by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, WDC Associate Conference Minister (Kansas-Based)
In honor of St Patrick’s Day, here are a few lessons we can learn from Celtic missionaries that just might have meaning and relevance for us today.
*In Patrick’s day, “establishment” Christian leaders took a dim view of making “apostolic outreach (or befriending pagan, sinners and lost people) the priority of a church. Establishment Christianity always expects its people, pastors and bishops to care for, and fraternize with, church people.” What thoughts does this critique inspire in you? Your congregation? In WDC?
*St Patrick went to the Barbarians in what became Ireland and later Scotland and did his best to shape the story of the gospel so it spoke to them. Today we have “new barbarians” in our home communities who don’t know 2 Corinthians from Ecclesiastes, and wouldn’t even know what to say to the pastor after worship, or how to act “civilized” in most of church life. Some live lives bound up by addiction, broken relationships, or other deep wounds. How can the message of hope and new life in Christ become indigenous in our local communities today, so the gospel may speak with relevance in this time and place?
*A spirituality centered on Jesus that recognizes many people need to reach out to the Holy in experiential ways is something important to consider. Celtic Christians made connections between the physical world around them that they saw, touched, heard, smelled and even tasted and the spiritual lessons God’s good creation could teach them. “New barbarians” today also value feelings and deep experiences. Some philosophers note our society has moved from the Enlightenment’s “I think, therefore I am” to “I feel, therefore I am.” What can this prompt us to consider for worship and community life that just might speak to those around us?
*Community life was also crucial to St Patrick’s way of evangelism and mission. Wherever he went, he would not do the work alone. He would bring others with him who had at least some understanding of the local language and culture. These individuals would begin bringing people into Christian community and into deep conversation about their experiences of life. Peter Berger notes, “In a pluralistic society, the possibility of conversion (that is, changing the way one perceives essential Reality) is opened up through conversations with people who live with a contrasting view of Reality and one adopts and internalizes the new worldview through resocialization into a community sharing that new worldview.”
If you want to learn more about this model of mission and evangelism, read George G Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism. It’s in our WDC Resource Library (or will be once I return it!)