The steps of St Anne’s Cathedral were ablaze with light on New Year’s Eve as Bishop Harold led the diocese of Down and Dromore into a Year of Mission.
Following an evening of celebration, the bishop led the congregation into the street as spotlights shone into the night sky and St Anne’s became a canvas for the Year of Mission logo, ‘For you’.
The lighting environmental projection was just one element of a wonderful evening which celebrated the end of a full year of 24–7 Prayer and looked forward to 2015. There was something for all ages with good food, crafts for kids, live music and worship before the symbolic act of leaving the building as ‘Lights to the World’.
Around 500 people mingled at the back of the Cathedral which had been furnished with sofas and tables. A team from Boring Wells, Mersey Street, put on a fantastic spread of hot and cold food and deacon intern, Revd Sam Johnston, and his pianist provided some live jazz. From 10.30 pm Bishop Harold led an act of worship, dedication and reflection, stopping at midnight to welcome the New Year.
The diocese has been preparing for mission for 18 months and remembering in the past year that we are first and foremost called to give ourselves to God. We are ‘For Him’ as it says on the banners inside our churches. A significant focus for this was the Year (or 8760 hours) of 24–7 Prayer for which Bishop Harold thanked our parishes and Tash Creaney from 24–7 Prayer Ireland. Tash trained our churches and helped coordinate the prayer scroll handovers. She put together a 2 minute overview of the year which we enjoyed before dedicating the much travelled Prayer Scroll and all the prayers of blessing written upon it. Prayer changes things and we believe those 8760 hours have provided a vital foundation for the Year of Mission.
2014 was ‘For Him’ but in 2015 we are very conscious of also being ‘For you’, as we switch from one logo to the other. As Bishop Harold said in his address, ‘For you’ has a clear message.
“‘For you’ is a declaration that the church is here not for the sake of itself, but for the sake of the outsider,” he said. “The church does not primarily exist for itself or, like a club, for its members – it exists to transform the world, and especially the community in which it is set, for Jesus Christ. Archbishop William Temple famously put it like this: ‘The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of its non–members’”.
‘For you’ will appear on banners around the diocese from New Year’s Day along with the text, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good,’ (Psalm 34:8). Bishop Harold reminded us that with that invitation, “we will be declaring that we are a community of people among whom others can find a quality of life which exists nowhere else. That is a real challenge!”
The diocese has launched a microsite, www.churchforyou.org to allow people to easily connect with local churches and to be impacted by stories of faith. We watched one of the video stories – Stephen’s – a story of becoming a new man, lifted out of depression and guilt over his son’s suicide and the impact of his alcoholism. The website address also appears on the banners and we hope and pray that many people outside the church will see through these media that God is at work in ordinary lives.
In an act of symbolism, everyone was given a light stick to break just ahead of New Year, and Bishop Harold commissioned us, saying:
“In a few moments, each of us will carry the light of Christ symbolically out into the world with us, into this New Year filled with possibility, filled with God. We are the carriers of Jesus Christ. You are light to the world. Let that light shine, and see what God will do!”
Thanks to our organist for the evening, Mr David Stevens (Master of the Choristers at Belfast Cathedral) and Paul Kissick, who led our contemporary worship.