Ceilidh Church!

You’ll probably know two things about a ceilidh: 1) its hard to spell if you aren’t familiar with Scottish Gaelic; 2) modern versions involve some pretty energetic dancing which requires vigour. Contrast it with ‘Scottish Country Dancing’ – which is more of a ‘Royal Family at Balmoral’ gentile affair than a real good ceilidh.

The word ceilidh means something much broader than its more modern usage as a Scottish dance night. It means ‘gathering’, and ceilidhs have been a part of Scottish, Irish and even Northumbrian and Anglo-Saxon history for a long time. Ceilidhs were at the centre of the community – gatherings for story, song, a tune, food, conversation, warmth and community…and maybe the odd dance if there was room.

Fast forward to the late 20th century growing up in Scotland, whilst we didn’t call them ceilidhs, they were part of my upbringing. Extended family and friends gathering on a Saturday night – food, drink, songs, uncle on the accordion, lively conversation and just generally being family. It died out along with some of the elder members of the family and they rarely happen in the same way now.

I think, looking back, I’ve always been trying to see if the ceilidh can be replicated in the the context of the church. Here’s why I think the model lends itself:

  1. Multi-voiced – everyone brings something or contributes something, whether that’s food, drink, music, story, song or [insert your own]. The church at its fullest in scripture, I believe, in its open participatory nature. We see this in 1 Corinthians where everyone has something prepared to bring to the gathering, in partnership with spiritual gifts, teaching, worship and the Lord’s supper in the context of the agape (love) meal.
  2. Informal – order is important for gatherings, but they’d never have worked if everyone was sat in rows watching granny at the front. The gatherings had a dynamism and such a warmth and spirit. They were in the round, everyone seated in the front room, spilling into the kitchen or the hall. If you’ve ever sat in church and wondered ‘what on earth’, then you know what I mean. I’ve had the privilege over the years of seeing and encouraging glimpses of this emerge in churches I’ve been a part of. It looks nothing like a church service…but should that really be the normative experience of the people of God? I’m just not sure it’s what Jesus had in mind.
  3. Relational – I grew up in a community where I had close relationships with great-aunts and uncles, first cousins once and twice removed, across all generations, and where that extended to neighbours and friends. A really close knit community where, even now, I can go home and still be surrounded by family but people in the community we knew really, really well. That did spill into the churches that existed in my home town, and those folks became family too. Relationships are where it’s at. And it is relationships that pull people together. It is the quality of the relationships that make the party. You’ll never build an authentically attractive church community without a deeper camaraderie. My granny built a closer community than any parish church could.
  4. Hospitable – you just always get fed and watered. I was once part of a church where we had the policy of ‘no eat, no meet’ – eating together was at the centre. This was especially important when including people who maybe, because of social circumstances, never ate with their families. Food is a great leveller, and it is key for church. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is either at a meal, leaving a meal, or heading to a meal. It’s biblical to eat… and it’s missional!

So – who knows? I’d like to explore and maybe plant a ceilidh church. Maybe each surrounding village could have one. Jesus loved a party, and I’m sure he’d come.

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Caledonian Call

It isn’t a surprise to anyone that I’ve been longing to get back to Scotland since the day I left in 2010! Ministry opportunities invited us ever deeper south, but I’ve always had a strong pull to Scotland. Even at bible college, when all the mission agencies would come in to entice you of to some far distant land, all I wanted to do was work for the gospel in Scotland! However, travels to different places have been a valuable learning experience!

I wanted to take the opportunity to share the testimony of these last 9 months or so as God has stepped in with a jolt to catch my attention. I made the journey to visit the Isle of Arran last year as a result of a vision that came to me in prayer which featured Arran like none I’ve ever had.

The vision was like this: from the beach at Irvine, my home town, I was carried over stormy seas and placed in the bay at Sannox, in the north east of the island. Before me were the small, homely cottages, and the path leading from the beach up towards Glen Sannox that I was to take. I passed some oaks, and headed towards the foot of a mountain and rested on a rock.

Sannox Bay, looking over to Sannox and Glen Sannox behind the trees

Asking the Lord about this, he said, ‘I am carrying you beyond the storm. You will embody warm hospitality for those journeying on. You will be a deeply-rooted oaky guide, accompanying people through the Glen to ascend the hill of my presence. You are Sannox.’

In obedience to this, I formally applied to add Sannox to my middle names, along with McDowall, my grandmother’s maiden name, who is an Arran native…born just a few miles south of Sannox in the village of Lamlash. I understood this vision to be God using familiar places and ideas to just refocus me for the next season. I fully believed, and still believe, that this vision can serve me as a picture for ministry regardless of where I am.

