Sunday, September 30, 2007

Student Reader

Through my time at college, there are new places to go and new things to do. This morning was one such. For third year, I'm going to be working as a Student Reader in the grouped parishes of Drumgath and Drumgooland. All the D's (to go with Dromore, Dublin and Dundee). Drum where, you might be asking. Drumgooland Parish Church is in the village of Ballyward, between Banbridge and Castlewellan, and Drumgath Parish Church is in the town of Rathfriland. Mourne Country.

While my placement hasn't started yet, I was down with the two congregations this morning to see how the service works and to be introduced to the people. Both great wee churches, and I'm looking forward to working there. It was harvest thanksgiving in Ballyward, and the choir were in fine form, leading us in giving thanks for the bountiful harvest.

Please pray for David, their rector, and the people as I come among them to labour for the gospel. Oh, and on that note, I'll hopefully have a new prayer letter available soon, maybe even this week!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Week One Done

There's the first week finished at college, just another 1 pre-term week, 22 term weeks, 3 study weeks, and 2 weeks of exams. Oh, and the holidays in between those at Christmas and Easter. And that will be it done!

It's been strange being back - after four months of holidays, it's funny being back and seeing everyone again. And, of course, meeting the newcomers. A great bunch, all in, and we've been having some good laughs already. It's amazing how quickly you adapt back into the college routine - the chapel services, the meals, the hot chocolate, patrolling the corridors late on. It soon comes back to you.

We were looking at marriage all week. As I said in my feedback, the good thing is it hasn't put me off! Such a lot of stuff to take in though; I found the week quite long and very tiring. Next week is going to be the Youth Ministry week - should be a bit of craic!

Oh - while I'm on, remember the Tileagd Children's Choir concert in Richhill Presbyterian Church on Saturday night, starting at 7.30pm.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Fall

I'm reading 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners' by John Bunyan at present. A haunting description and testimony of the doubts that afflicted him for many years, and how God graciously worked in his life, through His Word to confirm his faith. These few words struck me about the depth and tragedy of the fall:

Man indeed is the most noble by creation of all creatures in the visible world, but by sin he has made himself the most ignoble.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dublin Again

Well folks, it's hard to believe, but here I am writing from Dublin, getting settled into my new room in college, starting my final year! It's been a busy day, from church this morning in Dromore, to getting packed up, driving down to Dublin (the new dual carriageway A1 and extension to the M1 is very handy), welcoming the new students and catching up with people, assisting at the Communion service, eating dinner, getting my room sorted, and enjoying the first hot chocolate of the new term!

Tomorrow we launch into the first pre-term week, spending the week on the Marriage module. Should be interesting, and all the more important for me as we're less than ten months away from the wedding now! As we'll be looking at marriage - please pray for me and Lynsey as we prepare for married life together.

I'll update more on my return to college as time permits. For the time being, I'm just chuffed that I have internet access in my room. Sometimes it's a bit slow, but we'll not complain about that!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Careers Advice?

The only item in my post this morning was a big brown envelope that had come the whole way from Dublin. Wondering what it could be, I quickly opened it. What did I find inside? The latest edition of the Trinity Careers Advisory Service newsletter for final year students!

I wonder if Trinity is trying to tell me something? Let's hope I don't need the careers advice, because I find a Curacy in the coming months!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making More Smiles

Just a bit of information about the concerts coming up, organised by the Smiles Foundation. The Tileagd Children's Choir will be in concert next weekend in N0rthern Ireland - Enniskillen (Cathedral Hall?) on Thursday 27th; Terrace Row Presbyterian in Coleraine on Friday 28th; and Richhill Presbyterian on Saturday 29th.

Tickets are £5, and the concerts start at 7.30pm (except Coleraine which is at 8pm).

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sligo and the Marble Arches

Went off on the final fling of the summer - an overnight road trip to Sligo with Stewart. A really enjoyable couple of days of exploring, getting lost with the poor road signs, and talking theology. Among the places we visited was the grave of WB Yeats at Drumcliffe, the Spanish Armada memorial, and Parkes Castle on the shores of Lough Gill.

The highlight for me, though, was when we crossed the border again. It was my first time visiting the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, and I definitely want to go back some time. Sadly the boat trip part of the tour was off, due to the rising flood water, but the walking bit of the tour was still impressive. What an amazing sight, especially the bits where you could see the reflection of the stalactites in the calm water of the river.

Photos will shortly be available on Flickr - I'm slowly getting them up onto the site. In the meantime, it's just four days until my return to Dublin. Here we go for final year!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A House of Prayer or a Den of Robbers?

When I'm on my travels, I always try to visit a church or two. Call it almost a professional interest, if you want. I'm always fascinated to see how things are laid out, to read the monuments and plaques, to visit the graveyard and to take in the history of the place.

