This year’s Annual Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Service of St Columba, took place as usual, on Sunday, at Gartan Abbey, despite fears that threatened rain might force worshippers instead to the shelter of St Columba’s Church in nearby Church Hill. Thankfully, but for a light and brief downfall, the abbey site remained largely dry and sunny.
The annual service was led by the Rector of Conwal Union with Gartan, Rev David Houlton. He was assisted by the preacher for the afternoon, the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, who was attending his first St Columba’s Day Service in Gartan; the Rev Canon David Crooks who was present at the first such celebration of the modern era, back in 1962; and Rev Katie McAteer, a regular participant nowadays in the annual service.
St Columba’s Day coincided this year with Pentecost Sunday and, in his sermon, Archdeacon Huss likened the saint to the apostles who had gathered and prayed in the upper room on the original Pentecost Day, before the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they went out to spread the good news.
Archdeacon Huss said Columba was “one of the greatest evangelists the Christian world had ever known and certainly by far the most famous to have come from Donegal”.
“We believe,” the preacher said, “it was at the age of about 42 that Columba – or Colmcille – felt that driving force of the Holy Spirit pushing him out from his home and his family connections here in Ireland to go to Britain and to spread the gospel there. The reasons are mixed; they’re hard to discern; they’re lost to some extent in the mists of time. But we interpret his action as a response to the call of God to go.
“Columba turned his back on his native land in order to go and spread the good news. Those people of Scotland, those warlike Picts in that area, were not likely to turn up at Derry or Donegal and come knocking on the door asking to hear about Jesus. Someone had to go to them. That was Columba’s legacy: he went.”
Archdeacon Huss said Columba took a bold step when he embarked on ministry nearly 1,500 years ago. And on Pentecost Day, we, too, were being called to go. We were being called to repentance and faith. Like Columba, the preacher said, our mission needed to begin not in pride but in tears. “We need those brothers and sisters in Africa, in Asia, in South America. We need them to come here and help us. We need to learn from them. We need to repent of our pride and our absorption with the things of this world so that we can be set free to live and work for God.”
There was a call, too, to churches here to consider new forms of outreach, church planting, fresh expressions, gatherings of people in informal settings to look at the Scriptures and hear the good news of Jesus, places where people are able to question and discuss and discover as well as simply having the Word preached.
There was also, the Archdeacon said, a call to individuals. “Maybe there’s a call to someone here this afternoon – a call to believe, a call to come to Christ and to receive that wonderful forgiveness that he offers; a call, perhaps, to mission and ministry. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if on this day of Pentecost, on this St Columba’s Day, if the Lord was calling someone here and the holy Spirit was speaking to someone and prompting you to move into some new area of mission and ministry? Wouldn’t it be amazing if another Columba was to be raised up from among us here and go from this place to some other part of your neighbourhood, your country, [or] your world with the good news?
“Columba took a bold step when he set out on the choppy waters of the Atlantic nearly 1,500 years ago. He took a bold step. And on this day of Pentecost, we’re called also to go – not to sit and wait – to go. Go share the greatest news in the world.”
The music for the service was provided once again by the Britannia Concert Band, and afterward refreshments were served by the parishioners of Gartan. There was also the presentation of a birthday cake to Gartan parishioner Mrs Fanny Russell, whose family are stalwart supporters of the annual service and in whose home clergy robe for the occasion.