However, several weeks after this, I shared this experience with a group on an online retreat. The leader of the retreat, amazed, said I should speak to him about Sannox, after which he introduced me to Sannox Christian Centre – a Celtic retreat/prayer centre – right in the heart of the hamlet at Sannox at the foot of the hill. So, I decided I should head up, check it out, and spend some time in prayer there to hear what God was saying.

I made my pilgrimage and, arriving on the Island and driving up to Sannox, I stopped at the beach in my vision, ascended Glen Sannox, passed the oaks, up the path and sat on the rock, amazed that this landscape that I’d never walked in was as in my vision. I know the island well, but I had never been up Glen Sannox before!! There, I worshipped and prayed for the blessing of salvation for Ayrshire, Scotland, and the nations. I turned back down the hill when, suddenly, the wind fell and there was a silence. The Lord said ‘you are my son, and with you I am well pleased.’ I thanked God and headed down to the centre for evening prayer – the scripture reading chosen was Jesus on the mount of transfiguration: ‘This is my son, and with him I am well pleased.’

I then took up my room in ‘Dundarroch’, the centres accommodation, which means ‘hill of the oaks.’ On leaving, I signed my name Andrew Sannox McDowall Clark in the visitors book and offered a blessing. Translated, my name means ‘clerical man, son of a dark stranger in the sandy bay’. Seems apt!

Conversations with others means all of this has gone from what I assumed was a vision to cheer and encourage, to a strong possibility of living and serving the Lord on the Isle of Arran, the home of my ancestors for many generations. There are a few live conversations going on just now, heading towards something reasonably concrete!

Do you know what? Even if circumstances and practicalities should prevent us living and working there, the voice and movement of God in these last 10 months is all the encouragement I need to know that the Lord has me in his heart and in his hand. I’ve come home to myself, regardless of my geography. Having said that, we are trusting him in the conversations we are having and praying ‘your Kingdom come, your will be done.’

So, in the words of Dougie McLean ‘Caledonia is calling and I’m going home!’

Moving to Arran will involve a significant degree of pioneering and, by nature of mission in reasonably far flung island communities, I may need to raise some of the finance I need to be able to live and minister there. I am exploring a few different possibilities, ranging from some work I can do to support my ministry, to being a ministry recipient via Stewardship, and a few other entrepreneurial ideas which will add up to what we will need as a family. Leaving the details to God at the moment until we know a little more. I look forward to sharing in more detail exactly what I’ll be up to when the conversations are sufficiently finalised.

So, there you have it recorded – it has been an exciting journey and I’m looking forward to seeing what God will do. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.

Transition is exciting (and scary)!

Life is changing once more: after nearly five years in Hertford, and 12 years ‘down south’, the hopes of returning north which have fuelled many an hour of prayer are opening up in some spectacular ways. With every thought of moving to the next chapter there is a grieving to endure and that is real right now – the pull of the familiar is always strong, even when the opening of the new chapter is thoroughly and divinely compelling!

The reality is that in each place we have been in ministry over 20 years, relationships go deep and the level of personal investment in a situation is deep. As soon as an announcement is made that you’re moving on, the game shifts. You’re then into handover mode for the ministry as well as transition mode for yourself. In addition, you’ve got another eye on practicalities and transitions to be made. That really does involve a particular mindset in order to get the balance right for the transition.

Whilst the call to be ministering on the Isle of Arran off the Ayrshire coast has been an amazing story in and of itself, I am moving into a pioneering setting and there are many unknowns as far as the details are concerned, although much of that will become clearer sooner rather than later. I’ve sought to prioritise the strength of call, believing that God will provide the necessary things we need in order for this to come to full fruition.

So, here are the ways we need some prayers right now:

  • ongoing discussion about how my time will be spent on the Isle of Arran, and the financial resources for that to happen. We are open to initially raising part of our financial support if needed in order to be faithful to the call God has given to see the ministry launch and transition. More detail to follow!
  • an opening for Tracy to teach in one of the island’s schools, or in other suitable work.
  • for good transition for the girls into new schools and for a good round off to their year where we are now
  • a good end to this particular chapter so far as it depends on me.

I am really looking forward to sharing more detail of my future work once the details are fixed. It is so exciting! I pinch myself every day that God has called me to this opportunity – a role which it feels God has been preparing me for over a decade and which dovetails perfectly into who God has shaped me to be over many years. Let me put it in context: the essence of the kind of ministry I’m hoping will emerge first started as a seed in my heart back in 2007! It is a long-burn of a vision and it appears the time is now right!