Inishmacsaint Parish, Derrygonnelly, Northern Ireland

Inishmacsaint Parish, Derrygonnelly, Northern Ireland


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Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious
Church: Inishmacsaint Parish
Location: Derrygonnelly, Northern Ireland
Date of visit: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 11:00am

The building

A traditional grey stone building dating from 1831 and set in an old graveyard. The church underwent a comprehensive building renovation programme between 2003 and 2005. During this time many of the original features of the building were restored, including the stoneware in the aisle and a beautiful wood panelled ceiling. On the day of my visit, the church was warmly decorated with some hand-made banners. There were also some fresh flowers arranged at the front, and I noticed a large vase of beautiful mixed sweet pea in the foyer on the way out.

The church

In pre-Christian times this region was sparsely populated. The work of St Ninnidh in converting the area is well documented on the parish's website. Today the parish numbers 105 families and the worshippers appeared to be what I would call an all-age congregation. They sponsor a Mothers Union, youth fellowship, Bible class, Scouts, and several recreational groups.

The neighborhood

Derrygonnelly is a small village located in the west of County Fermanagh's lakelands, situated beside lower Lough Erne. It is home to just under 600 people and forms the hub for the surrounding rural area. The nearest town is Enniskillen, the county town of Fermanagh, located on a natural island that separates the upper and lower sections of Lough Erne. For many people, Enniskillen has become synonymous with the Remembrance Day bombing in 1987. Not many realise it is also the town where Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde were educated.

The cast

The Parish website lists the Rev. Stanley Bourke as rector. However, the service was led by a lady who was not introduced and did not introduce herself, although I got the impression that the congregation were all familiar with her. I shall refer to her as Eileen, as a discussion at the door on the way out led me to believe that that was her name.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Prayer

How full was the building?

The church was just under half full, with 59 people in attendance.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was an obvious visitor to such a small, rural congregation. A few people noticed me in the car park and said good morning. The gentleman in attendance at the door shook my hand warmly as he handed me the required books.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was an open back wooden pew, which was actually, and surprisingly, quite comfortable to sit on. What grabbed my attention were the very ornately embroidered prayer cushions placed at the pews, displaying colourful pictures of sheaves of wheat, doves and poppies.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was no buzz – people were filing quietly into their seats and the atmosphere was one of subdued reverence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to morning prayer."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

I was handed the Church of Ireland's Church Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer at the door on my way in. Copies of the Bible (New International Version) were in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ. There was also a small, but good, choir of about eight.

Did anything distract you?

It was a relatively short service, just under 45 minutes. Not that there's anything wrong with that – in fact it can be very refreshing – but I hardly had time to be distracted! The one thing that did catch my eye was a fabulous stained glass window depicting the parable of the sower. I found myself paying it rather too much attention during one of the hymns.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I'd call it "splash and dash." Traditional morning prayer. The organist was very good and the singing was at quite a lively pace.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – "Eileen" appeared to be reading her sermon, but that didn't really matter because she was very succinct and what she said was very good.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon focused on Deuteronomy 31, where Moses tells Joshua to be strong and courageous as he leads Israel to the promised land. We are reminded of God's promise to us that he will not leave or forsake us and that he is with us, not against us. Although it's hard not to become discouraged, God holds on to us and gives us his strength if we ask for his help.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The service was all quite heavenly. The church looked lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed singing the hymns to tunes I actually recognised, and there was the benefit of the short but meaningful sermon. Add to that the fact that I was able to get out and enjoy the beauty of God's creation in the fabulous Lakeland countryside and I'd say it was an all round success.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I often have difficulty depositing my calling card! On this occasion I was first to receive the offering plate, so I decided to wait, and after the service was over and I had taken my photograph, I had to sneak up to the reading lectern and place the card on it.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Several people said hello as they passed by my pew on their way out. One couple asked if I was in the area on holiday. "Eileen" engaged me in polite conversation as she shook my hand on the way out, and made me feel genuinely welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none, but then, that would have doubled the entire length of the service, so why bother!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – I really enjoyed my time at Inishmacsaint Parish and would very definitely visit again. I am not from a Church of Ireland tradition, but enjoy attending their services as a refreshing change of style from what I am more used to. But, at the risk of sounding critical of the tradition, I do sometimes get a bit bogged down in the heavy reliance on the Book of Common Prayer. Maybe controversially, I tend to prefer a bit more flexibility and freedom of speech.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

It certainly did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Strangely enough, it will be that very pretty vase of sweet pea.

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