After the wonderful scenery, hospitality and fellowship in Midleton and in County Mayo, Ruth and I drove across Ireland’s green and pleasant countryside for our final stay, in Trim and County Meath.
Last August I had the privilege of being an “honorary Irishman” for two weeks when I sharing lodgings with a dynamic group of Irish church planters at a conference organised by One Mission Society in Greenwood, Indiana. In Trim I was looking forward to repeating the long evenings of practical theological discussions with Ciaran that I had enjoyed in Indiana, and to worshiping with the Living Hope Church that I had heard so much about. I was not disappointed on either front.
Ciaran and June Loughran and their delightful children were wonderful hosts who made us quickly feel at home. Ruth and I had forgotten just how much energy is needed by the parents of four young children, but we thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of becoming honorary grandparents for a few days.
Ciaran has that wonderful mix of gifting that I enjoy in the tutors at Moorlands College: a great theological mind, tempered by real practical pastoral experience, and seasoned by a vibrant personal relationship with God. He and June – with their complimentary gifts and characters – make a marvelous team for Christ. Once again it did Ruth and my hearts good to be among people so clearly allowing their lives to be completely directed by Christ.
A key lesson reinforced throughout our summer visits so far is how often – whether it is in Belgium, Romania or Ireland – God chooses to be most fruitful through the ministry of Christian evangelists, pastors and leaders who he has called out of the local people. Ciaran and June are both Irish, both born into Roman Catholic families, and so are both completely attuned to the communities they have been called to serve.
Living Hope Church is a lovely little fellowship that started through the same, God-honored, planting process we saw in action in Midleton and County Mayo. In 2005 three families from an evangelical church in Navan started to meet in Trim where they lived for bible study on Sunday evenings while still worshiping in the morning at their parent church. God began to bless their intention to reach the community they lived and worked in. As numbers grew God called Ciaran to return to his native County Meath and join the group as leader, and the local body of Christians started a Sunday morning meeting in Trim. Soon they had to meet in a hotel as no home was big enough, and then in 2011 they moved into a rented building ideally situated in the center of town and with the facilities to really serve their community.
Ruth and I had really memorable Sunday morning worshiping with the heterogeneous group of believers in Trim; feeling very at home, and made to feel very welcome by all. Once again we were struck with the common bond that so quickly forms as people drawn together, from across culture and place, worship the one Lord. We concluded that the love these folk show one for another cannot fail to continue to shine out as a light to the lost in Trim and beyond.
Like so much of Western Europe, the Republic of Ireland remains a spiritually needy nation. And with its unique history and culture come so many unique challenges to the renewal of God’s work in a beautiful land and welcoming people. However Ruth and I were privileged to see some of the small but growing number of fellowships acting as pin-pricks of light across this spiritually dark land. We came away hugely optimistic about God’s purpose for a land where so many native “saints and scholars” had such commitment to spreading God’s Good News, to affirming the timeless essential beliefs of Christianity, and to helping their neighbors grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who is our hope in a hurting world.