By Joe Boyd
Young people from All Saints Parish in Antrim enjoyed saying hi to some friends from Sweden during a short exchange visit.
A total of six girls and five boys arrived from Northern Europe and spent four days in Antrim as part of an on-going link between All Saints and Vrinnevi Forsamling, a parish in Norrkoping, which is situated 150 miles south of Stockholm.
The partnership has been running since 2000. The Vicar of Antrim and Archdeacon of Connor, the Ven Dr Stephen McBride said: “What began with a few tentative steps and e-mails with the hope of sharing thoughts, insights and helpful experiences about the work of the church, to promote fellowship and to pray for one another has developed into a frequent exchange between our two youth groups.”
He went on: “Over the past eight years we have made nine exchanges and on each occasion members of our parishes' youth groups have travelled and stayed in each other’s homes. The visits have had social, educational, cultural and spiritual dimensions. The trips have helped to strengthen friendships that have already existed in our own youth club and also established new friendships between our two churches.”
Vrinnevi has a parish complex incorporating a church, administration centre, nursery school, halls and youth centre. Staff include three priests, two full time deacons, an office administrator, nursery school teachers, youth pastor, music director and caretaker.
For this latest visit, five leaders travelled with the 11 young people, who were all aged 16 to 18.
They enjoyed visits to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the north coast and the Antrim Forum for a game of ten-pin bowling.
The visitors also spent time with young people from All Saints youth club, sharing meals and companionship with their ‘host families’ and taking part in Sunday worship.
Archdeadon McBride said: “During each exchange, the visiting clergy preach in the host church and the members of the youth group take part in the singing and drama.
“With each successive exchange, friendships between our youth groups have grown stronger and we have discovered that in having more unstructured activities together and less tourist type ones, our exchanges have been more productive.”
He said the link has been a brilliant experience for both parishes. “It has provided each church with opportunities to travel to places they would not normally have gone to and by staying with local families, participate in the day to day culture of somewhere different,” said the Archdeacon.
“We have opportunities to try out different foods, experience worship in a different church and learn about being a Christian in a different culture as well as have fun and enjoyment together.
“We have also gained a tremendous amount the through friendships that have been formed between our two sets of leaders and between our two youth groups. We have experienced life and worship in a different culture and church and have sent back to Norrkoping many Swedish ambassadors for Ireland. It has been hard work but it has been very rewarding and worth all the effort.”