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Newsletter October 2009


The most churched country yet…putting feet to faith.

Northern Ireland is the most “churched” country in Europe.  By churched I mean a church located every six blocks and the vast majority of the people claiming the Christian ethos.  For the rest of Europe the church is a thing of the past, a cherished architectural history, entwined in their heritage but irrelevant to their very secular society.  However here the church and religion are still a point of identity.  Most people claim allegiance to a particular church even if they never step foot onto the premises or know who the current minister is.  To show their allegiance they “pay in” to the church, receive envelopes for their donations, and get a visit from an assigned elder.  It is like an insurance to gain entrance to heaven.

Putting feet to our faith: is a term we learned from Pastor Jack McKee.  We respect him and find him to be “the real thing”.  In 2002, he carried a large wooden cross down the middle of the unionist Shankill Road through the peace wall in the lower Shankill, and up the middle of the nationalist Falls Road through the other gate in the peace wall and back to his church on the Shankill Road.  He did this for 40 days.  His book The Cross and the Gun, tells about this experience and other things his church did to address a feud amongst the local paramilitaries.  This year he is out again with a Cross Vigil, standing three hours for 40 days at the peace wall gates adjacent to his new church.  We visited him on three occasions to encourage him and check out the scene.
Three amazing items bear noting:  On day 18, the first day we visited, we found that we got added to his daily blog along with our photo.  www.newlifeministriesireland.co.uk/cross_vigil.html   On that particular day as we were leaving we saw another person stop to talk to him.  We find out through the blog, that this man had been trying to talk to Jack for several days.  He confessed that he led the attack on Jack’s house in 2005 where many windows were smashed and their car petrol bombed.  This man apologized and said he had earlier been in the Sunday school of Jack’s former church.  Guilt was weighing on him and he finally is able to let this go, and hopefully his life in bondage to others.
The second amazing item pertains to the land where this vigil is taking place.  Several years ago Jack bought a large warehouse that straddles the peace wall and they have been raising money to turn it into a church and resource center.  The city owned this small adjacent lot and reduced their asking price to £30,000 (about $50,000) which was a fair price, but New Life church was still unable to buy it.  During the 1st week of the Cross Vigil one of the city representatives came out to talk at the site.  They agreed to sell it for a total of £800 ($1,200). The only stipulation is that it is used as an outside play area for the pre-school playgroup and for the development of the Peace Pole, the very purposes for which New Life wanted to acquire the lot. So, the Cross Vigil has paid off.
The third amazing item is how many times Jack has been asked what John 3:16 means or why it is printed on the cross?  This is a churched country but religion is just that, something to claim but not something to know, enjoy and affect your life.  So the central message of the Christian faith: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” is not as well known as we might expect.  This 40 day vigil is a demonstration to others of what is central to faith and to church.  As he is moving into his new building and you would think there is so much to do but he is out professing that he is building a church for all people from either side of the wall of separation, to come and to see, and to put feet to faith.

Email: wardstothers@cten.org
Phone: (028) 90 291986  From U.S. 01144.2890.291986

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