THREE MISSIONS PASTORS CELEBRATE UNITY AT NORTHERN IRELAND RETREAT
3rd November 2017
If you've kept your finger on the pulse of global Adventism in recent months, you will know that unity has become somewhat of a buzz word for the global Church. But what does unity look and feel like in the context of ministry in the remote Missions of the British Union Conference? At the recent 'Three Missions pastoral retreat', held from the evening of 30 October to 2 November on the premises of the Corrymeela Community, near Ballycastle in Northern Ireland, it began with pastors standing in a circle, looking each other in the eye, and saying each other's names.It’s easy to say the names of the people you work with every day, but when there are two dozen or more colleagues in the room, who you do not often connect with, because they live and work across the Irish sea, or in a church district that is as remote as yours, but on the other side of the country, this becomes a bit more of a challenge. But taking time to learn each other’s names and say them correctly … (Njay… not Engay,…or even better!...Njabulo!) suddenly makes the meeting more intimate and personal. And so we said hello to each other: Dan, Paul, Reinder, Gale (one of our hostesses), Louis, Ian, Marcel, Curtis, Malcolm … Ivana, Jeremy…over and over again, until we knew all the names of everyone in the circle. Of course, as it tends to go with these meetings, there were a few who could not make it to the opening session – they had to conduct a wedding, or were delayed by airlines who changed flights – but it was easier to learn their names when they eventually arrived and there were almost thirty in the room.
Circles featured prominently in other parts of the programme as well, ranging from the small circles of ministerial colleagues in deep discussion with each other, to the guest speaker’s use of concentric circles to explain the structure of Adventist belief.
The three Missions have an ongoing tradition of meeting like this every second year, each event hosted by the next Mission. The purpose of these pastors’ retreats is a mixture of professional development, reflection on ministry and spiritual life, networking and relaxation. Mornings were filled with worships and training while time in the afternoons were less structured. In the evenings we gathered again for some business, worship, and social interaction.
Dr. Reinder Bruinsma, a veteran pastor, church administrator, historian and author from the Netherlands, provided the training component. Addressing the issue of unity and diversity from a scriptural perspective Reinder illustrated how the Bible often emphasises unity and diversity at the very same time. The Israelite creed - that there is one God - stands side by side with the fact that there is a three-ness about God that cannot be separated from God’s oneness. Human beings demonstrate this same mixture of unity and diversity – human beings are holistic undivided creatures but we are also created male and female, we are different from each other. This diversity creates the condition for family to exist, communities to take shape and meaningful relationships to take place.
In another lecture Reinder drew a distinction between the experience of faith, and doctrine. If faith is built upon assurance and conviction (Hebrews 11:1), doctrine is the grammar, or the underlining structure of the language that we use to give expression to our faith. Doctrine is often developed in the context of a disagreement about matters of faith or a need to give a better explanation for what one believes. In Adventism, there has always been resistance to viewing doctrine as a creed. Dr. Bruinsma gave a helpful description of how doctrine functioned in the life of the Adventist church historically and in the present day. These presentations were received as refreshing and educational, and Dr Bruinsma’s insights were heartfelt and very personal. At the end of the presentations the pastors each received a copy of his latest book, Facing Doubt: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘On the Margins.’
“I was able to reconnect with colleagues and it was good to catch up and encourage one another. I also enjoyed listening to a very balanced and optimistic set of presentations by Dr. Bruinsma and feel very encouraged about the future,” said Marcel Ghioalda, pastor in Dundee, Scotland.
Various members of the British Union leadership team attended the meeting. The treasurer, Earl Ramharacksingh was accompanied by Pastor Eglan Brooks (Ministerial secretary), Pastor Paul Lockham, (Associate Secretary) and Ian Sweeney (President). They conducted the worships during the retreat. Ian Sweeney challenged pastors to develop a truly prophetic ministry. Paul Lockham shared his surprise when he discovered an Irish historical novelist that developed a story-line around a seventh-century controversy between the Irish church and the church of Rome. Featured in this controversy was the question of when to keep Sabbath! Paul Lockham highlighted how easily religion and faith can be employed to exert power and manipulate people.
Pastor Eglan Brooks’ worships were aimed at the hearts and souls of the gathered pastors. He combined deeply evocative music and lyrics with moving reflections. He spoke about visions and dreams that sometimes become marred and broken. His presentations were filled with humour, but he ministered to the brokenness and pain that pastors all too often feel in their lives. His words, and the tone of his presentations presented real possibilities for healing and wholeness.
The venue for this retreat was The Corrymeela Community: Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation. They began before “The Troubles” and continue their work in Northern Ireland’s changing post–conflict society. The organisation grew organically from the original Community members, and today almost 40 full–time staff and dozens of volunteers work alongside the eleven thousand people who spend time in our residential centre every year. The Corrymeela Community has developed a daily worship practice of gathering in a circle, in a beautiful chapel, The Croi (Irish for "heart") for a period of silent reflection and prayer, followed by the recitation of a communal “Prayer of Courage”. Despite a busy programme, several pastors from the three Missions were able to join this circle of devotion every morning.
Other activities included excursions around the picturesque County Antrim coast. One afternoon the group chose to visit the Giants Causeway. On the second afternoon they made a quick boat trip to the Rathlin Island, a remote, sparsely populated island off the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Some members of the group decided to savour Rathlin Island's hot chocolate while others risked being caught in a rain shower to view one of several lighthouses on the island. The weather treated them kindly.
The end of the retreat came all too soon with a worship by Earl Ramharacksingh. “Imagine a circle, and inside this circle is you, your family, your home and your belongings,” he said. “It is a place of safety and security, a bed to sleep on, and food in the fridge. What might happen outside of that circle? Perhaps there are areas of the unknown, threats and even events or places that does not resonate with peace and security. But there is also opportunity, the ability to reach out and find others who, in their own way have circles, and are also just looking to embrace security and peace. Perhaps it is a place of taking risk, in order to find them, but then also a place of growth and prosperity.”
After this final talk, which included Earl sporting his Arsenal jersey, pastors reluctantly packed their suitcases and made their way back to their home districts and ministries. But they did so with more peace, and security of being part of a strong, united team with a unified vision of reaching the world with a message of true love and peace.
The Welsh Mission will host the next Three Missions Retreat in 2019.
[Michael James Botha and Weiers Coetser]