Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Back To Church

The countryside around Thurles is stunning
A few days ago I accomplished something on my Irish bucket list. I attended the Sunday morning service at the Thurles Baptist Church. Yep, Thurles has a baptist church. Who knew? Actually, I did. I found it online last year and even accidentally drove past it (it’s “out in the country”) when I was exploring one day. But I was preoccupied with standing stones and wedge tombs, and figured relics of the baptist movement would have to wait until I ran up the timeline a few thousand years. 

So in early April, I sent an email to the pastor and introduced myself, explaining I’d be in Thurles all summer and hoped to attend church. I got a really hospitable, informative reply from his wife, offering me a lift if I should need one. So Sunday was the day. She collected me personally and was just as warm and friendly as I had expected (and hoped).

There are over 6 million cows in Ireland. Thank you, Siri.
She explained that the reason the church is somewhat out of town and in the middle of the fields had nothing to do with “pastoral” care (my bad, not her’s). It’s said that, when the church was founded about 30 years ago, the Catholic Church did not rejoice but rather, the priest warned his parishioners not to sell land to the evangelicals.

Who’s going to disobey the priest? He might be the one who later hears your confession, right? I wonder if the priests were legally and ethically bound to report the sin of “colluding with evangelicals” to the local authorities. But maybe the church WAS the local authority back then. I don’t know these things. Nevertheless, I was told the only plot of land they could muster was the spot where they are, so that’s where they are. It’s a little in the middle of nowhere.
I never grow weary of stone bridges

I was so hoping it wasn’t going to be a fire and brimstone experience. Vesuvius is farther east, right? You never know with baptists. They’re as multi flavored as Haagen-Dazs. But I can say honestly, it was the most sincere, unpretentious, reverent evangelical service I’ve been to in a while. And I felt most welcome. I’m going back next week.

I’ve gotten away from “religion” in the last few years, which includes commitment to a church. I prefer to have my worship served with caroling birds and persevering streams as opposed to chatty well-wishers who spoon feed each other platitudes then wash them down with “America First”. Oops! Am I getting political??? Somebody slap me.
The larch tree is used for boat making 

Thursday night I went walking with the Mid Tipp Hillwalkers (who by God’s grace did NOT go up any hills on Thursday). I felt the same hospitality from this secular group as I felt at church. We left at 7 which is early considering it’s still light outside at 10. We hiked along a river (a tributary of either the Shannon, the Suir or the Nore because they’re the Big 3 in Tipperary), past blazing fields of barley, through forests replete with exotic (to me) flora which one of our party continuously pointed out and identified. The Devil’s Bit was always on the horizon and the sky was apuff with mesmerizing pinks, blues and grays.

The O'Fogarty clan church in Inch closed its doors around 1700. 
This event was especially intriguing to me because the group not only walks together but they converse in Irish as they walk. I picked up a few words and they were kind enough to do some translating. I wonder how you say, “Who invited the klutzy American?” in Irish. Hmmm

Of course no outdoor excursion in Ireland is complete without a detour through a lichen splattered cemetery  and the reading of stones and the lamenting of crumbly, forgotten church walls. The Inch Old Graveyard was our memorial de jour and provided a peaceful rest stop although I don’t think any of us really needed one.

We completed our loop by nine or so and had tea and biscuits (cookies) at a pub/restaurant called The Ragg, which was our starting point. And because no indoor excursion in Ireland is complete without music, we had no sooner started sipping when out of nowhere appeared a penny whistle and a fiddle and two reenergized hikers who knew how to wield them. All I could think of was How Great Thou Art (which doesn’t work as a jig or a reel but nevertheless…).

I’m finding so many venues and ways to worship these days. But I have to admit, I miss church. Just the traditional stand and sing, bow in prayer, listen to the sermon, shake a hand kind of togetherness. Doctrine has zigged and zagged its way through the ages and unfortunately left grooves of self-righteous pride, division and animosity. And the controversies never end.
Music in The Ragg
Nature doesn’t demand a creed. Music doesn’t require all the answers. Just faith. But I’m still going back to church next week because I want to.


  1. I know what you mean about missing church. I was raised a Congregationalist (very mainstream), and Al and I went to a splendid Congregational church in Evanston, Il, just north of Chicago. For us it was participation in the choir that touched our souls. It helped that Northwestern U. in Evanston has an outstanding music school, so we had many talented singers and musicians participating, plus an incredibly pipe organ with a stellar music director to play it and lead the choir. We have not been able to find a church here that fits, at least not within a 30 or 40 minute drive. Glad you found such a wonderfully spiritual church in Ireland without having to become Catholic--something Al and I have considered but found too mysterious for us to comprehend.

    1. Jill, I think a lot of people are experiencing the same thing. Still maintaining a relationship with God, but not feeling an affinity with "church" anymore. I know some good progressive churches are popping up in response to this though. I listen to podcasts by Greg Boyd at Woodland Hills church in Minnesota every week. He has written a number of books and has a lot to say that makes sense to me. Brian McLaren is another theologian who has some lectures on youtube I believe. His book, The Secret Message of Jesus, is one of my favs. It addresses the issue of today's church.

    2. Thanks, Kim. I'll check the book. I haven't figured out yet how to access podcasts. Guess I'm showing my age.

  2. "Music doesn’t require all the answers. Just faith." How beautifully phrased is this, Kim. I'm Catholic (saints begorrah!) but have removed myself from the church's mumbo-jumbo, "mysterian," incense-swinging rituals and unrealistically ill-tempered inability to mesh with the real world. Lately, I've been greatly enjoying playing music at the Trinity UCC services on 49th Street in St. Pete...enough, that I'm willing to give up watching my conflicting CBS "Sunday Morning" program then...hah! (No DVR.) The services there offer heartfelt testimony to the enumerated needs & hopes of the congregants. To attend such a service in the Emerald Isle would be....well, heaven.

    1. Larry, Glad you've found a place to worship as well as contributing your talents. And they are blessed to have you. I miss Meet The Press (as well as The Bachelorette, but that's another story).