Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
his soj
ourn in Northern Ireland'

An education conclave and a tour of a
historic monastic site in County Down

Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1286 | April 29 2013

And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will be done."

— from Matthew 21,
from today's Holy Monday
Orthodox lectionary readings

Diary: Ward and Marda Stothers arrived back home from their five weeks in California to Belfast around 10 a.m. on Friday, so we've all been busy ever since; them with resettling back in the work here and me helping them and going along for the ride because as they become resettled I also learn more about the place, the people, and the calling we have to be here. And all that means that I am now even farther back in my catch up with my diary than I was when I last wrote, on Thursday. Now I am a whole week "behind," just reporting on this Monday (today) about events of the previous Sunday and Monday.

I did not take new photos or videos on Sunday, thankfully (as that would have made me even more back-logged), as I was asked to talk on C.S. Lewis at the evening service of the Townsend Presbyterian Church in the absence of their pastor, Jack Lamb, who is on a six-and-a-half weeks sabbatical trip in Mumbai, India. So I declined an offer to do some touring after church in order to prepare for that talk. It had been several years since my last public speaking, so I was nervous and it took a while to find my stride, but it seemed to be appreciated and several of those present have mentioned they are looking forward to the second half of the Lewis overview.

On April 21 I covered Lewis's birth through his rebirth, and the second half, scheduled for May 17, is to cover his apologetics (or defenses) of Christianity. I believe the two most important things to keep in mind about Lewis is that he declared more strongly than any one else ever has, I think, that what unites Christians of all communions, denominations, and jurisdictions, is far more important than anything separating them and that becoming—and being—a Christian is an all-or-nothing proposition; nothing can be held above the waters of baptism (metaphorically, of course). Especially in the first case, no place in the world more needs to hear that exhortation than Lewis's home city and province, Belfast and Northern Ireland, and it is that which makes him so much admired in Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, and Orthodox circles.

On Monday, Maximos Murray of our Orthodox parish took me to a meeting on the campus of the Queens University where a summary of the blueprint for shared education for Northern Ireland was being introduced to wide coverage of the media in Belfast. Maximos and I had worked on documents summarizing what we consider the important concerns to be kept in mind, from an Orthodox perspective, in such blueprints for educational reform. We had been the only Orthodox contributors to the ministerial advisory group, which included input from probably hundreds of people representing Catholic and Protestant ministries (I think ours is the only active Orthodox parish in Belfast). "Shared" refers primarily to sharing the educational institutions, facilities, and curricula of the schools across religious and socio-economic barriers, Northern Ireland's type of integration.

Professor Paul Connolly presents recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Advancing Shared Education for Northern Ireland.

Maximos, who is the music leader and reader for our parish, and I have known each other for the past two years, but we both wanted to get better acquainted, so after that conclave adjourned he drove us into the countryside of County Down, southeast of Belfast, where his family had its roots (his parents had emigrated to Manchester, England, where he grew up before coming back to Ireland after his father's death).

The highlights of that drive are seen in the video below. The first picture, a slide with no sound, is the exterior of the thatched-roofed cottage restaurant, the Old Post Office in Lisbane, where we had lunch. I next added some views of our lunches, both choosing the baked potatoes and side dishes, and a short panorama of the old and colorful restaurant interior.

Click the > on the video to launch. After the video launches, you can double-click the screen to enlarge it to full-screen. If your browser cannot open the video in Windows Media format, you can try it on YouTube, here.

Next, Maximos drove to Mahee Island on Strangford Lough, the site of the ruins of an ancient monastery, Nendrum, established by Saint Mochaoi, the Irish spelling of Mahee, in the fifth century. According to legend, Mochaoi was appointed bishop of that region, or as abbot of the monastery there (both were high ranks of the pre-medieval church) by St. Patrick, the first archbishop of all Ireland. And, as the wind-blown soundtrack of this video records, both ranks were signified by shepherd's staffs, as both bishops and abbots (heads of monastic communities) were shepherds of "flocks" of other Christians.

Maximos describes the ruins of Nendrum as consisting of three concentric circles. The center circle included the church and the abbey (residence of the abbot), the next included the residences (called "cells" in monastic terms) of the monks, and the third included lands under cultivation and any outbuildings or support structures required to sustain the community.

The video also shows the man-made peninsula stretching from the bottom of the hill on which the monastery stood into the water of the Strangford Lough to be the site of a tidal mill, which archaelogists have described as the oldest mill ruin ever recovered. Strangford Lough (the Irish version of the Scottish "loch," meaning "lake") was considered the best natural harbor into Ireland in ancient times, and it is believed that the raiders who kidnapped St. Patrick as a teenager took him into this part of the island then, and that he also returned to Ireland by way of Strangford Lough after finishing his education in what is now known as France and being called back to Ireland by way of a vision.

If your screen does not render the photo above legible, click it for a larger view.

Scripture: My take on this passage on the fig tree is this: the fig tree is often considered a symbol of the Israel of Jesus' time. As its lack of fruit for Him to use brought its decline, so He prepared the way for the Roman Empire, a mountain, to be moved from paganism to belief in God through Him, the incarnate son. Through the prayers (and "watering" of its soil by its blood through martyrdom) the old pagan Rome was "cast into the sea" (metaphorically) as the church moved the world that had its capitol in Rome over the next three centuries into the center of God's attention, protection, and providence, the place that had historically been occupied by the fig tree, Israel.

§     §     §

Please support my mission to Northern Ireland in your prayers. You can read my overview of this undertaking here. My residence/postal address is 227 Crumlin Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland BT14 7DY, UK. Mobile: 07772197118.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


related pages

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A video walk around the neighborhood: Crumlin, Woodvale, and Shankill Roads

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Clarence Darrow


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