Sunday 8th September – the Feast Day ofthe Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary – will live long in the memories of the parishioners of Dunboe on the north coast. They filled St Paul’s in Articlave for a Service of Rededication following a major renovation of their church. The church was so crowded that those who were unable to get seats inside followed the Service in the adjoining parish hall.
St Paul’s was closed for six months while the £300,000 renewal project was completed. The work included an extensive renovation of the church tower, repointing of its external walls, ancillary works and the construction of a new roof.
The Service was led by the Archbishop’s Commissary and Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, and the Sermon was preached by the parish’s new Rector, Rev Chris Mac Bruithin, who was only instituted two days earlier.
The new incumbent conceded that he knew little about building projects, pointing, joists and roofing felt. “If I’ve any experience of building, it’s of building on sand – a skill that I intend to pass onto my son now that we live in a parish flanked by some of Ireland’s most stunning beaches.”
Rev Mac Bruithin told the congregation that sandcastles weren’t built to last. Just like us, they had a lifespan. “If you put down your spade mid-afternoon you might be able to sit and enjoy the fruit of your labour for a couple of hours, but it’s no surprise to us when the lapping waves reach closer and closer until one sweeps away our beautiful castle and the ocean reclaims the grains of sand.
“We know the moment is coming – and it has to come – but somehow it’s still sad when it does. All that fun, all that hard work, the memories of an afternoon in the sun, all the care and attention just swept away. Likewise, think of all the people who before us have sat in this church. Maybe they were standing before the Victorians decided to put in pews because it was a good way to keep parishioners in their place.
“Some of them are buried in the graveyard, some of them elsewhere. They all had their day and then it was their time. God took them back to himself, which reminds us that we’re never owners of a church building, we’re only custodians. Our responsibility is to use the time that we have to make sure that we can hand it on in good condition: the tower, and the roof, of course, but also the spiritual vitality and faithfulness to the gospel of Christ.”
Rev Mac Bruithin said the Parish of Castlerock, Dunboe and Fermoy had known tragedy during the years – untimely loss in war, during the Troubles, accidents at sea, accidents on the roads and diseases that happened to people. “However, this fine church building is still standing today. You see, it’s built on rock. The ‘dun’ of Dunboe means fort. The ‘art’ of Articlave means high place or promontory. So, gathered here this afternoon to give thanks to God, we are all in fact literally on a fort, firmly planted on a rocky height. Dunboe – ‘fort of the cows’, Articlave – ‘height of the basket’, these are gaelic names and that shows us that Christian worship has taken place in this parish from way back before any conquest or any wave of plantation.”
This Rector reminded the congregation that the church in Articlave was dedicated to St Paul – not a saint of the ancient Celtic church like Patrick or Brigid – but an apostle, reminding them of their apostolic foundations.
“Why do we persevere with these old buildings?” he asked, when they could build something modern with climate control and triple-glazing and nice even surfaces. “We hold onto them and we care for them because these buildings tell our story in stone. This building stands as a reminder of God’s permanence, his constancy, his faithfulness. He’s been among us at work from our beginnings, through wars and tragedies as well as our successes and our achievements, like completion of this building project.”
Rev Mac Bruithin asked the congregation to thank God for his faithfulness over past centuries. “When Peter acclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus says this: ‘On this rock I will build my Church and even the gates of hell will be no match for it’. Jesus Christ is the rock. If we build our lives on him nothing, nothing can shake us. The waves down there, they can threaten and they can roar but we’re safe. The sands down there, they can change and they can shift but we cannot be moved.
“So, let us thank God today for his faithfulness these past centuries, through the ebb and flow of life, through the fiercest of storms, and thank him, too, for this present work which we offer to him as an act of our worship and to his glory.”
The renovation project the Rector was referring to was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund which provided a six-figure grant. Parishioners on their way into church were met by a photographic display depicting the evolution of the repair work while inside the church, display panels described the 900-year history of worship in the area, including the building of St Paul’s Church in 1691.
Archbishop Miller told parishioners that they were standing on the shoulders of those who had gone before in Dunboe. “It’s important for us to remember the history of a place,” he said. “It’s the foundation of the mission and ministry here that we build upon.”
The visitors’ book in the porch included signatures of people from Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic who had visited the church recently. Visitors were in Archdeacon Miller’s mind as he paid tribute to the worshipping community in Dunboe. “Thank you to all of you as a parish for having the vision that God has a mission in ministry for you in this place. When people come in and see the way in which you’ve looked after the church building, they also then will go on to see the way in which you cherish the gospel that God has given to you to share from here.”
The collection during Sunday’s Service was taken up for church funds. immediately afterwards, the congregation joined their fellow worshippers in the hall for refreshments provided by the parish.