Irish Eyes

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Here’s a great blog post from Tom Burke, the minister of Grace Church Cork.

I went to visit the church five years ago when I was doing a study of growing churches in the British Isles and America.

Grace is unusual, in that it has worked really hard to enculturate itself into the Cork context.

Over many centuries the Irish have defined themselves over and against their domineering neighbour to the East. To be Irish is to be Roman Catholic, to speak Gaeilge and to be a fan of Gaelic Sports.

This has meant that when English and American protestant evangelists come in from outside, they can be perceived with suspicion, as bringing in a foreign religion. The psychology of nationhood is strong.

Grace Church has enculturated itself, first of all by meeting in a Christian Brothers’ School. The idea being that they can’t be that bad, even as Protestants, if the bishop has allowed them to gather there.

Secondly, a lot of the songs have both English and Irish verses, to which everybody sings along.

Thirdly, there is much emphasis on the GAA and Irish sports.

The overall aim is to give the warm feeling of an Irish Pub.

The church has been very effective in reaching out both to the locals, and also to the increasingly international community in Cork. They have been successful in making a church where people can feel at home.

So my questions are: If that’s what it means to be Irish – what does it mean to be English? What are the three things a church could do here, to make people feel at home?