“You’re going to Scotland!” Close friends have been reminding me of this. And I think now that I’m sitting down to write a little about the trip, I’m finally feeling the anticipation. So for those of you who haven’t been alerted as of yet, here it is: I’m going to Scotland! When? VERY soon! This Friday the 25th, our small group of seminarians and WCD participants will be traveling across the pond to the homeland of bagpipes, kilts, beautiful highlands, malt whiskey, and some of the most unique folklore (ex. the Loch Ness Monster!). So we’ll be there until the 10th of March doing a number of things.
Participate and Learn…
This trip is a “cross-cultural immersion trip”, which is one component of my WCD experience. And while many such trips associated with church work often involve going to a chosen 3rd world country and working alongside local people to help build houses or volunteer with an orphanage, the Scotland trip has much different intentions and expectations. We are openly seeking to participate and learn, which can be different from “service work” in a couple ways. The first part of our trip will be spent experiencing monastic life at the Northumbrian community (link at the bottom of the page), which is a monastery rooted in a Celtic spiritual heritage. Our WCD group has been using their prayer book and we hope to glean from this experience a better understanding of how this type of ministry is a gift to the church and world. This monastic experience will be a nice foundation for the second part of our trip, which will take us to the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow where we’ll be exploring how the church is seeking to express itself in what can be called a post-Christian society. So these two parts of the trip come together in what we see as the purpose of the trip: to participate and learn how the monastic life of the church (a mix of contemplation, prayer, thoughtfulness, hospitality, and communal life) fits together with the missional life of the church (evangelism, witness, social engagement, and Christian presence in the world). Of course, we believe that monasticism and mission are not to be harshly separated because they have much to do with one another, and it’s that tension that we want to really explore.
Although St. Patrick's Day is thought of as a purely Irish celebration, he is a saint because of his influence throughout present-day Ireland, England, and Scotland. On March 16th, St. Patty’s day is often celebrated involving (lots of) beer, pinching people who don’t wear green, and maybe eating some traditional Irish cuisine. But what was so special about Patrick? In preparation for the trip, I’ve been reading George G. Hunter’s “The Celtic Way of Evangelism”, which helps to paint a fuller picture of the famous Patrick. I hope to relay some of Hunter’s pertinent insights in the remainder of this blog.
Born in northern England around 400AD, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 (epic, I know), and taken prisoner for about 6 years. During these years in captivity, Patrick was deeply affected through what theologians call “natural revelation”, a process by which you come to believe in God because of the beauty displayed in nature. Also, Patrick came to love and respect the Irish people and culture that took him prisoner, which I find especially strange! And this is where the story gets even more peculiar. Patrick hears a voice in a dream telling him to escape and there will be a ship waiting to take him, which is what he does. From there, he returns home to England and trains to become a priest in England.
After years of normal priestly duties in England, Patrick heard another voice calling him back to the people who captured him. So, in typical Patrick fashion (which was outrageously non-typical), he asked the church in Rome if he would be allowed to return as an apostle (religious messenger person) to the Irish people. The biggest problem here is that much of the civilized Roman world viewed “those” people as barbarian, emotionally unfit, and hopeless. For example, the Celts were known to battle in the nude, which you can imagine didn’t seem to model the virtues of the Roman culture, which highly regarded rationalism and literacy. The main and all-too-common assumption here was that for a group of people to hear the Gospel and to know God’s love for them… they need to first be civilized… they needed to be Roman. Patrick did not agree with this. Patrick knew their culture and loved the people. And after much reluctance, Patrick was given Papal approval and spent the rest of his life living among the Celtic people. Although the numbers are hard to gather, there is significant evidence that many thousands of people were baptized into the church. Overall, Patrick’s ministry to the Celtic people is crucial in the development of Christianity in Europe.
There have been tons of missionary movements throughout the ages, many full of dangerous and violent and regrettable tactics; however, Patrick’s legacy is one that can be valued because it was not rooted in imperialistic motives or violent capture. Instead, (and here’s the point I’m really trying to make) Patrick understood the Celtic people. He worked for them and with them. He understood their appreciation for paradox, quest for ultimate reality, and love of story. Patrick knew that in order to love his neighbor he must first know them, and out of that sense of knowing them as family and home, he was called to share what was so fundamentally important in his own life, the Christian faith.
As our group travels to Scotland in order to experience and learn, please pray for our time there, our group dynamics while on the journey, the people and places that we meet, and even our return home where we hope to share what God is doing across the pond.
Thomas Cahill speaks of St. Patrick’s ability to affirm the good in the people around him, something I find challenging and hopeful. Cahill says, “Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”
May we be granted God’s peace as we strive to affirm those good and beautiful things around us.