The faith of the Rector of the Clondehorkey Parish Group was rewarded on Tuesday evening – the Feast of St Thomas – when his parishioners forsook the televised World Cup clash between England and Colombia and instead packed St Columba’s Church in Cashel, to greet their Bishop, Rt Rev Ken Good.
The Bishop was there to dedicate a number of gifts which had been presented to the church by members of the parish community. Visiting and neighbouring clergy mingled with parishioners on a blisteringly hot evening in north Donegal, to hear the Rector, Rev Canon George Irwin, thank the donors for their generosity to St Columba’s. The gifts included a new sound system for the church – which was used during the service – and a number of church hymnals.
Doubt and scepticism featured prominently in the Bishop’s sermon. He said St Thomas was doubtful by nature, although “he was willing to believe and he wanted to believe. But he needed answers and a bit more evidence to make sure.”
Is it alright to doubt, the Bishop asked? The very word ‘faith’ implied doubt. If we had certainty about everything, we wouldn’t need faith and there wouldn’t be doubt. “It is often the case that people doubt,” the Bishop said. “Most of us do at some point – including bishops.”
Thomas was like that with Jesus Christ, Bishop Good said. “He wondered about Jesus. ‘Is he really who he says he is? Is he really able to forgive sins? Is he going to rise from the dead? I don’t’ know,’ Thomas said, ‘but I’m going to go with him, I’m going to be a disciple, I’m going to be a follower. And these things will become clear as we go.’”
Faith assured us that even though we did not see the picture totally, we nevertheless saw it reliably, the Bishop said. “We long for certainty but for most of the big and important issues of life, certainty is not assured: the meaning of life, the existence of God, what happens after death is a matter of faith. And it is a matter of faith as much for an atheist as for a Christian. Atheists are people of faith. Despite all the evidence of a creator they dare to believe that there isn’t one and that requires faith.”
Thomas found it difficult to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead because he wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. “The rest of them were able to believe because they had gathered and met with the Lord and worshipped with the Lord, but Thomas was not there. The link with these gifts that are being dedicated tonight is that they are all to do with drawing us together to worship and praise God and come closer to him.
“Some people say, ‘I can worship the Lord just as well climbing Muckish or sitting in my garden as I can being in church.’ Now, of course, there’s some truth in that. You can worship God on Muckish – give thanks for getting down safely – or you can worship God in your garden. But what I find, as I get older, is that I need to come to worship because the world has an eroding effect on my faith. It’s here, in a place like this, where I read the words of scripture and hear them read, it’s here that I sing hymns – like we’ve done already tonight – that realign our thinking back towards God and worshipping him. It’s here in places like this that the words are really important because they’re true, and they bring me back to the focus where my mind should be – on Jesus Christ.
“So, these gifts that are being given tonight are really important. They are part of what draws us together as a worshipping community, enabling us to sing the praises of God, to focus on him and to leave this place strengthened in faith. So, if you are a doubting kind of person, make sure you worship. Make sure you meet with others who want to honour Christ. Make sure you listen to his word being read.”
Bishop Good said those who donated the gifts to St Columba’s in memory of loved ones were helping the people of their parish for years to come to focus on Christ and move from doubt to faith. “It’s as important as that. Let’s learn from Thomas. We need to commit ourselves as we dedicate these gifts to being with God’s people regularly, to praise his name, because otherwise doubt may well increase in our hearts.”
Canon Irwin also expressed gratitude to the families who had donated the gifts. After the service, as the congregation enjoyed refreshments in the church, the Rector drew attention to three attractive clay wall plaques, mounted near the front of the church, which had been donated by the Muck ‘n’ Muffins Pottery Shop in Dunfanaghy and which acknowledged the generosity of the donor families.