Prayer Letter January 2018
My Dear Friends
This New Year brings new opportunities. During 2017 I joined a large team of people praying for our land on a regular basis at St George’s Parish Church in Belfast. Then during the autumn, I was challenged to increase the network of centres praying for our land. It seemed appropriate to start at home, which for me is the parishes of Inch and Kilmore, so we tentatively commenced praying on the first Monday of each month at 7.00 am for an hour. On the first occasion it was still dark when we arrived at the church, and as we left the church dawn had already broken to a beautiful bright, crisp morning, and clearly visible on the sky above was a distinct cross, where two jet vapour trails had crossed. I immediately thought of the vision that Emperor Constantine had seen in the sky, of a cross of light, which transformed his thinking and caused him to embrace Christianity. What a symbol of encouragement and change that was. Christians had been viciously persecuted, but Constantine, leader of the eastern world, having seen the vision of the cross in the sky, declared that the Christian religion was to be the official religion of the Empire. This was a huge change and an amazing opportunity. Was I seeing a sign to remind me that, ‘prayer makes all the difference in the world’? I certainly believe so, as it is the basis of all that we do at CMH.
The autumn term was very stimulating with many events causing me to look back and appreciate the past, before looking forward with expectation. In September I had the privilege of preaching at the opening service of Muckamore, Kilead and Gartree Mothers’ Union at Gartree Church, which is at Langford Lodge on the eastern shore of Lough Neagh. (RAF Langford Lodge was where the first ejector seats, developed by Martin-Baker in the 1940s, were tested.) My affinity for the Mothers’ Union came from being Enrolling Member in Holywood prior to ordination. It was there that I discovered the power of prayer, through praying the Prayer of Mary Sumner (Founder of the Mothers’ Union): All this day, O Lord, let me touch as many lives as possible for thee; and every life I touch, do thou by thy spirit quicken, whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breathe, or the life I live. Amen. I didn’t have to preach sermons to touch lives, but I had to pray!
Early in my experience of CMH was a half night of prayer at Knockbreda Methodist Church. What stood out so clearly was the faith of those who prayed, as well as those who came for prayer. This encouragement came at a time when CMH was at a low ebb and I felt that I was in a very lonely position. This evening was like an encouragement from God to keep praying. Often the answers to the unasked questions about such a time as this, come much later. Now all these years later the answers have come thought the book we are studying at our Book Club at 162. The book is, ‘The Grace Outpouring’ by Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts, which tells the story of the work and witness of the retreat centre at Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales. Roy had been puzzled that so many amazing things happened all at once, then there was a real dearth of any sign of the Spirit at work. He had been praying to see if there was anything that they’d been doing that had interrupted the flow of God’s Spirit. The answer that he received seems so obvious, and so applicable here too; keep praying. God’s work will always come as an ebb and flow. The flow can be almost over-powering in intensity, and the ebb is necessary to enable us to do the mundane things of the ‘bread and butter’ of daily life, in order to get ready for the next flow of the Spirit. We are coming full circle again, and I am delighted to be joining with the Ballynafeigh Methodist circuit at Netwownbreda and Belvoir Methodist Churches for the development of prayer ministry during Lent this year.
Hurricane Ophelia was due to hit our shores and meteorological warnings predicted much damage and chaos, so many meetings organised for 16th October were cancelled, including the CMH Down and Dromore committee’s triennial meeting at Dollingstown, and the Balllymacash Flower Club’s meeting. The Flower Club’s meeting was rescheduled for the following Monday, but the speaker, my colleague Frances, was unavailable to fulfil the engagement and I was asked to substitute. In the distant past I had studied City and Guilds Flower Arranging with the personal aim of improving my skill in arranging church flowers. However, God had other plans and after two years of study I diverted to Bible College for the beginning of a closer walk. Flower arranging was not time wasted as my teacher, Mrs Sheila Moag, greatly influenced me by the out-working of her Christian faith. Bible College had different demands and during the full time study for a Bachelor of Divinity degree I was required to commit to practice in the field. An overseas placement was necessary and I chose Uganda as I had visited there in 1983 after Idi Amin had been deposed. Canon Cecil Wilson of Church Mission Society Ireland suggested that I go to Bishop Balya College west of Fort Portal in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains and close to the border of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Six weeks was set aside in 1996 and I set off to fulfil the field term requirements of ‘observing and sharing my faith where possible.’ To say that it was challenging is to completely minimise the experience. I was well out of my comfort zone especially when I discovered that I was expected to live, not in the college, but move from village to village and live with the local rector and his family. Prayer became a living and breathing experience, with many immediate and amazing answers. Praying that God’s Spirit would move in a service which was about to start, was answered by two men giving their lives to Jesus. However, I soon found out that the local Mothers’ Union were ahead of me and had been praying for those two men for some months, but God was teaching me about prayer and capturing my imagination. In one village when I arrived, the rector said, ‘Do not worry. We will keep you very safe’. Little did I know that he really meant it; but all became apparent when the Commandant of the local men’s prison arrived to take me to their chosen accommodation (or safe house)! It was a house where they enclosed their political prisoners. I was indeed very safe as I was locked up with armed guards outside the door. Every cloud has a silver lining, and this one did too. The room had a concrete floor with real brick walls, as opposed to living in a tukule (mud hut). The following day I was asked to lead the prayer at the church service for the prisoners. The prisoners had already gathered when we arrived. I will never forget the joy with which they sang: ‘I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back’. Their delight in worship completely denied their wretched clothing in tatters or their uncertain future. Had I been concerned for my safety? No, I hadn’t, but to my dismay I later discovered that three weeks after my visit rebels streamed down from the mountain and many of the locals were killed. The locals were concerned that I would be safe, and God had kept me safe, as he wasn’t finished with me.
How easy it is to pray when we are in difficult or desperate situations and learn that God does answer prayers in amazing and wonderful ways, but when our comfort props are there we can so easily forget and assume that we do not have to ask. Jesus did say: ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.’ (Matt 7:7,8) We do not receive because often we do not ask for what we require. Joining with others to pray is also very powerful, but many are apprehensive about opening their mouths in front of others. If this is you, we have the perfect opportunity for you. On Thursday 25 January (10.00 am – 2.00 pm) we are holding seminars on Contemplative Prayer at 162. If you have never experienced this way of praying, or if you would like a refresher, then please phone or email to put your name on the list. The best way that I can describe it is sitting silently before God; holding His word before Him in the silence, and listening for Him.
If you are enthused by any of this, then why not come and join us in some of our activities. We have two Holy Communion Services each month, with the opportunity for individual prayer and Laying on of Hands and, of course, the cup of tea of coffee afterwards (1st and 3rd Tuesday at 10.00 am). Alternatively, if your passion is praying for the nations and Israel then come and join a like-minded group on the 2nd Tuesday each month at 11.00 am. The Book Club meets on the 1st Thursday of the month at 10.00 am and the Craft Group (Stitch, Glue, Sip and Chew) meets weekly on Mondays at 10.00 am.
Over the last session we held six quiet days at Echo Sound; held three training days; delivered five talks; preached fourteen sermons; held two fundraising events; instituted a book club; held a prayer breakfast and worked in six dioceses. It has been a fulfilling session which initiated many new friendships and links, steeped in daily prayer in the office.
The programme for the New Year has two quiet days at Echo Sound during Lent. (Early booking is recommended 90795832. Please advise of special diets.) We are holding a Ladies’ Lunch at 162 on Mothering Sunday, for those who are solo. We are growing in prayer and activity and excitement as we see God’s hand upon us. Feel free to join us in any activity or simply call in for a coffee and a chat.
Wishing you every blessing