On my most recent visit to Scotland I was able to take in Dunblane and Glasgow Cathedrals, as well as Rosslyn Chapel, and St Monan's Church. There may well have been more, but I can't think of them at the minute. At Rosslyn, the first thing you encounter is a wee hut with a till inside. To gain entry, you have to part with some hard cash (or if you don't have cash, they'll take your credit card). In one sense, I suppose this is fair enough - most museums have an entry charge, and Rosslyn to me was as much a museum as anything else. Indeed, the two cathedrals in Dublin also charge you an entrance fee.

So it was refreshing to visit Dunblane Cathedral and then Glasgow Cathedral and discover that there are no tills at the door refusing entry unless you pay, no high profile demands for money. Instead, they have a few discrete signs up saying how much it costs to keep the cathedrals open, and a wee box in which to put any donations.

What are we saying about our faith if the first thing we do when visitors come is to confront them with a till and a demand for money? Are we saying in deed (if not in word) that money is the most important thing for us in the life of the church?

Whenever I visit a meeting house with a till at the door I'm reminded of the actions of Jesus when he went to the Temple. 'And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not let anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."' (Mark 11:15-17)

Maybe if we didn't charge into our historic church buildings where tourists want to visit, we would have a better evangelistic witness about our faith, and be more able to speak to them of Jesus. At least they wouldn't have their focus on the lightness of their wallets and purses!

Friday, September 14, 2007


Rosslyn Chapel Undercover
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

As I mentioned the other day, I was hoping to go to Rosslyn Chapel when I was in Edinburgh. And so I made it, navigating the road system around the city and heading southwards. Into the car park, and up towards the chapel.

And there, as the chapel came into view I was astounded by the view that confronted me. Expecting the scenic church seen in the Da Vinci Code movie, instead I saw the above view - a big steel structure over the chapel.

The tour guide told us that it is to protect the old stonework from the effects of water damage. The conservation project has been going on for about ten years so far, and is nowhere near finished.

To be honest, the chapel was a bit disappointing. It's quite small, and not as ornate or interesting as it had seemed before I went. Plus, the entry fee was a bit steep. For me, the only good bit was the views from the walkway along the steel structure (which can be seen running the length of the chapel).

Think i might blog later on charging to get into churches...

Home again

Another swift week, and another Travel Thursday - the third in a row. The week in Scotland was great, but much too short. As you'll see from my photos, I did a bit of touring about while in Scotland and enjoyed the time with Lyns.

I eventually managed to finish reading Richard Dawkins' 'The Blind Watchmaker'. Took me two whole weeks to get through it, which is slow for me. Some interesting stuff, but I think he convinced me of the truth of designed creation by the Creator God, rather than any form of evolution. And given the fact that he only gives about three paragraphs on one of the last pages of the book to try and disprove a designed creation, he doesn't really convince.

So one week until college, and to mark the time, I'm going on a roadtrip with Stewart for a couple of days. Heading out to the wild west (Sligo) so it'll be good theology discussions and some relaxation; as well as seeing a new part of the country. More updates and photos to follow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A fruitful church

Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

The other day I was out in Invergowrie, a smaller village near to Dundee. One of my heroes, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, used to ride out to the ruins of an old church to sit and pray, to 'come apart for a while and rest'. The ruins themselves are now overgrown and gated to prevent people getting in, but the thing I noticed was the huge amount of blackberries growing there.

Perhaps it struck me more forcefully than normal, because the previous night I had been talking to Bryan about developing fruitful churches. Is this the sort of fruitful church I want to be part of - just ruins, and only producing blackberries? Or the fruitful church where lives are changed and hearts won through the preaching of God's Word; where the fruit of the Spirit is seen to be increasing in the lives of the congregation; where we move outwards in culturally relevant engagement with the world; the fruitful church which only comes about through abiding in Jesus (John 15).

I know which one I want, and it doesn't involve blackberries!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Number Nine

Just a quick note to say that I am amazed and astounded that my humble blog has made it into a Top Ten list. As part of the soon to be released book, Guide to Political Blogging 2007, Iain Dale is also including many other Top Ten UK Blog lists.

Archbishop Cranmer has rightly been afforded Number One - his writings are always interesting. And according to the list on Dale's blog, I am in there at Number Nine!

A big thank you to whoever it was who nominated the blog in the first place, and for those who decided the final list. I suppose this now puts a bit of pressure on me to have inspired and inspiring post - we'll see what happens!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dundee again

Tay Road Bridge
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

It's now Sunday afternoon and I'm just realising I haven't blogged since Wednesday - that might explain the panic attacks and cold sweat I had! As I said in my last posting, I was coming to Dundee, and here I am! The weather up to today has been really good - so good that I was disappointed I hadn't brought my shorts.

Having the car this time means I can go and explore a bit more - on Friday we went off to St Andrew's, and took this photo just after crossing the Tay Road Bridge. The view is looking back towards Dundee City across the River Tay. Normally when I come to Dundee, it rains, so I have to say, when it isn't raining it's quite a nice place!

