Members of the Aghanloo, Balteagh, Carrick and Tamlaghtard Group of Churches pushed the boat out, in a manner of speaking, with a parish outing to Rathlin Island, on the Feast Day of St Matthias last weekend. More than 40 members and friends of the parish churches accompanied the Rector, Rev Rhys Jones, on Saturday’s daytrip.

The venture was organised by ‘The Parish Trekkers’ – a walking club made up of church members – and participants were rewarded with a calm sea for the six-mile return voyage to Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island. Reverend Jones saw the trip as an opportunity for worship and fellowship between members of his four churches and those who joined them.

The party set off from Ballycastle, onboard the Spirit of Rathlin, on the 10am sailing and after embarking at the harbour walked the short distance to St Thomas’ Church of Ireland for a Service of Thanksgiving and Praise. The Rector welcomed the congregation with a carefully constructed ‘Call to Worship’.

“The world is filled with the glory of God.

The very stones cry out your glory.

“The oceans and its depths sing out your praises,

Let us worship God’s wondrous name.

“From one end of the earth to the other

You inspire our worship and praise.

“As the harbour walls protect these island waters

Surround us, Father, with your presence and love.”

Rev Jones was assisted in the service by Diocesan Reader Brian Robinson. The Rector drew the congregation’s attention to the words from the Epistle Reading (Acts 1: 15-26) in which the apostles sought God’s guidance before casting lots and choosing Matthias as Judas’ successor. Matthias was, the Rector said, the first apostle appointed by God’s church before the coming of the Holy Spirit. “In other words,” he said, “this is the Church of Christ reaching out to God to help and assist the appointment of those who had been called by God. Which one of you is under the impression that you haven’t been called to the apostleship of Christ?”

Rev Jones wondered whether anyone in the pews was experiencing “that sense of God’s call” in their life in some capacity or other – not necessarily to stand at the front and teach and preach – but perhaps to lead, perhaps to guide, perhaps to nurture, and to lead others to Christian maturity. “The truth is,” the preacher said, “Matthias is each and every single one of us. And it’s wonderful to think that in that short journey across – that we shared together this morning as church, as God’s people – it’s a metaphor really for the journey of discipleship itself. Sometimes those waters upon which we travel are without storm; sometimes it’s plain sailing and everything’s fine; and sometimes we hit that little rocky patch. The question for you is the one that faced the disciples as they sought to replace Judas: who, Lord, have you called to a specific role? And I know there are some among you whom God’s now calling.”

Rev Jones expressed thanks to the Rector of St Thomas’, Rev Patrick Barton, for facilitating worship in “this beautiful house of prayer”. While in church, a birthday cake was produced for one member of the congregation who had particular cause for celebration (and whose husband joked that he’d promised her a cruise for her birthday).

After the service, members of the congregation went their different ways to enjoy the splendid sunshine and the attractions that Rathlin Island has to offer. For fitter members of the party, that meant walking the four miles to the Kebble nature reserve, to see the island’s birdlife, including its celebrated puffins; others preferred to complete the journey by bus.

By the time the parishioners arrived back in Ballycastle, around teatime, all were agreed that the trip had been a huge success, and some hoped that it would become an annual fixture in the Balteagh Group’s calendar.