A Short History of Grace Bible Fellowship, Dublin

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Grace! ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear; Heav’n with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)

INTRODUCTION

This is the story of a church that has changed almost beyond recognition in fifty years, set in the midst of a society and a culture that has changed even more. The name of the church is ‘Grace’.

  • We began by preaching the free grace of God and we have certainly needed much grace at times.
  • We hope that we model grace in the life of our very diverse body of believers and through sharing with others what God has freely given us.
  • We have been blessed to give away many brothers and sisters who walked with us for a while and then left to minister in locations across Ireland and around the world.
  • We have also sought to share the facilities that God has given us with as many as can use them in Kingdom work.

John Newton puts it well:

“‘Tis grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home!”

THE BIRTH-PANGS OF THE CHURCH

The birth of Grace Church goes back to 1958 when Chris Robinson joined Irish Baptist Home Missions (IBHM – now Baptist Missions). He moved from Belfast to work in the South of Ireland. After stints in Waterford Baptist Church and Brannockstown, County Kildare, he married Helen Davis and they settled in Dublin, where Chris worked in personal evangelism alongside Harry James of IBHM. This work was very demanding and in those days the workers sometimes suffered physical as well as verbal abuse. On one occasion, Chris and Harry had to be rescued from Enniscorthy in County Wexford after clerical incitement resulted in attempts to attack them.

The result of the twelve years of labour was about half a dozen folks converted to Christ. These were from Catholic backgrounds which, in those days, often involved priesthood interference and family hostility. The new babes in Christ met regularly for Bible study and prayer in Chris and Helen’s home at Mornington Road in Ranelagh. Before anyone had heard of Alpha Courses or Christianity Explored, Chris was engaged in one-to-one Bible study with each one as they came to Christ.

Up until this time, the idea of church planting was not on any church’s agenda. Chris and Helen were members of Phibsboro Baptist Church and he endeavoured to integrate the converts into the church. However, none was familiar with the culture of evangelical Protestantism of the time: the ethos was quite foreign to those who could not grasp that they should become Protestant. The only alternative was to plant a new church.

This did not meet with the approval of the leadership of the Irish Baptist Home Mission and the matter was raised at the May 1968 Assembly. The issue caused quite a stir and a motion was proposed to dismiss Chris Robinson from the Mission. A special meeting was convened where Chris’s main defenders were Herbert M Carson (Hamilton Road Baptist Church) and James Byers (Rosemary Park Baptist Church). Chris was dismissed from the Mission but Herbert Carson and James Byers were firmly resolved to get behind the new venture and in the Lord’s gracious providence, they, along with many loyal friends, supported the work wholeheartedly.

For a Sunday meeting place, it was decided to rent the premises known, rather ironically in view of the genesis of the church, as the Protestant Hall, in Northumberland Road. The premises were shared with the Conquer Cancer campaign. A small noticeboard was produced and was displayed in front of the hall for the first time on the 28 May 1968. It indicated:

Northumberland Road Baptist Church

Sunday Services: 10:30am Bible Study, 11:00am Morning Worship

Brunswick Hall around 1915 with the army recruitment office in the centre
Brunswick Hall around 1915 with the army recruitment office in the centre
Brunswick Hall around 1916 - Easter Rising Week
Brunswick Hall around 1916 – Easter Rising Week

 

THE EARLY YEARS: PREACHING THE FREE GRACE OF GOD

Reaching Out

he work of building the church and reaching out with the Gospel became thrilling and a challenge. Chris’ style of preaching was dynamic and thought-provoking, ideally suited to the street corner, where he enjoyed engaging with enquirers and even with hecklers! There were open-air meetings twice weekly (Friday & Sunday) which were remarkable times. On Fridays the Legion of Mary would picket the meetings and heckle the preachers. The approach was not that of a ‘church service’ out of doors, as was typically the case in those days. It was rather to provoke reflection and engage in debate. For example, while one was on the box speaking, others would mingle with the crowd … and sometimes the crowds were big enough to cause circulation problems for traffic! If a person showed interest, (s)he would be invited for coffee in a nearby café and contact would be established. Sometimes things would get out of hand and become physical. Preachers could receive a thumping and David Ellis recalls that on at least one occasion, he observed a knife being drawn and Chris Robinson being pursued angrily down Lower Abbey Street.

