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

The best St. Patrick's Day ever

Jon Kennedy  

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"How far is it to the next village?" asked the American tourist. "It's about seven miles," guessed the farmer. "But it's only five if you run!"


If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.

Saint Patrick

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JONAL ENTRY 1265 | March 18 2013

I have written repeatedly here throughout the years on Saint Patrick, sometimes speaking "theologically," arguing for his designation as a role model for Christians desiring a heart for the Lord and for people, and the biblical source for that understanding of "saints," and other times writing "academically," giving thoughts about his importance as a historical figure in church and Irish history. I've mentioned earlier too the influence of St. Patrick on my own thinking and my fascination with him and my strong affinity to everything Irish despite the fact that my forebears on both Dad's and Mother's sides were at least six generations away from their roots in Ireland by my time. Patrick's influence had a great deal to do with my desire to live in Ireland for an extended time, which is why I'm here in Belfast on a one- or two-year sojourn (subject to either be cut short or extended, depending on how I get on in my older years). And one of the reasons I wanted to live in Ireland was to experience St. Patrick's day here. And so I did yesterday and in all, it was the best St. Patrick's Day I've ever experienced.

The sermon at my church, St. Ignatius Antiochian Orthodox, was dedicated to this best known of many local saints (Belfast is the closest full-sized city to both the place Patrick considered his home in Ireland, now called Downpatrick, and his diocesan see as the bishop of all Ireland, Armagh). Not surprisingly, Fr. Paul made a case for Patrick being considered Orthodox rather than either Roman Catholic or Protestant, though both of those communions, especially here where he is still a major influence on everyone, also claim him. It's safe to say that the Orthodox church, alone among the three communions, still teaches everything Patrick believed and that Patrick believed everything the Orthodox churches currently teach, whereas both Catholic and Protestant churches have introduced serious and I believe improper innovations in their theological teachings that he never considered.

The fellowship after church was so engaging that I waited too long to make my way downtown to see the St. Patrick's Day Parade, but I did get to see some of the concert following the parade, in Custom House Square, and see the many costumes and get-ups to celebrate the day and witness some of the shenanigans in the crowd, but unfortunately the USB cable for my video camera did not make it in my luggage, so I can't upload any of the footage of that.

Albert Tower, named for the husband of Queen Victoria, is Belfast's answer to the Tower of London and Big Ben. And as it has a definite tilt, it's also Belfast's answer to Pisa, Italy's, far more famous leaning tower. The concert after the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade took place in Customs House Square, adjacent to the tower..

I was told that nationalists in Belfast (people who want the whole island of Ireland to be one nation, over against those who want the historically Protestant counties of Northern Ireland to remain loyal to the United Kingdom and the Crown—"loyalists") like to use St. Patrick's Day festivities as an occasion for showing their nationalist colors, orange, white, and green, the flag colors of the Republic of Ireland to the south, and to generally advocate for their cause. It was apparent that those with these sympathies were the most vocal and probably made up the majority at the festivities.

In the evening I went with Ward and Marda Stothers to their church, Townsend Presbyterian, where the pastor, Jack Lamb, also preached approvingly about Patrick, recounting the fifth-century saint's evangelization of Ireland. So it was a treat to witness three major defenses of the saint on his day. And after the evening service, I went with the Stothers to a party attended mostly by evangelicals of various denominations, where St. Patrick was also the center of our attention. I was moved by some of the readings given about and read from his writings, and also a recording of a massed choir singing in Belfast one of the hymns attributed to Patrick.

It snowed in the higher elevations (and not very much higher) and there was cold-cold rain much of the day, but it was the best St. Patrick's Day I ever experienced. I'm glad I got here in time to be part of it.

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If you missed my earlier entry giving an overview of my new venture in Northern Ireland, check it out here.

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