A new chapter in the Church of Ireland’s mission to reach people with little or no connection to church opened on Sunday February 5 when Pioneer Ministry was formally launched in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
As part of this special service of Choral Evensong, the Pioneer Ministry’s leadership team was commissioned by the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin before a full congregation.
Pioneer Ministry will encourage, support and release volunteer and paid pioneers and new ministries to share the good news of Jesus Christ in new places and in different ways. With the endorsement of the House of Bishops and generous funding secured from the Representative Body, the initiative is being led by a National Director, the Rev Rob Jones, assisted by Archdeacon Barry Forde, priest-in-charge of the Inner South Belfast Mission Area, Connor Diocese, and Ingrid Brennan.
As the service commenced, a representative of each of the Church’s 11 dioceses lit a candle of hope which will be presented to every diocesan bishop over the coming months.
The service was sung by the Lay Vicars’ Choral of St Patrick’s and included a special contemporary musical piece, We sing as one sung by Sadhdbh Dennedy with accompaniment by Taylor Mehl and Caitlín Escobar.
The congregational hymns were We have a gospel to proclaim, Lord, you give the Great Commission, and Go forth and tell! O Church of God, awake! The lessons were read by Bishop Patrick Rooke (from Isaiah chapter 42) and Church Army’s Dr Elli Wort (from Hebrews chapters 11 and 12).
The guest preacher was the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Andy John, who opened his sermon by highlighting the need for good foundations. “It seems to be that today offers an opportunity for us to further strengthen the life of God’s Church on these islands,” he said.
Archbishop John noted that the current sense of crisis in the world made the Church’s role of presenting the Light of the World and Hope of the Nations ‘all the more pressing.’ He spoke of the place of bringing new life into ancient stories and ancient places (drawing on the spiritual search made by young people during the Covid-19 pandemic), and the need for good stewardship to discern the potential for growth and fruitfulness – in the hope ‘that God is able to do more than we ask or imagine.’
He concluded by reflecting on the prevenient nature of God – that we are God’s handiwork and ‘invited to participate in the work of God’ in ways that are courageous, risky and intelligent.
“Let us not manage God out of the equation but let’s discover that there is a way that fruitfulness comes unexpectedly,” he suggested. A poet coming into a community to explore its spiritual history, a prayer gathering for patients in a hospital, or a ministry in a school or a college could be among the areas where we find God is already at work. Pioneers need to be ‘the wonderfully creative people that they are and we need to be at their side.’
Concluding, he encouraged all involved to have ‘a confident humility that knows that as we build together, we do not do so alone … we build with God the Master Builder and with his grace, break new ground for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’
Prayers were led by the Rev Rebecca Hamilton, Canon Phil Potter, Sarah Louise Hockey (Church Army evangelist), Canon Dr Maurice Elliott (Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute), Lucy Reid (Leader of 24/7 Prayer Ireland), David Ritchie (Chief Officer of the Representative Church Body), Dom Perrem (Director of Alpha Ireland), and Romila Ghosh (UCD Young Adults).
A collection was taken for Jobcare, a charity which explores and finds ways to give unemployed people the skills, training and support needed to find work.
Speaking afterwards at a reception for the congregation, The Rt Rev David McClay, Bishop of Down and Dromore, who chairs the Pioneer Ministry Council, thanked Dean William Morton and his Cathedral colleagues for their warm welcome at the service, and the leaders who had brought the initiative to this point. In particular, he thanked Bishop Patrick Rooke, Bishop Alan Abernethy, Trevor Douglas, Connor Diocesan Development Manager, and Canon Phil Potter who ‘took the lead in really laying a foundation.’ Addressing the new team, he added: “I could say ‘it’s over to you’ but actually what I want to say is that ‘it’s over to all of us.’”
Bishop David concluded with his hope that the people who will benefit the most from Pioneer Ministry ‘will be those beyond our church buildings who will experience something of the grace and kindness and love and goodness of God.’
Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell welcomed the Church doing this together: “It will only work if we recognise that fruitfulness in one part of the body is fruitfulness in every part of the body,” he said.
Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said he saw pioneering as the next chapter to be written after the Church marked the 150th anniversary of its Disestablishment with the theme of ‘being free to shape our own future.’ He commented: “Now we really have the opportunity … to work in that sense of bringing together adventure and tradition in what now will become a further strapline of the Church of Ireland, which is pioneering.”
The Rev Rob Jones concluded by thanking all those who helped to put the service together and expressed how honoured and excited he was to be moving into the role of Pioneer Ministry National Director.
“The next important task is to get the vision out there and especially commence the job of supporting dioceses and communicate how they can get involved,” he said. “Each context is very different, so we will be learning from each other in a spirit of unity and collaboration.” He referenced the new website – www.pioneerministry.org.