N. Ireland Celtic Spirituality Initiative

An edited version of the address by Revd Ray Simpson, Guardian of the International Community of Aidan and Hilda at the commissioning of Rev Grace Clunie as Director of Celtic Spirituality by the Archbishop of Armagh at Armagh Cathedral on

Sunday September 2 2007

I bring greetings from Lindisfarne, Cradle of Christianity to English-speakers, to you, who have been, are and can increasingly become another cradle of Christianity in our changing world. I congratulate you on this inspired move to appoint a Celtic Spirituality Director, with its hope of a retreat house and resource centre to follow.

Some may ask ?Is this British?? Most certainly, yes. As you know, Armagh?s first Bishop, Patrick was a child of the British church. For a thousand years Christendom gave pre-eminence to the British Church because it believed it was founded very early after Christ?s resurrection by Joseph of Arimathea. The bright beams of Christ?s light that melted Britain?s pagan coldness soon reached up to the north west coast where Patrick was born.

Grace, with your help, is seeking to re-kindle that heritage for today. Patrick inspires people of most diverse backgrounds. In our Celtic Christian Studies Library at Lindisfarne we have a book on Patrick published by The Orange Lodge, a book by a Roman Catholic, and a book by George Hunter 111, the USA church growth leader, entitled ?The Celtic Way of Evangelism: how the West can be won ? again.? George Hunter believes that Protestant, as well as Roman Catholic churches, have been too ?top-down, one shape-fits-all? in the second millennium, and that if we are to recruit today?s generation we need to learn lessons from the likes of Patrick about how to swim our way into the imagination of the people, and inspire spontaneous, grassroots networks of faith.

Somebody might ask, ?Why do we need anything new?? Rowan, the first Celtic Archbishop of Canterbury I can recall, calls on the inherited church to cherish its own treasures and also to invest in fresh expressions of those treasures. Each generation needs to do this. When I was a curate in the Church of England my bishop, Hugh Montefiore, discussed parishes of which I might become vicar, but he also listened to what God had put on my heart. ?Ray?, he said, ? the church needs some people who have one foot inside the establishment and one foot outside among the unchurched, I think God may be calling you to be such a person.? That is surely true also of Grace.

People ask ?What is Celtic spirituality?? Look at this Celtic Cross that I wear, the cross with a circle which is so typical of Ireland. The cross speaks of the centrality of Jesus? Word, his Death, his Resurrection. The circle speaks of creation, the whole of life, which is embraced and transformed by Christ. This is inclusive. God loves and reaches out to everyone through us.

Celtic Christianity is about faith as a fire in the heart. You, here, have a heritage of holy fire. As you know, Patrick celebrated Christ?s resurrection by lighting a fire on the hill of Slane, which the High King?s Druid prophesied would never go out. Patrick prophesied, with a British colleague, that a holy man named Colum (the Dove) would be born to the Irish church who would spread the rays of Christ the True Sun far afield.. Columba?s disciple, Aidan was perhaps born about the time that the night sky became a fiery ball the night Columba died on Iona. Could that be why Aidan, whose name means Flame, was so named? Aidan went from Ireland, via Iona, to the largest of the pagan English kingdoms and set up his mission base at Lindisfarne. Explorers of our Way of Life, inspired by Aidan, wear a badge which depicts Aidan?s torch of fire, and which has the words ?Pass on the flame?. Grace ? I give you this badge to mark this occasion. Many people who seek God come as pilgrims to our Retreat House, The Open Gate, at Lindisfarne. I hope many will come in the future to your retreat house, and that we can send them on to each other. Pass on the flame.

Celtic Christianity seeks to restore Christianity as a way of life. When Christianity began, it was a way of life more than an institution. Those who follow our Aidan and Hilda way of life, for example, seek to learn something from scripture, creation or life every day, to share our life journey with a soul friend, to live a rhythm of prayer, work and re-creation, and to cherish the earth.

It sees the church as more like a ship than a house. Lutherans in the state church of Norway, like many of we Protestants, threw out monasteries, pilgrimage and saints at the Reformation. Yet they call their churches ships (as we use the term nave, from which we get our word the navy). Now increasing numbers of them realise that a ship is meant o voyage ? with God. They want to continue to avoid the abuses that flourished at the time of the Reformation, and yet to re-connect with God in the creation ? and how better than to walk and be pilgrims. Pilgrimage is reviving among all Christians, and that is why your provision for pilgrims here could be so timely and such a blessing ? as they use your libraries, the lovely garden, the beautiful daily liturgies in the cathedral and do the Patrick trail.

Celtic Christianity seeks to weave together those God-given strands within Christianity which became separated. That is why this new work will no doubt build on your existing ecumenical partnerships;

This re-connecting with roots that have been neglected can be important for our Episcopal/Anglican Communion. I returned from USA last week, carrying the heart break of members of an Episcopal church which is being torn apart. I would like our American friends to know that this world-wide Communion is not an accident of colonialism, it is a continuation of the church founded by the apostles to Britain and Ireland. I would like to tell them that they can come to Armagh and trace their bishops back to Patrick, or they can come to Lindisfarne and trace them back to Aidan.

There is another reason why your fostering of a Christian tradition that is grass-roots and non-threatening is so important ? power corrupts, even in the church. Here I have a confession to make. I have an addiction to Sister Fidelma novels. Unfortunately the bad man in some of them is Brother Ultan of Armagh ? for he wants to enforce his power upon all the other dioceses for most un-Christ-like motives. We have to admit that not every period in our church?s history has been as inspiring as the first period. There is a need for humility, repentance, reconciliation, healing of the land. That, too, is part of the Celtic Christian way.

Hospitality is at the heart of Celtic spirituality. There is a mother?s heart in the heart of God. I hope you will all offer a smile to the stranger, a space to the seeker, a prayer and a helping hand to Grace as together you develop the centre. Finally, blessing is important, too. Patrick blessed places. His beautiful blessing of Munster has come down to us. May I end by giving you this blessing from us:

Here be the peace of those who do your sacred will. Here be the praise of God by night and day. Here be the place where strong ones serve the weakest Here be a sight of Christ?s most gentle way. Here be the strength of prophets righting greed and wrong Here be the green of land that?s tilled with love. Here be the soil of holy lives maturing Here be a people one with all the saints above. (Celtic Hymn Book: Kevin Mayhew Ltd)

Posted at 06:28am on 9th September 2007
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