A is for Armagh Road Presbyterian Church

Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, Portadown

I was recently asked to give a talk on ‘My life, my faith’. The idea being that you tell the story about how your faith played its role in your life. Faith is personal nonetheless the faith holder usually finds themselves in a group of others in which they share and express their faith.

Well of course if you find yourself with people how you interact and live will be an expression of your faith. You may be the only one that knows how your faith is influencing how you conduct yourself. Whereas if you are a member of a faith group the others will know that in some way you are attempting to live out of your faith. Perhaps it is not that different to being at the gym other gym users know you want to be healthy. I have been part of different faith communities since a little lad of four.

What matters to me in relation to being part of a faith community is

  1. Feeling it is a group to which I belong and that I am part of the group identity

2. That it understands my language, my faith language

3. That it encourages me to grow in my faith

4. That it teaches or has taught me the language of faith

5. That I am loved by at least, let’s say 3, people in it

6. That I love people in that community, let’s say at least 3

7. That I form friendships in which I can be truly myself

8. That I experience a greater intensity of Life / Love /God than I would alone

9. being able to receive and give to and from the community

10. That I am re-energised after a community meeting to go and live some more

I was thinking whether the alphabet may be a playful way of telling my story and so I was thinking what would A represent. The first thought was Armagh Road Presbyterian Church (ARPC).

ARPC was the church I was baptised as a baby. I do not recall the event hence I am reliant on others who tell me I was there because they brought me. It would be expected that if you were baptised in a church that it would be the church, the community in which your faith was formed. That was not my experience. My experience was that I found myself in the closest community to me which was a Church of Ireland (CoI) Sunday School that met in the community centre. I am running ahead of myself as now I have jumped to C.

Being baptised in ARPC was a bit like being born in Belfast I didn’t stay there long and was formed elsewhere. On Saturday night while back home in Northern Ireland the thought came to me that I should attend the Sunday service at ARPC. Perhaps the exercise was prompting me to revisit my roots.

I did attend. I found myself slightly anxious walking to the door but I made my way through and was greeted by my late granny’s Milkman. I noted that there were a lot of people in the vestibule who I presumed were Elders. I was given an order of service that was numbered with 21 items. I paused as I considered where I should sit as I would not wish to take someone else’s pew.

I noted that the congregation sat mainly at the back leaving a sea of pews between the pulpit and themselves.

I followed and participated in the service. It was only when they spoke of Communion Tokens that I became puzzled. It seemed to me that you required a token to take communion. I later learned it wasn’t for taking communion itself but for voting in church elections.

I noticed my uncle in the congregation so after the service was ended I waited outside and made myself known. It was in conversation with him and another congregant that I learned the mystery of the tokens.

I was left wondering in my imagination could this have become my faith community as a child and would it have remained as an adult. I think the 10 things that I look for in a community would have been applied and if they were met then probably the answer would have been yes. Yet another part of me knows that I like to explore, that I like to move into new communities so while it may have been yes it would only have lasted for a time perhaps like schools.