Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Ballybeen Bonfire

I have a confession to make. This year was the first time I had ever been to an Eleventh Night bonfire. In fact, when I wrote about the bonfires on Sunday, I wasn't expecting to go to one this year either.

But on Sunday evening we got talking about it after church, and thought that if the weather cleared up after the thunder and lightning during church, then we would take a look later. Behold it did, and so Mark and myself headed over to Ballybeen for the stroke of midnight.

Eleventh Night Bonfire

Perhaps in my head bonfires were over-imagined, but I had thought there would have been music of some sort, perhaps a lambeg drum or flute band, or even just one fluter (flautist, if you prefer, although that word suggests more a James Galway type performer than someone playing the Sash on a flute). But there was no music. Just a huge crowd - perhaps several thousand, and most of them with carry-outs of drink. The Methodist minister in Ballybeen / Dundonald thought he was the only one not drinking, but there were two others of us at least!

We saw quite a few of the young people from the 'Been who come along to our Drop-in and youth club, so it was good to see them again now that we're in the summer break, and to hear what they're doing.

As I've already said, the one thing that struck me (other than the heat of the bonfire once it got lit, pushing most of the crowd backwards to cooler vantage points), was the vast number of people who were present to take part in the community ritual celebrating their heritage. For some, it was an excuse to get blocked, probably as quickly as possible, with the more drink the better. But many were there out of some sense of loyalty to Protestantism. They were celebrating Protestantism, and yet how many of them really know what Protestantism is?

I suspect for quite a number of them, to be a Protestant is to hate Catholics and go to parades. Oh, and vote unionist, if you vote at all. How far the community has moved from the traditions and origins of Protestantism, that of being a witness for the truth of the gospel, that is, of being a reformed Christian.

A connected challenge, then, is how can we impact on this community? Thousands of people in one place, coming together to celebrate (albeit missing the point) Protestantism. How do we reach them with the gospel? How do we reach the young men of Ballybeen and Dundonald whose main interest might well be drinking?

Ballybeen Bonfire

That photo doesn't really do the scene justice, as it was taken in my iPhone, but even here you can see some of the huge crowd. What can we do? We cannot do nothing!

1 comment :

  1. The best impact that you could have on this community is to continue to blog, but do it properly and regularly.

    If you write, they will come (apologies to Field of Dreams).