The open-air work was complemented by occasional lectures in neutral surroundings, advertised in daily papers. For example, on 19 June 1969, there was a lecture in the Regent Hotel, D’Olier Street, entitled “Can we be sure?” by Chris Robinson; and on 12 January 1971, Herbert M Carson lectured in the Four Courts Hotel on “The Christian and Politics”. At such meetings, an invitation was given to a follow-up meeting at the church premises. These lectures were not without their problems. On one occasion, a hotel in Westland Row accepted a booking for a lecture. The Legion of Mary got wind of it in advance, however, and managed to persuade the management to revoke the booking. Opposition was never far away.

A third arm of the work was related to Seminaries. Chris and Harry would visit regularly and debates would be organised where Herbert Carson would tackle Catholic theologians on issues such as baptism.

Growing the Church

The vision of the church was very straightforward: firstly, to reach out to Dublin by all legitimate means and, secondly, to have a missionary vision. A constitution was drafted with much help from Herbert Carson. A particular doctrinal feature of the church at that time was the emphasis on what were known as the “Doctrines of Grace”, expounding the five ‘solas’ of the Reformation. The church at that time was virtually alone in Dublin in professing a ‘reformed’ position.

Even though the church was regarded as ‘unusual’ by many among the evangelicals in Dublin and did not meet with their approval, growth was steady and the atmosphere was very much that of family. There were ‘away weekends’ and special outings. David Ellis recalls: “we loved being together and there was a real sense of mutual commitment to each other”. It should be mentioned that as the church became constituted, admission to the Union was granted and the past put behind.

During the years 1968-1972, the Lord added to the church. Both Chris Robinson and David Elllis (later to be joined by Kenneth Lillie) conducted one-to-one Beginner’s Bible Studies either in Chris’ home or going to the home of the person concerned. Sometimes this could amount to a total of nine studies per week.

A typical weekly schedule was:

Sunday: Morning Service etc
Evening Prayer from 7pm – 8pm
followed by Open-Air Meeting at Cathal Bruagh Street
Monday: One-to-One Bible Study
Tuesday (and most other days too): Street Evangelism
Wednesday: Prayer Meeting and Bible Study
Thursday: More One-to-One Bible Studies
Friday: Open-Air Meeting (sometimes 8pm -11pm!) at Abbey Street corner

Baptisms were held at Killiney Beach and later at Sandycove Harbour. The weather was sometimes very cold, but they were always joyous occasions. Sandycove Harbour, in particular, proved an excellent location for preaching the Gospel, as the harbour walls became sounding-boards.

From 1968-1972, the church grew from just half a dozen members to between forty and fifty. After four years of working together, the church decided to send out her first missionaries and on Wednesday, 5 April 1972, a service of commendation and farewell for David and Barbara Ellis was held, as they were commissioned for work in France.

Brunswick Hall: the first home of our own

In 1971, just when the church was looking for a building to house the growing congregation, Chris Robinson received a phone call from Oliver Fry, one of the Trustees of Brunswick Hall in Pearse Street. Oliver Fry asked, “Would you be interested in Brunswick Hall to rent for your church?” There was great rejoicing at God’s provision and so began a new chapter in the life of the fellowship, which was renamed Grace Baptist Church.

