituality.  This is not just learning about another group of people, but also learning from them, and learning with them.  If we go to a person or a group as only a “teacher” and a “knower”, then we close the door to people sharing what they know with us.

So I’m interested…what is your experience on this topic of humility and conversation?

  • When others have brought up the subject of faith in God, have they sought to learn from you and understand you, OR have they aimed to teach you something?
  • When others have brought up the topic of politics in this election year, have they sought to learn from your experience (or open a dialog) OR are they proving a point?

 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.      Philippians 2:3-8

Community Service Day

April 17, 2012

We are currently in Florida, at a camp in Leesburg with other United Methodist Church missionaries for a time of training and then commissioning.  It has already been a faith-stretching time, and we will share more about this experience next week… but here is another update that we didn’t quite get around to posting last month.

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On March 24th, volunteers from the congregation, the other EBM projects, and other community partners joined together in a community service day.  We joined together to accomplish 19 mostly small projects around the community – helping people with some garden work where it had gotten beyond them, or painting tasks that were either out of reach or not in their skill set.

A group works on painting the fence of a community member

The wonderful thing about the day was the relationships made or strengthened.  As people work alongside each other, they get to know one another better.  Over a year ago, the women’s group at EBM joined together with a women’s group at the community centre in the adjacent, predominantly Catholic, neighbourhood.  They meet together every week, alternating locations between EBM and the other community centre.  Because these friendships have been formed, we were able to ask the pensioners group at the same community centre if they had any small

jobs that we could help with on the community service day.  A few volunteers joined the women’s group in helping at seven homes in this community.

We are thankful for that particular day, and are also thankful to be working in a place where this value of serving the community is demonstrated day in and day out.

May you know God’s peace this day, and wisdom for how you might be God’s servant today among the people around you.

     “When [Jesus] had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Britt and Rev. Gary Mason alongside some from the women's group at this gardening project.

Ellie and Emily join with Alison in a gardening project

Neighbours in Need…

December 2, 2011

Neighbours in Need is a community project that East Belfast Mission has run before Christmas for the last several years.  Boxes of food and basic necessities were distributed this week to 450 families in the local community.  Donations were collected from the congregation, a number of partnering churches, schools, and from the community as a whole at the various projects of the Mission.

Volunteers packing up boxes of food

The scope of the project demonstrated to us again how many people EBM touches within this local area.  It is an outreach and help to those who find it more difficult to make ends meet as the weather gets colder.  The phrase, “heat or eat” is used here in the winter to describe the predicament that some people face – and this simple but expansive project of the Mission is one practical way that God’s love is demonstrated in our community.

The girls enjoyed helping wrap and fill boxes with food last Saturday.  We joined dozens of volunteers who gathered from our congregation, other partnering churches, and the staff from the Mission.

Jake nearing two months

In other news, Jake is now two months old and doing really well.  He is smiling and responding to anyone who will speak to him, and his sisters sure enjoy sharing a cuddle and a chat with him.

We are amazed each day at the wonder of new life, and also grateful to be a part of a church community that is finding ways to express God’s love for it’s neighbours.

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