My family and I have just spent a week at the Scripture Union Family Week in Ovoca Manor, near Arklow in County Wicklow. I was there as the speaker for the week but outside of official duties we were able to really enter the spirit of the week as punters. And it was a great week. Normally Ade and I are suspicious of big gatherings of Christians, but this was certainly very different from the average conference gatherings in Northern Ireland.
Firstly the diversity was impressive. To engage in conversations with such a range of accents from this island was terrific. There were people from Antrim and Down, as well as Dublin, Wicklow, Kerry, Kilkenny, Offaly, Roscommon, Galway and on and on. Here was a practical demonstration of ‘tongues’.
There was also diversity in social status. This was really interesting. Let’s just say there was, on average, more money coming from the North. There was more variety in the southern Irish participants. One marker of it was in the number of people who smoked, maybe 7 or 8 people and all from the South. It was a blast to see people leaving my sessions for a smoke break! (at least that’s what they told me).
There was great diversity in the ‘family’ arrangements. Single fathers and mothers with kids, adopted and fostered children, couples where one spouse embraced faith and the other firmly didn’t. Couples whose relational arrangements were, ahem, suspect! It was a brilliant place to be and more like the complexity of real life than the monocultural arrangements one often finds in churches up here.
And theological diversity. Ade issued a word of warning to me on the Saturday night as we contemplated the week ahead. “You do realise”, she said, “that not everyone gets what you do!” And she’s right, particularly in a Southern Irish setting. I have spoken at things down South where people just don’t get my approach to the bible. For some reason I ‘do it’ differently, apparently, North and South. Here we had left and right leaning Christians, charismatic and reformed, emotional and uptight, formal and laid back, liberal and fundamental, black and white, you name we had it.
And incredibly, all this diversity worked. There are people who have been part of this particular happening for up to 18 years. We found it a very welcoming place to be, and my stuff seemed to work.
I had a couple of things to do. Each morning I led a reflection on a Psalm. And on Wednesday evening I led a seminar/workshop on ‘reaching your community’, which proved to be one of the most vociferous and spirited conversation of the week.