Brunswick Hall was erected in the 1830s by an Anglican clergyman who left the Church of Ireland and joined with the early ‘Plymouth Brethren’ associated with the name of J N Darby – a movement which started in Aungier Street in Dublin in the 1820s. The early history of the Hall is unclear, but we do know that after the 1859 Revival it was associated with the Brethren Assembly at Merrion Hall. Later, a Presbyterian Mission was founded which leased the property from the Brunswick Trust, probably from the 1880s. Although the property remained in the hands of the Brunswick Trust, its use in the 20th century was mainly by Reformed Presbyterians. By the 1960s, however, the work had declined and hence it was made available to Grace as a meeting place. Thus the building to which the church moved in 1971 had seen Anglican, Brethren, Presbyterian and Baptist use in its time. Had they been able to speak, the stones might have struck horror into the hearts of each of the occupants in turn as they related the ‘errors’ of the previous residents! Looking at it from another perspective, however, perhaps we can also say that the Gospel, though it was proclaimed in many different ways, was preached faithfully throughout. In 1977 the church bought the premises from the Brunswick Trust at a generously discounted cost by today’s standards.

The premises were not salubrious … one main hall; a cottage with doubtful health and safety standards containing a kitchen of sorts, a ladies’ toilet and two small meeting rooms; an outdoor latrine for the men; and a derelict building at the front of the site, subsequently deemed to be dangerous by the City Council, and demolished.

Sunday mornings in those early days at Grace are associated in the minds of many of us with floors so dusty that no child could be safely deposited upon them, Superser heaters, which when placed under the suspended ceiling lights, caused them to sway hypnotically and, later, by an industrial space heater which when switched on produced a noise reminiscent of an aircraft taxiing for take-off. The same Superser heaters when used in the confines of the renowned sloping-floor upper room of the cottage, where the mid-week meeting was held, had a distinctly soporific effect on certain members of the congregation.

Church Officers in the early 1970s (l to r) Cedric McCrossan (Deacon); Chris Robinson (Pastor); David Ellis (Elder)
Church Officers in the early 1970s (l to r) Cedric McCrossan (Deacon); Chris Robinson (Pastor); David Ellis (Elder)
Group outside Brunswick Hall in the early 1970s
Group outside Brunswick Hall in the early 1970s

 

THE 1970s: A PERIOD OF RAPID GROWTH

The pattern of church life established by the ‘founding fathers’ continued throughout much of the 1970s. On Sunday mornings, the usual preacher was Chris Robinson and music was provided by gifted pianists Carol Archer and Helen Robinson, as well as dynamic young musicians John White and Paul Griffin. The hymn book used was Grace Hymns. Roberta Collins of CEF provided many children’s talks. The evening service was similar. There was a thriving youth club and also a women’s fellowship, which engaged in outreach to the elderly in the area. Monday night was the beginners’ Bible study led by Chris and Wednesday the mid-week Bible study and prayer meeting. Just once a month, on Sunday afternoon, there was an open-air meeting at the corner of Stephen’s Green.

There was an annual church weekend which, after using a number of locations, settled at the YWCA in Greystones, where it became a fixture for more than 20 years. There was much fun as well as some good Bible teaching through the years.

From the mid to the late seventies the church experienced a further period of rapid growth, fuelled largely by conversions of inner city residents of Dublin and students.

A group of young people from the inner city were converted and produced a dynamic outreach culture as well as some contemporary worship music. The church was encouraged in its outreach by several visiting teams from other churches including ‘Easter Speak Out’ teams from Belfast led by Steve Wright under the auspices of Young Life, and US teams led by Jack Miller of Westminster Theological Seminary. Both of these groups maintained their involvement with the church over many years. Young Life sent a team each Easter for nearly forty years and US teams, and longer term missionaries from what became the World Harvest mission, were of great help to the church up the 1990s. Amongst those converted at this time were a young couple, Pat and Caz Brown, living with a small child in straitened circumstances. They had been contacted during the visit of the OM ship Logos. Their testimony had a deep impact on their family and a number of conversions followed, including that of Ann Brown, Pat’s mother, who went on to become a faithful member of the church until her death and whose life and testimony filled the church at her memorial service just a few years ago … a mother in Israel indeed.

