Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
his sojourn in Northern Ireland'

A campus ministry in Northern Ireland

Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1279 | April 13 2013

. . . we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

— from Hebrews 6,
from today's lenten Orthodox
lectionary readings

Diary: It turned out that only three, not four (as I said last time) university students came to my place for the weekend. They are from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, spending the current term in a study-abroad program in London and brought here by one of their professors for a workshop or field trip to look into "international relations," a subset of political science. Belfast has a lot of international relations issues for students to become acquainted with, in light of the "troubles" that have brought a variety of international peace teams to visit here and work at calming the long troubled waters. At this writing, late afternoon Saturday, "my" students and six additional classmates are visiting the campus of Belfast's oldest and largest university, Queens.

When I was at UCLA (for my master's, 1970-72), Marymount, a girls' Catholic college, was the nearest other college campus to ours, and just as I was finishing my degree, Marymount merged with Loyola of Los Angeles to become LMU. That campus is now in Westchester, a suburb of Los Angeles on a bluff near the Pacific Ocrean. When I was working in LA in 1998-2000, I drove through Westchester, an attractive corner of the sprawling metropolis not more than five miles from where I was living for my last nine months there, in Marina del Rey. But I have no recollection of the LMU campus, all built since the merging of the two colleges. Though it is highly rated, the campus is among the smaller Catholic universities, about the same size as St. Francis in Loretto, Pa. (where I spent last summer).

The students' visit to Belfast was facilitated by my colleague Marda Stothers, who found homestay accomodations for the students and set up their welcome presentation about the fascinating "international" history of Belfast and Ulster at Townsend Presbyterian Church this morning. But as mentioned earlier, she is now back home in California, giving me the privilege of hosting them. Johnny and Amber arrived yesterday, and my third homestayer, Rainier, flew in from London this morning and met us at Townsend church for brunch. I had either received misinformation or misheard the schedule, because I prepared breakfast (granola with milk, coffee, tea, and juice), thinking the meal at the church would be lunch, only to find an elaborate spead being prepared for us all on our arrival around 10:30.

Paul Darragh, M.D., an elder, lifelong member, and longtime officer of Townsend Presbyterian, led the welcome discussion and retraced the complicated history of Northern Ireland and the often troubled but simultaneously often cordial and even warm relations between the Catholics and Protestants (especially the Presbyterians, who are the majority denomination in Ulster). Among the most interesting facts from his talk,I'll mention several: though 1690 and the battle of the Boyne facilitated the ascendency of William of Orange (a Dutch Protestant) to the throne of England and that is considered the beginning of the Protestant-Catholic rivalries in Ireland, the Pope of Rome actually favored William's victory (because he defeated a pretender to England's throne who was supporting a rival pope, then claiming to run the church in France). And, an even earlier Pope had encouraged the English to take charge over Ireland because England's Catholics were then better aligned to the papacy than the more "independent" or autonomous (or I suspect, more "Orthodox") Catholics in Ireland.

And one "factoid" that will likely surprise most Americans who know a bit about history and religion. My impression is that most American Presbyterians think of their "mother church" as the Church of Scotland (the Presbyterian established church of Scotland), but more aptly that should be thought of as most American Presbyterians' "grandmother church." That's because most American Prestyterians are descended from immigrants from Presbyterian Ulster or Northern Ireland than are those descended from Scotland. Two million northern Irish immigrants had come to America before 1800, and at that time Presbyterianism was America's largest denomination (something I'm surprised I had never come across before today's talk). Even I can do that math. (But of course Ireland's Presbyterians had immigrated there from Scotland not many generations earlier...but it would be a way too big a stetch to think both were really one denomination, even if the two countries are divided only by 16 miles of water at their closest points.) Ulster Presbyterians very early developed strong attitudes of independence not only from England but from their Scottish mother church, and this spirit is often cited as very influential in the independent thinking that led America to declare its independence from our mother country.

After the talk, Dr. Paul drove us around the "peace wall" that separates the Shankill (Protestant) section of Belfast from the Falls Road (Catholic) section to see and photograph murals supporting each side of the troubles. But he told us that riots often break out because children as young as six and seven start throwing stones at each other, and then older siblings and parents may get involved. He said that this very weekend youth from his church are attending a retreat with Catholic kids from St. Peter's parish, nearby. They will have wonderful fellowship, he said, giving little or no thought to their religious differences, but when they get back home some of them may soon be throwing stones at some others on the opposite side of the "peace" wall.

Above, the nine students from Loyola Marymount University pose for a group photo in front of a building mural comemmorating the victory of William of Orange's army over the forces of Scottish-Catholic King James in 1690. The victory made permanent the Protestant Reformation in England. Below, a closer shot of the students.

Scripture: I like this snippet because it confirms what we Orthodox (and Catholics) have always said is the reason we need "saints," godly role models: The Apostle says we are to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Some reformers argue that we should be imitators of Jesus alone. But although we must do that, it's easier to do it when we see that others (even "a great cloud of witnesses") have been able to excel in that practice despite their all-too-human failings and frailties.

§     §     §

If you missed my overview of my venture in Northern Ireland, check it out here.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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— C.S. Lewis

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