THE EARLY YEARS:
Some reminiscences from Fr John O’Connell:
“Before I came to Bray in 1974, I had very little contact with Protestant people, and I am embarrassed to admit that I had never been in a Protestant church. There was only one Protestant family in the Kerry parish I grew up in. What a surprise then to find in Bray a very active Churches Together group. It had been founded by two great Christians: Presbyterian Rev Alec Reid – a thorough gentleman, and regarded by us all as a father figure, and Roman Catholic Curate Fr Paddy Lyons – an enthusiastic ecumenist and later a Benedictine monk in Glenstal Abbey.
At the beginning, it was a coming together of the clergy on a monthly basis to discuss topics, pray together, and attend services in each other’s churches on special occasions. What an eye opener it was for me to discover that the Church of Ireland Communion service was almost identical in every way with our Mass. I will never forget the reverence with which the Church of Ireland congregation approached the reception of Holy Communion.
On one occasion, we in Holy Redeemer held a Sunday morning cake-sale in aid of work on the roof of the Church of Ireland church. The response was astonishing – cakes rolled in from all over the place. It was easily the most successful cake-sale we ever had, and it created an enormous amount of good will between the two communities.
I could tell many more stories …..”
Some snippets of history:
It may surprise you to know that the Citizens Information Centre was founded by ecumenist Fr Paddy Lyons in 1970, and operated from the Little Flower Hall, with committee meetings in the Presbytery.
The organ in Holy Redeemer is truly ecumenical – it was built in 1980 by the craftsmen of Kenneth Jones Pipe Organs Ltd when their factory was in The Well church.
In 1983, the first Bray Festival was held. Whichever congregation collected the most money for charity had the privilege of naming the ‘Lord Mayor’, and there was stiff competition. One unusual event was a duck race on the Dargle. There were complaints from people worried about cruelty to animals, but of course the ducks were plastic. The Festival continued in the form of a Songs of Praise service until 2008.
An ecumenical Harvest Flower Festival was held in 1992, with flower arrangers from Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford portraying aspects of church and community life. A joint Holy Redeemer and Christ Church choir sang at the closing service. But we have it on good authority that Fr Kevin Doherty missed this service as he was in Croke Park with Fr John O’Connell’s ticket, to see Donegal beat Dublin to win their first football All Ireland.
Over the years, Bray Churches Together grew organically, until the committee was quite enormous. In 2008, a facilitator was invited to help us in a review. Out of this, Fr John O’Brien of St Fergal’s oversaw the adoption of a new structure – a Steering Group made up of a single representative from each congregation, including both clergy and lay people. See How we work.
One of the most talked about and popular initiatives in recent years was a series of visits to our different churches. Each worshipping community shared some of their own distinctives and a sample of their style of music or service.
This culminated in a Celebration of Song to which each community brought some of their own style in November 2009.
But as Bray Churches Together, we still echo these works written in 1992 on the 200th anniversary of Holy Redeemer:
“What is important is not my church or your church, my organisation or yours, but that the task of God should be accomplished in the world. And what is the task of God in the world? That people should have life and have it more abundantly, not just in the next world but very much in this one.”
Fr John O’Connell, Holy Redeemer.
“What can we do to make it clear to all our congregations that we are one in Christ, and so go forward in our work of bringing God’s love, justice and joy to all? … The simple answer is that we are called to travel the road of faith together. Continuing the journey we have begun. Taking bigger and bolder steps as the Spirit of Christ and opportunity suggest.”
Rev Richard Large, Christ Church.