St. Patrick, a Roman Brit, born in the late 300’s A.D., felt a call to return to Ireland, having been kidnapped and held captive there for years. He desired to bring the good news of Jesus to the people there. The Celtic landscape was dominated by the worship of nature expressed by the druids. These peoples were bitterly divided, and were often referred to as “barbarians.” Patrick came with the good news of Jesus Christ – one of the parts of the trinity that was illustrated by the clover that grew across the Irish landscape.
If you read accounts of Patrick’s ministry, he came in a posture of love and power. When encountering the druids who claimed to be able to manipulate nature due to their worship of its elements as their gods – Patrick prayed and extraordinary miracles began to occur. It was love in action and the power of prayer working together that started an unprecedented time of the nation and parts of the continent of Europe to turn to Jesus in faith.
The love of God that flowed through Patrick and his missionary band of followers who settled in Ireland was shown in creating communities of faith. While the culture of the land was resistant to organized, formal institutions of faith, people in the small villages were able to see the expression of the True God’s love through the believers. These communities were first made up of monks and nuns who were relational teachers, craftsmen, farmers, artists, families and included children.
Since rural Ireland had no established towns and safe places for travelers, the settlements were built with hospitality in mind. The place for worship was located in the center of the circular community, which also had a small structure we might call a guest house or apartment. It was available to anyone who came to the community ready to welcome them with a warm bed and quiet safety. It was called the “hospitium,” and it was in the choicest site. It was within the enclosure for monks, but connected to the community spaces for feasting, meeting and friendship. This space was itself a kind of “boundary place” between two worlds.
A visitor would be invited to eat, worship, serve the poor, work in the garden and pray alongside those in the community. They were invited to build relationship and belong to the fellowship of people in the village before they were ever expected to make a decision to trust Jesus Christ with their lives. They were encouraged to belong far before they believed.
There are so many things we can learn from our ancestors who lived 1600 years ago. Like Patrick, we are seeking to operate with the love and power of God active in our lives. We are also trying to establish smaller communities of faith where the members of the community vary greatly as far as gifting and passion are concerned. There is an inclusive nature to Patrick’s communities that showed the love of Jesus in tangible ways. We want to create small groups that are like these communities in our church.
Linda and I will be joining a new small group in the next few weeks as Neighborhood Church launches new groups right after Easter. I am looking forward to our tribe and those visiting to have a place to belong. I want to encourage you to try a small group if you aren’t already involved in one. As a church, we will be learning together through Sunday morning teachings which tie into the small group material and a book that you can read everyday. The book will be available starting this Sunday for $10. We are looking forward to new relationships and a greater sense of belonging in the days ahead.
I leave you with a quote from St. Patrick that inspires boldness in me to live and tell others about the life to the fullest that Jesus has given me:
“If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.”