The Church of Ireland at Killorglin
The Church of Ireland at Killorglin
Reading the title at the top, most of us assume that the church would be Roman Catholic. Years of experience with neighbors like the Murphy and the Kearns families make the affinity of the Irish for that denomination as certain as the froth on a pint of Guinness. But tucked away somewhere in my cranial data bank a countering thought led me, the grandson of Johnny Weir, a warden in the Church of Ireland, to suspect Killorglin was home also to a Protestant congregation. Sure enough, in parentheses on the sign board, below the larger letters of the church’s name, it reads “Episcopal/Anglican.”
It was, in the most literal sense, a serendipitous morning. I went to the 11 AM service, if not reluctantly, then looking only for an hour of competently-led worship, somewhat more ornate than my usual fare, seeing that Episcopal/Anglican displayed on the sign. An hour of “smells and bells” I could tolerate, perhaps even enjoy as a taste of local life. Instead we found a service to celebrate, one that might have pleased Johnny Weir no less than his preacher grandson, that one with a preference for simplicity, directness, and a Biblical message for the present moment.
The sun shone intermittently during our week in Ireland. The rain was a constant companion, drizzling, pouring, and misting. Sunday at the holy hour was another mix of wet weather; but the interior of the church was bright and warm. The building was a relatively new one, spare in its adornments and generous with its windows. A gentleman an aisle away knelt in prayer, on the stone floor! No cushions were provided for the usual Episcopal posture in prayer. Each chair (no, no pews) carried its own Book of Common Prayer and a hymnal, the same one with which I was familiar from the chapel at the college I attended. That is, the hymnals were quite old.
It was August, the rector was vacationing, and a supply pastor presided. The Rev. Elizabeth McElhinney was semi-retired, but maintained a full schedule of guest engagements. I greeted her at the door with, “I’ve got a lot of things I’d like to ask you.” We talked during and after the last of the worshipers filed out of the church. Her husband Cyril joined in. He is not ordained, but he is active in church affairs, serving on a national commission of the Church of Ireland looking toward a merger with the Methodists.
I gleaned from our conversation and my own observation that the Church of Ireland is more like the United Methodist of the U. S. A.; and Irish Methodists are more like American evangelicals. The form of the service this Sunday, the Book of Common Prayer’s order for ante-communion, is the basic pattern which informs the recommended orders of worship in the United Methodist Church’s official Book of Worship. Small wonder I felt at home.
But the biggest unexpected treasure on this serendipitous morning was the preaching. The text, one of my favorites, reported the meeting of the Syrian woman with Jesus. She wanted a big favor, a miracle, the healing of her daughter, and Jesus at first would put her off. But she persists and the words of her persistence are echoed for posterity in the prayer of humble access once used in the Episcopal and Methodist rituals for holy communion: how “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.” The Rev. Mrs. McElhinney laid heavy stress on the woman’s persistence; but she also underlined Jesus’ openness, in the words of another ritual prayer, to “all sorts and conditions of men” and women. During our tete-a-tete following the service, I, with a twinkle in my eye, told the preacher that I was a preacher and that I agreed with everything she said. “Oh, thank goodness,” she more or less replied. Pastor Elizabeth spoke freely from notes with an Irish lilt to her speech and a brightness in her demeanor that was, well, winning.
It’s not as if I had to fly over the pond to hear a good sermon; but it is encouraging to know that the Gospel is preached, Jesus is affirmed, and the love of God is celebrated in the Auld Sod with words and thoughts that can stir the soul of an old emigrant-stock Celt like Bobby O’Howard.
Rating: Four gold harps… I mean haloes.
Critics of the critic contend that only large churches have the wherewithal to attain a crown of multiple haloes. And it is true that the five halo churches reported here are large enough and possess a sufficient number of prosperous members to equip the building comfortably and tastefully. Such churches also have choirs with paid section leaders, singing to the accompaniment of Aeolian Skinner pipe organs and Steinway pianos. But this review of a small church with a small membership, lacking the ostentations just mentioned, indicates that Critical Christian can also savor small ecclesiastical delights and rate them highly. Oh, go ahead and cavil, that I was under an Irish spell, that expecting little, the little I found was magnified into a pot of gold. Notwithstanding these contrary thoughts, I suggest from the experience at Killorglin that a good sermon, if it doesn’t quite trump all, comes quite close in my judgment to coloring with rosy hue the entire morning experience in worship.