There was a Pentecost sundae, of sorts, for Bishop Andrew Forster, after he preached at two separate Services of Confirmation in St Patrick’s Church in Leckpatrick, today, during which a total of 17 young people were confirmed. The Rector of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, Rev Canon Paul Whittaker, had arranged for an ice cream van to visit the church grounds after the services, and all present – young and old – were treated to free 99s.
The first service, on Sunday morning, was for seven confirmands from Leckpatrick Parish who emerged from the church into brilliant sunshine. By the time the ten Dunnalong youths were confirmed, though, the skies had opened – not that it dulled the congregation’s appetites.
In his sermon, Bishop Andrew referred to the trials of the past year, during which the Coronavirus pandemic had wrought havoc around the world, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and disrupting life everywhere, including in parishes the length and breadth of Ireland. “The very fact that we are able to have this Confirmation Service,” the Bishop said, “shows us that things are getting better. For just over a year in the diocese there were no Confirmations at all, so the very fact that we’re able to do this is a good sign.”
Two words came to mind, Bishop Andrew said, when he thought about the past year – loss and fragility. He himself had lost an uncle to Covid last May. For others there had been the loss of employment, loss of opportunity, and loss of security.
“I want to say to the young people here that I am so sorry that you have had to live through such a year. It’s been really hard on you. Not being able to be with friends; not being able to do the things you wanted to; not being able to socialise; and even – I know it was good not to be at school at the start – but actually we came to see that school’s actually not that bad a place to be.”
Bishop Andrew told the congregation that he was something of a ‘news junkie’ but that there had been times over the past year when he had had to say “Enough” and stop watching because he felt it was too much. “Maybe we feel fragile – psychologically – in the midst of all this. There’s a fragility that’s about, and we’ve all experienced it, and yet in one way we can still hardly believe that we’ve come through this. There’s been nothing like it since 1919 and the Spanish Flu epidemic. Quite remarkable, isn’t it?
There was a verse in the Old Testament that asks what the righteous will do when the foundations shake? “Let me tell you,” Bishop Andrew said, “the foundations are shaking, aren’t they? The foundations of the way we live our lives, the foundations of what we place our trust in, the foundations of our security, they’ve been shaking over this last year. What will the righteous do and who are the righteous? The righteous are those who are right with God, they’re the people of God. What do we do when the foundations shake? How do we chart a course into the future?
“Today is Pentecost Sunday and that’s the day we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers and I believe that whenever we see the foundations shaking in this world, the story of Pentecost can tell us what the righteous should do. It’s an amazing story. The disciples were together, the `Holy Spirit comes upon them and they go and do amazing things.”
Bishop Andrew said he wanted to share four words with the young people: ‘presence’, ‘power’, ‘comfort’ and ‘challenge’.
Jesus said, “I will be with you till the end of the age”. That’s the presence of the Holy Spirit. “So, whenever you feel God at work, that’s the presence of God.”
‘Power’. The disciples had assembled together in the upper room, the Bishop said. Jesus had ascended into heaven. They were alone. They were frightened. “Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and they moved from being fearful, frightened, anxious men – they’re out in the streets of Jerusalem preaching the Good News – and three thousand people come to faith. That’s when the church was born, on the day of Pentecost. The power of the Holy Spirit transformed them, and I want to say to you nothing has changed.”
‘Comfort’. Jesus told his disciples that he would send them the Spirit – the comforter. “Let me tell you, if you want to look into the very heart of Jesus, there’s the word that he would want to share with you, ‘comforter’. Why does he want to comfort you in life’s ups and downs? Because he loves you and he’ll never stop loving you. And whether you think you’re close to God or far away from him, whether you feel at times in disgrace and have wandered from him, he will never, ever, stop loving you, and whenever we know his comfort, he gives peace – peace in a broken and difficult world. God wants to give you his comfort whatever you face.”
The fourth word is ‘challenge’. “Today, on this significant day, [it] is a day of challenge for you because what you do today is say ‘Yes’ to God. Saying ‘Yes’ to God isn’t a one-off, you have to say ‘Yes’ to God day and daily. Today God challenges us – and maybe he will challenge you – to greater service for him. Maybe he’ll challenge you in your life to step out in faith and live out your life in an amazing way for God.”
When the foundations shake, Bishop Andrew said in conclusion, the people of God would rely on the presence of the Spirit, the power of the Spirit, the comfort of the Spirit and the challenge of the Spirit to live our lives for him, and the people of God would continually say ‘Yes’ to God when the foundations shook.