A unique identity: pride …

As has been noted above, most of the converts in the earlier years of Grace were from a Catholic background. The church was formed at a time of political and social convulsion in Ireland and although by the early 1970s the church was within the ‘fold’ of the Baptist Union, as it then was, Grace still found itself at the centre of controversy from time to time. The church was characterised by a congregation and leadership that were (largely) of a Republican bent, in a time of very polarised political views. A proposal, tabled by Grace delegates at the May meetings of the Baptist Union, that the assembly send greetings to the President of Ireland as well as its traditional message to Queen Elizabeth, was not well received! Grace was also characterised by informal dress at a time when suit and tie were considered de rigueur in most churches. More than one visiting President of the Baptist Union felt obliged to hastily exchange his jacket for a jumper on preaching at Grace.

Baptisms at Sandycove in the early 1970s
Baptisms at Sandycove in the early 1970s
… and the early 1980s
… and the early 1980s

 

… before a fall

Looking back, it seems to some of us, at least, that this distinct and rather radical identity which the church carved out, led to an ungodly pride … a feeling that we were a cut above others – ‘holier than thou’. Perhaps the rather rough and ready premises and facilities, the number of meetings that we attended and the open-air and door-to-door work that many engaged in, together with the sometimes dramatic testimonies, all made us feel, in some distorted way, superior to others.

It was not long, however, before our pride was shattered by dissention amongst the leadership and eventually, a rupture between the founding Pastor Chris Robinson and a large portion of the congregation. So it was that, in September 1981, Chris was excommunicated from the church and a number left the fellowship. This was a time of great wounding and dishonouring to the Lord. The rights and wrongs are known to God but there cannot be any one of us who would not say with hindsight that they were without sin in the matter. In the end it was the intervention of a brother from outside the church that was instrumental in bringing the matter to a painful close, though wounds are slow to heal and often leave scars which though they can be powerful instruments in our sanctification, are nonetheless painful reminders that we could have done far better.

THE 1980s: REBUILDING … EXPERIENCING GRACE

The lesson of history is that the pendulum swings inexorably from one side to the other in matters of governance and style in church life as we recover from perceived excesses in one direction or another. Thus it was that Grace was without a Pastor for some time and the view that plurality of Eldership is the basis of church government became firmly rooted in the minds of the leadership of the church. Indeed, this is still our view and Grace being unable (or perhaps unwilling) to just keep its counsel, we tried to educate the Union into the truth so wonderfully discovered and elected to eliminate the listing of Pastor from our entry in the Year Book of the Union. Needless to say, the Union was unimpressed and eventually the compromise was reached that the entry ‘Pastor’ would be labelled ‘vacant’. The church had two Elders throughout this period, George Morrison and Fed Swarbrick, a full-time evangelist. They were later joined by Jon Blackwell and David Harding.

In July 1985, David Ellis joined the leadership of the church, returning from France with his wife Barbara to do so. With the eye of an outsider, David helpfully recalls of this time:

“The church had radically changed by then and rejected the position of a full-time pastor. Many had been influenced by the writings of John Zens in his magazine ‘Searching Together’. I had the conviction of the nature of my calling by God and, though I was happy to work with the setup that was, felt strongly that should the Lord open up the way for me to exercise my ministry as I believe He had ordained me to do, I would move on.”

This opportunity came just two years later when David accepted to be Pastor of Cuckfield Baptist Church in England. The departure in the summer of 1987 was amicable and without any sense of aggrievement. A significant company of Grace members travelled to Cuckfield for his induction.

As in the 1970s, youth outreach was a feature of the church in the 1980s, with a regular coffee bar on a Sunday evening, having a ministry to quite troubled young people. Sadly, there was little fruit from this ministry, the most notable event being the window smashing exploits of a young man, who notched up 17 panes in one evening! Indeed, our reputation for welcoming all resulted in us attracting some colourful adherents, including such characters as Pablo and Bonk, both of whom sadly ended up dying untimely and tragic deaths.

