Some Lessons from a Service of Commissioning

One of the goals of this blog is to demystify some of the things that happen at church services and events. The church where I work is located just off the outer ring in Belfast and is visible from the carriageway as people drive past every day.

When they see that building, I wonder what they think? Do they ever wonder what goes on in there? Why are there cars there on days other than Sundays? What sort of people go in and out of places like that?

Sometimes, we are afraid to voice those questions because they seem to reveal our own ignorance. We are afraid of appearing stupid, or we presume everyone knows about churches. If we don’t go, or have never had occasion to visit one, there is that fear that we might do or say something that would be completely inappropriate. The safest thing is often to continue as we have up to this point and never go anywhere near it but, sometimes, we are curious and we would like to get something of a window into what it looks like inside or, indeed, the kinds of things people do when they go there.

The advent of new technology has helped with this. For those who are curious about worship or Sunday services, which is one part of what the church does, you can tune in and watch from the comfort of your own home via the live stream on the parish website. If you google St. Finnian’s at any point you can watch an online service or, if you want to take part in it live, if you tune in to YouTube around 11am on a Sunday that service is usually live streamed.

Last Sunday night, I went to another church to a service of commissioning for a couple who are soon going to leave their home and family in Northern Ireland to work in a church and community in South Sudan. Our church is committed to supporting them financially along with 18 other churches. We want to support them in prayer, too, as they undertake this work in a very different country and culture and context.

South Sudan is one of the newest countries of the world and it was born out of decades of civil war and conflict. The people are very poor and there are huge needs where people have been bereaved and traumatised from decades of war and fighting. The climate is harsh and even subsistence farming is a very big challenge. People are struggling to educate their children, to feed their families and to get the medical care they need. There is a residual distrust after all the civil strife and building peace in such an environment is very challenging.

Andrew and Joanne Quill

Rev. Andrew Quill, who has, until recently, been a parish clergyman in Dromore in Co. Tyrone and his wife, Joanne, who is a nurse by background and a trained counsellor, are about to go to serve in this part of the world under the umbrella of a mission agency called CMS Ireland.

They hope to be involved in theological education for clergy and local communities in the diocese of Ibba, a very remote part of the country. They want to walk alongside local people in building community and peace. They want to support and pray for people who have been traumatised and to share the hope and joy they have found through a relationship with Jesus.

It’s a huge thing to do and the first thing I took away from the service was a sense of God’s call and leading them to this decision. It wasn’t taken lightly or on a whim, but they had signs from God that He was laying this burden upon their hearts. It was confirmed through a discernment process, through things they read about in the Bible, through circumstances and prayer and conversations with others.

The second thing which I became aware of, was how big a sacrifice they were making in going into such a situation but, equally, the sacrifice their family and friends were making in releasing them and letting them go. They both have elderly parents, children who are in their twenties, and many friends who love them dearly. It will be a big wrench to say goodbye in a few weeks and embark upon such a daunting task.

The third thing I took away was how important the prayers of God’s people are when people strive to do something new for God. On this occasion, people gathered from former parishes and churches where the Quills had served. Family and friends came, people came from the link parishes and churches, from the CMS Ireland family and, indeed, four present or past members of the House of Bishops came. It was like everyone who gathered recognised what a big thing this is to do and the best resource going into the unknown is a strong reservoir of prayer. The preacher, the Right Reverend Ken Clarke, reminded them of God’s presence with them, his power working through them in the form of God’s Holy spirit and the dependability of God’s promises.

The fourth, and final thing, I took away was a sense of the importance of partnership. When Andrew and Joanne shared a few words before the end of the service they stressed this word partnership. It’s obvious that we would want to pray for and support them as they go to somewhere so new and so different, but they wanted us to let them know of things that the people in South Sudan might pray for us and for our churches. It might be the decline in attendance numbers, the lack of children or young people, the mental health struggles so many are experiencing, but partnership is not just a one way thing. While they may not have vast financial resources in South Sudan, they have a fervency in faith and a commitment to prayer that we would learn much from and benefit greatly from receiving.

If you want to find out more of Andrew and Joanne’s story, please check out Episode 151 of Bitesize Chunks of Faith, my weekly podcast.

Could I ask you, also, to hold in your prayers our confirmation classes which will begin on Sunday at 4.30 pm in the coffee bar. It’s an opportunity for those in their teens, or who have never been confirmed before, to explore faith in more depth, to ask questions as we engage with some materials that help us to do this together over about 10 weeks. Please feel most welcome to come along.

Look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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