The Church of Ireland and Methodist congregations that share Movilla Abbey Church have made the momentous decision to become a fully integrated community that is equally Church of Ireland and Methodist. The decision followed an extended period of prayer, consultation and listening and has been given the blessing of both parent denominations.
At a joint service on Sunday 10 October, The Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Revd David McClay and the Superintendent Minister of the North Eastern District, Revd Philip Agnew, commissioned the congregation into this exciting new phase of the life and ministry of Movilla Abbey Church.
The service also marked the beginning of the next, transitional, stage when all the legal and constitutional arrangements will be made. Such unity is made possible by the Church of Ireland and Methodist Covenant signed on 26 September 2002.
The process of discernment began in June of this year. Revd Alan Peek (Church of Ireland) and Revd Michael Spence (Methodist) said:
“In light of our forty–year shared history, that has been a blessing to so many over the years, it is not a question we asked lightly, but carefully and responsibly, taking time to collectively discern God’s voice over a period of four months. We began in June with a month of prayer including a guided prayer resource, prayer walks and a 24–hour prayer day with opportunities for people to feed back what they thought God was saying. At the end of June, we laid out a vision of what a fully integrated future could look like with a Vision Day and Frequently Asked Questions sheet. We then wrote to every active member inviting them to pray through July and August and to respond with their thoughts via a feedback form, one–on–one conversations and group discussions. Throughout this process our Church of Ireland Select Vestry and Methodist Church Council met, both together and separately, to prayerfully consider what we heard through prayer, in conversations, and from over 120 feedback forms that were returned. There was, at the end of the process, a clear consensus that we should move in this direction.”
They concluded: “We know that for some, news of this change will be unwelcome, maybe even painful. We have all experienced more than enough change over the past 18 months. However, we also know that, in seeking to follow where God’s Spirit is leading us, we can trust God with our future. Our hope and prayer is that every one of our members will continue to call Movilla Abbey Church home.”
Speaking on Sunday, Bishop David McClay expressed his delight at the ‘courageous step’ taken by the people of Movilla Abbey Church.
He continued: “I consider it a privilege to be part of this special service along with Revd Philip Agnew as two congregations are commissioned to move forward as one. In this year that also marks the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Columba this coming together will provide a stronger base for mission and evangelism in the years ahead – the same vision that characterised the early church and that of the saints of old, not least those with links to the earliest days of Christian witness in the abbey at Movilla. May the command of Jesus to make disciples become an even stronger reality as today’s congregation in Movilla Abbey embrace their opportunities for growth and the expansion of God’s kingdom.”
District Superintendent Revd Philip Agnew said:
“I am delighted that Bishop David and I are part of the commissioning service for the joining together of the two congregations in Movilla Abbey. In John 17 Jesus prayed that His followers would live in unity, and this is a visible demonstration of what I believe warms the heart of Jesus. This is a good news story at a time when such news is in short supply. My prayer is that as the two become one that together they will experience the riches of God’s blessing and live to share the love of Jesus in Newtownards and beyond.”
Pictured above L–R: Revd Alan Peek, Revd Philip Agnew, Mrs Rosie Lappin (Lay Reader), Bishop David McClay and Revd Michael Spence.