Belfast Telegraph

How one man's personal journey is creating a new way to worship

By Alf McCreary

How does a boy reared in a one-parent family in the strongly nationalist area of Shantallow in Londonderry end up decades later as the minister of a new Presbyterian Church at Maynooth, near the heart of the Roman Catholic Church?

Some might say that this is a mere coincidence, but others would see in this the hand of God, and how a religious conversion can have the most unexpected consequences.

The Reverend Dr Keith McCrory, who rarely uses his full title, is the minister of Maynooth Community Church(MCC), which began as a small group associated with the nearby Lucan Presbyterian Church.

Keith, who was an elder at Lucan, was part of a small group which began a midweek prayer and Bible study in 2002, and it held its first service as Maynooth Community Church a year later.

In 2007 it was formally recognised as a new Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Munster and Dublin

The MCC originally met in a post-primary school, and more recently it has been holding weekend services in a spacious corridor over a Dunnes store in a local shopping centre.

The church has obtained a three-acre site at a very competitive price, and it is now raising funds to construct a new multi-purpose building there as soon as possible.

Keith McCrory spoke to me at length last weekend and told me that the MCC has a congregation of around 90, that its members are mostly young and from many different backgrounds, and that the worship style is different from the traditional Presbyterian churches.

Sermons last about four minutes, and several speakers can take part. There is no fixed liturgy, and central aspects of each service "are adapted to the needs of the occasion".

It all sounds challenging and inspirational, and so too is Keith's personal journey from Shantallow to the Presbyterian ministry.

His parents separated when he was four, and for the next 11 years he and his two brothers and a sister were brought up by their father, who died when Keith was 15.

He came into contact with Christianity only at the age of 16 when a teacher introduced him to a Crusaders club run by a Presbyterian Church. He did not even known what 'Presbyterian' meant.

This led to a more permanent membership of Kilfennan Presbyterian Church, and eventually to becoming a Presbyterian minister, after his education at Durham University, Queen's and Union Theological College, as well as further training in Jamaica and Pasadena, California.

His career path and the establishment of the MCC itself shows how the traditional concept of church life is changing.

The attendance at all the main established churches is declining, but the numbers are growing in the newer evangelical and house churches.

This often leads to strains within the long-established churches, as in Knocknamuckley Parish in Co Armagh, where there was a huge row between the traditionalists and the so-called "progressives".

The Knocknamuckley minister, the Reverend Alan Kilpatrick, left to take up a position in the Hope Community Church, which he helped to set up. He recently resigned after two years in the post.

A new minister, Reverend Geoffrey Haugh, was appointed this April as incumbent at Knocknamuckley. One can only hope that the situation is improving greatly.

It is not easy for traditionalists to become used to new ways of worship and church practice. This is often most obvious in the divergence between those who prefer the traditional hymns, psalms and paraphrases, and the others who demand choruses, which are usually referred to as 'songs'. Sadly in some churches you rarely hear a hymn, psalm or paraphrase nowadays.

The career of the Reverend Dr Keith McCrory and the impressive Maynooth Community Church shows that, in the words of the hymn by William Cowper (the last one he wrote), "God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform".

In these times, the big challenges facing the traditionalists and the modernists in moving forward together is not to throw out the theological babies with the ecclesiastical bath water, especially as they all claim to worship the same God.

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