I'm planning a few more days of touring while here before returning home on Thursday - possibly even making it to Roslyn Chapel (which was featured in the Da Vinci Code) and Edinburgh.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


A week is a long time in politics, but such a short time at home! The week that Lyns and me have had at home is coming to an end, as we head off to bonny Scotland in the morning. Families have been visited and news caught up on. So here goes on the final year at college for both of us - Lyns starting a bit earlier than me - I still have a couple of weeks off.

I haven't gotten back into the swing of the blog since coming home, but I'm sure I will as the routine starts up again. Keep checking back for some news and reviews, and the odd sermon, when I have my new college placement started. On that front, I was chatting to a rector today so things are getting sorted on that front. More news when I know for sure!

Right, gotta go pack and then get to sleep. Taking the car this time so it's an early start for the Larne boat.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Romania Update 3

Dear friends,

Sorry that it has taken me so long to email again with an update from Romania. Things were busy and I didn't get back to the office for internet. When I returned to Dromore again on Thursday, my internet wasn't working there either!

Firstly, I want to thank you for all your prayers and support over the past couple of weeks. It has been encouraging to know that people are praying for me and the work out in Romania. I hope that you will continue to remember the work of the Smiles Foundation in your prayers in the weeks and months to come - and maybe even go on a trip yourself some time soon!

So what all did I get up to in the remainder of my time? On one day, we had a tour of the Tileagd Community School, meeting some of the teachers and pupils who came to school during their summer holidays! The pupils are so keen to learn and to go to school that they don't like holidays, so during the summer the school operates 'summer school' on two days of the week. We then moved on to the Gypsy village in Tileagd, before visiting a psychiatric hospital in Bratca. The patients have been in medical care practically since birth, most being abandoned due to physical or mental disability. They simply wanted to play with someone, which we did!

Another day it was like being on the set of 'Changing Rooms' - we cleaned and painted an elderly man's house, bringing transformation to his one-roomed dwelling. The paint that day was blue, and on a different day, I was covered in yellow paint as I helped work on the nursery in Tileagd, inside and out. (But I wouldn't call on me for any home decorating jobs, if I was you!)

Several days were in the Children's Centre in Cihei, helping to put smiles on the faces of the children there - and also digging out a sandpit for them to play in (although it seemed they were happy enough playing in the hole, before any sand came!)

Ours was the last mission trip of the summer, but the work of Smiles continues - with the social workers still providing food and clothing aid; the school and nursery units teaching kids; the Children's Centre developing young children; the emergency housing unit providing shelter for those left homeless; and the kingdom advancing in the Community Church in Tileagd.

Please pray for Kevin, and all the staff of Smiles as they struggle to make difficult decisions about the allocation of funds, and in all they do. Pray also for the mission trippers as we share with friends the news about Smiles and seek to support them in their vital work.

In three weeks time I will (DV) be back in Dublin for the start of the new year - my final year in college! More prayer updates will follow. If you prefer not to receive these emails, please letme know.


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Monday, September 03, 2007

There is power, power...!

Last week we got a card through the door from the Electric people (I imagine them being plugged into the socket...) saying that there would be essential maintenance works going on in Dromore today, and that as a result, our electric would be turned off between the hours of 8am and 7.30pm. When I heard about it, I immediately thought of all the things that couldn't be done without power - no TV, no internet etc.

Then this morning I was lying half awake in bed when it struck me. With no electric, the shower wouldn't work either! I would be unclean, or maybe worse, half-washed with flannels from the sink. Without the means to wash properly, I would be dirty.

Imagine my delight and surprise, then, when I went downstairs to discover mum watching TV! The good news was that there was power - power to be cleansed! When I had thought I would be dirty all day, the good news was that there was a way to be cleaned - all down to the power available.

It made me consider it as a sort of gospel overview. We are helpless in our sins, dirty, and without any way of changing it. but the good news of the gospel is that there is power to be saved and changed and washed and restored - but it doesn't lie in a power shower or the electricity being turned on. No, the power to be washed lies only in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us on the cross. The old gospel hymn sums up what I'm saying:

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

[And the blood will never lose its power,
No never, no, never,
Jesus' blood avails for me forever,
And will never lose its power.]

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Reflecting on the trip

I'm still processing the experiences from the mission trip, and promise they will shortly be up on the blog! In the meantime, I was called on to give a short report on my trip tonight in the Cathedral. No preparation as such, just got up and talked a wee bit about who the Smiles Foundation is, and what I was doing. Hopefully I'll be able to put a powerpoint presentation with photos together for a fuller talk in the near future.

Some of my photos are now up on Flickr! Click here for the Romania photo set!

Internot :(

Very quick posting. Got home safe from Romania, only to discover that my internet wasn't working... Have just got it working again, which I am pleased about, but it is late at night and I am tired, so more updates will follow in due course!