With the benefit of hindsight one might summarise the 1980s as a period when the church licked its wounds from the bruising that had gone before, dealt with some tricky pastoral issues, sought to mend relationships and find a new way forward. The church building became rather a metaphor for this, as the battered roofs and windows certainly needed a lot of patching up from time to time!

THE 1990s: SEEDS OF CHANGE … SHARING GRACE

In 1990, the church appointed Jacob Reynolds as a full-time worker. Jacob hailed from near Drogheda in County Louth, was a convert from Catholicism and had spent more than ten years studying and working in Canada. His arrival was made possible in part by the generous donation of a manse by a then member of the Church. Jacob was joined in 1995 by another full-time worker, Phillie Matthews.

Recalling his arrival at Grace in 1990, Jacob says:

“I sensed that the church was rather battered and beaten by its earlier experience and saw my role as encouraging and building up the fellowship.”

The size of the congregation was largely steady in this period, though with more families than before. The rehousing of inner city residents in the suburbs, together with the attraction to the church of those further afield, meant that the church family became more scattered. It was at this time that home-based mid-week Bible study groups were introduced. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight one might characterise this period as one which saw a focus on the development of home groups as a vehicle of ministry and pastoral care.

During this decade the name of the church changed again from Grace Baptist Church to Grace Bible Fellowship. This change was rooted in a desire not to put any stumbling block in the way of the gospel. ‘Baptist’ was not a good tag-line for a church in this period, being associated in the minds of most people in Dublin, either with right-wing fundamentalists in the USA or errant US Presidents! ‘Bible’ seemed more appropriate and relevant. ‘Church’ denoted a building in the minds of most and ‘Fellowship’ was more expressive. The change provoked another fight with the Baptist Union and near expulsion but some timely interventions by friends in the Union saved us from disaster and we lived to fight another day!

During this period, two arson attacks on the church were made by a disgruntled client of Jobcare (see below). As well as destroying part of the building, the fire also robbed us of our church records. Like Joseph, however, we can say that though our friend with the matchbox meant it for evil, God meant it for good. As a result of the insurance monies and other fund raising, the church was able to demolish the old cottage (condemned as unsafe anyway) and build an extension to the main hall, which provided a kitchen and toilets in the first instance and, after the second attack, additional meeting rooms upstairs. Looking back, we can see how this building development actually made possible the growth in ministry which followed. This brings us to the fourth period of Grace’s history.

Brunswick Hall around 1973 ... Dereliction!
Brunswick Hall around 1973 … Dereliction!
Brunswick Hall 2009 … Reconstruction
Brunswick Hall 2009 … Reconstruction
Pearse Street
Pearse Street
Brunswick Hall 2016 … Demolition
Brunswick Hall 2016 … Demolition
Brunswick Halll 2014... Reconstruction with new DCM premises
Brunswick Halll 2014… Reconstruction with new DCM premises

 

THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: LOOKING OUTWARD … MODELLING GRACE

1998, Jacob Reynolds left to found the Leadership Institute and Pat Mullen, also a convert from a Catholic background and also from Drogheda, joined the team and remains with us until this day, now celebrating 20 years of ministry at Grace.

The last twenty years have been characterised by:

  • An influx of believers from overseas, leading to:
    • Increased ethnic diversity in the congregation
    • The establishment of minority ethnic group congregations
  • Increased use of the church premises by other Christian ministries
  • Church plants
  • Heightened missionary involvement

An increasingly diverse congregation on Sunday morning

When the Celtic Tiger began to roar in the 1990s, it’s call attracted numerous immigrants, amongst whom were Christians from many different parts of the world. English is not the mother tongue of maybe a third of our congregation. Indeed, over the past twenty-five years, we have had more nationalities and ethnicities amongst our regular worshippers (as opposed to visitors) than anyone can remember. We have had members or adherents from around forty countries from every corner of the world: China, Japan, Russia, India, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Nepal, Turkey, most European countries (including UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia), Sierra Leone, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, the USA, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia – to name but some – and, of course, the Irish! We have had Deacons from Romania, Singapore and Zambia and worship team members from Ukraine, Romania, India, USA and Lithuania. We have experienced unity in diversity in a wonderful way … it is indeed a foretaste of heaven!

