By Albert Abbo Wakili*
"Ireland is a happy and brilliant country,” Ciaran O’Brien told me. He is 21 and studies Astrology at Trinity College in Dublin. He said foreign residents in Ireland encourage an exchange of cultures and open the eyes of the Irish people to the “other.” This was the second time we met for coffee—the first time we met he said, “I am not a religious man,” and he confided in me that he was planning to visit Thailand to see if a Buddhist monk could help him find meaning in life. But today, his story has changed, and he is smiling more. “Albert, you made me a better man. You got me thinking and you made me understand what this religious stuff is all about,” he said. If there is one thing I have learned as a Global Mission Fellow, it is to be open to conversations and listening—and most especially—to give time to those who need it most.
I’ve been serving the Blanchardstown Methodist Church in Ireland for 18 months as the Youth and Children’s Worker, a Global Mission Fellow placement. The slogan for the Blanchardstown Methodist Church gives a vivid description of who we are: “A Diverse People, Sharing Christ’s Love and Serving the Community Together.” Blanchardstown came together in 2008 as an offshoot of the Dublin Central Mission—a church in the center city. Since its formation, people of different nationalities have come to worship with, support, and encourage one another. It has grown into a thriving, community-focused church located in the heart of Tyrrelstown, which is about 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) from Dublin’s center. It serves an area of nearly 100,000 people.
Albert Wakili at the Blanchardstown Methodist Church in Dublin, Ireland. PHOTO: COURTESY ALBERT WAKILI
A Community in Flux
The Tyrrelstown area, known as Dublin 15, grew significantly during the 1990s as American technology companies set up shop in the Republic of Ireland, creating a new job market. For the first time in Irish history, thousands of people migrated to Ireland from other countries to look for employment. In the early years of the new century, Ireland gained in wealth. As a result, this period became known as the “Celtic Tiger” years. Thousands of new buildings sprung up across the country.
The boom brought rapid change in Irish society—politically, economically, and socially, and a big change in the country’s demographic makeup. New immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia began to change the racial, ethnic, and religious profile of most communities. Yet, over the same period, levels of participation in church life declined dramatically. Many people in the Republic of Ireland claim to be Roman Catholic, but they do not practice the faith. Scandals involving sexual abuse by priests and the discovery of human remains buried under the site of a former institution for unmarried mothers, run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours in Tuam, Galway, have turned some away from the church.
Blanchardstown Methodist Church storefront in Dublin, Ireland. PHOTO: ALBERT WAKILI
While aging and shrinking congregations may be a reality in some traditional denominations, this is by no means the full picture. The migration of people from other parts of the world to Ireland has made a significant impact on the church and on Irish Christianity in general. The migrants are eager to share their vibrant faith, resulting in explosive growth. Irish Methodism has about 50,000 congregants—5,000 in the Republic of Ireland and 45,000 in Northern Ireland, UK. Most members in the Republic of Ireland are not of typical Irish ancestry.
Membership of the Blanchardstown Methodist Church reflects its diverse community, mainly young families with children and teenagers. The church sponsors Sunday school, a youth group, a discussion group, a Friendship Lunch, and women’s and men’s groups. It is ably served by a pastor, stewards, and a church council with membership from at least four continents. This models for the community and the nation at large what it means to work, live, and worship together as people from different places around the world.
Some in our congregation face tough challenges—finding employment, housing, and a place to learn English. The church is a great resource to help them find their feet. One way we do this is through the Friday Friendship Lunch, a two-hour lunch to which all are welcome. The table is open to all kinds of conversation as we share a bowl of soup and bread together. Friendships are developed through conversation.
On Sundays after worship, we share tea and coffee, chatting about our daily lives and asking about families back home. During the Christmas and Easter seasons we celebrate one another’s cultures, sharing food from our various countries. I can try Irish chicken diane, Filipino sinigang, Ghanaian fufu, Indian biryana, Ugandan chapatti, and Polish chocolate all in one meal!
Every Friday evening youth group meets. Our door is open to all young people in the community regardless of their background. We offer biblical teaching and relational ministry in a community-centered approach and a safe space for teens to be themselves. I have enjoyed getting to know the teens, playing messy games, and answering questions, such as, “Why am I here?” or “How do I have a relationship with God?” God is doing incredible things through our youth group and I look forward to seeing what God has in store for them.
Albert Wakili on an outing with younger members of the youth group of Blanchardstown Methodist Church. PHOTO: COURTESY ALBERT WAKILI
Sunday morning sessions provide a space where the youth can engage with faith in a contemporary and compelling way. In our discussion group, we look at what the Bible says about important issues, like the migration crises, xenophobia, gender justice—and we always pray for our personal issues and for the world at large. I think it is imperative to teach young people the importance of lifting one another in prayer.
Our Sunday school at Blanchardstown Methodist Church is like a mini United Nations because of its diversity and the thoughtful questions the kids ask. Some weeks ago, Amber, age nine, half Ugandan and half Irish, returned from a visit to Uganda—her first to the African continent. She couldn’t say enough about her experiences, which reminded me of my home in Nigeria. She was happy that I could relate to some of the things she was describing. She then paused and asked me why we can’t all live in peace, and why poverty exists in the world. I have learned not to underestimate the depths of a child’s thinking.
Youth group leaders in the Dublin District plan monthly events to bring youth groups together. We host activities such as—quiz night, barbeque night, bowling night, testimony night—and we invite speakers from the Dublin Central Mission homeless ministry to talk about how our youth can get involved.
My responsibilities as a youth leader also involve taking young people for national events across the border into Northern Ireland. In March, we attended the annual Soul Mates Weekend, which is a national event for 9- to 13-year-olds organized by the Irish Youth and Children’s Department of the Methodist Church. Church groups from all over the island convene in Lurgan as a family that opens the Bible, sings songs, and has fun. Likewise, in October annually, Autumn Soul, a national event for 13- to 18-year-olds, considers God and discipleship. One thing I love so much about the Irish Methodist Church is the opportunities it provides for young people to connect with one another, which builds long-lasting friendships.
Three older members of the Blanchardstown Methodist Church youth group study the Bible. They represent the diversity now present in Ireland’s churches. PHOTO: ALBERT WAKILI
Our church also partners with Foróige, Ireland’s most successful youth organization, offering youth clubs, projects, and services. Under Foróige, I facilitate two clubs for young people at the community center, urging them to avoid gangs and providing a safe space for them to socialize and develop the ability to manage relationships. Other activities I’m involved in include the Tyrrelstown Residents Association, which represents and promotes the interests of all the residents, and the Alpha Course at St. Mary’s College Senior School, a private Catholic school. The Alpha Course is a series of interactive sessions that explore the basics of the Christian faith. It provides a safe space for people to ask questions and wrestle with doubts without being criticized or condemned.
My experience as a Global Mission Fellow has grown my heart for investing in young people. The conversations I have had with them have brought me closer to God. Please pray for the young people as they live in and engage with a culture that in many ways is hostile toward Christianity.
*Albert Abbo Wakili is a Global Mission Fellow from Taraba State, Nigeria (Advance #3022105), serving as a youth and children’s worker with the Blanchardstown Methodist Church, Dublin, Ireland, one of the newest and most ethnically diverse congregations in Irish Methodism. You can connect with him via Facebook, Albert Wakili.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.