At the same time, our Irish members and adherents have been steady or even declining in number at times. The Lord has brought in our brothers and sisters from overseas, it seems, at least in part to support and encourage us in what are increasingly lean times for the Gospel in Ireland … and we have learnt much from them. The Irish way is not always the best way.

Establishment of Ethnic congregations

At least four ethnic congregations have worshipped in our building and three remain.

The first was the Chinese Christian Fellowship which was formed in the early 1980s, and which met in the premises for some ten years before moving to other accommodation. There was also at this time an active work of teaching Cantonese to children of Chinese who had settled in Ireland and English to their parents. The church continues to prosper.

Next was the Romanian Baptist Church. Before Romania joined the EU, a trickle of Romanian believers began to enter the country illegally. These were largely Baptists from Transylvania where, at that time, the influence of the Orthodox church made it difficult to be a believer and, in particular, a Baptist. They were, therefore, asylum seekers. When Romania joined the EU, the trickle turned into a flood of immigrant Romanians working in construction and hospitality. The church benefitted and soon there was a desire for a Romanian congregation which began to meet in the evening. After some years they appointed a Pastor, Narcis Nichita, who is partly supported by Grace as well as the Romanian congregation.

Next came the Lithuanians who, whilst not part of Grace from the start, asked for somewhere to meet and took the afternoon slot.

A smaller group of Russians meet in one of the minor halls, also in the afternoon.

As the years went by, we saw the need to draw closer and this has now happened through a joint service, which we hold once every two months, and a joint youth work every other Friday evening.

As the second generation of immigrants grow up with English as their first language, there has been a natural coming together of the congregations, but still with a recognition of the need for the first generation and new migrants to worship in their own culture and language.

Use of the church premises for other ministries

During the 1990s there were two other occupants of note in our premises. One was the Leadership Institute, founded by former pastor Jacob Reynolds in 1998. This joined with the Irish Bible College in 2000 to become the Irish Bible Institute and eventually outgrew the premises. It is now well established in Foley Street in central Dublin.

The other occupant was Jobcare, a Christian charity which focusses on the re-integration of long term unemployed and ex-offenders into the workforce. Jobcare has now been using the Grace premises for 25 years. At any one time, there could be up to 100 people on the premises on Jobcare programmes and although it is independent and has its own Board, it is a ministry of Grace in that we are one of the supporting churches to which it is accountable.

Thus, between the Church, IBI and Jobcare, the building was extremely intensively used throughout the week, all day and in the evenings. We also benefitted hugely from the care and maintenance of the building provided by Jobcare staff and participants.

Church Plants from Grace

Grace has been involved in a number of church plants. The first was the Dublin West Community Church in Blanchardstown to which we ceded two families. This was a joint church plant between Grace and what was then Fellowship Bible Church. The Dublin West church continues to thrive.

Grace is now considering the possibility of a second church plant in the North City area, jointly with Jamestown Road Baptist Church.

The Romanian congregation is also engaged in a church plant aimed at Romanians living in Portadown and has begun to hold regular meetings in the town with thirty to forty in attendance, supported by a number travelling each week from Dublin.

Missions

  • In 1972, Grace sent out its first missionary couple, David and Barbara Ellis, who ministered in France for 14 years in preaching, pastoring and church planting.
  • Kirk and Madeline Joyce began evangelism in County Louth in the 1980s and subsequently in the West of Ireland. They are now based near Athlone, with Operation Mobilisation.
  • Ciaran and June Loughran attended Grace in the 1990s and June came to Christ through the ministry of the church. After training at Dallas Theological Seminary, the Loughran’s began a church plant at Trim in County Meath in the early 2000s. The church is now well established.
  • Jon and Sandra Blackwell joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1999 and went to Cameroon in West Africa for Bible translation into the Bamunka language as well as local language literacy work. Since 2008 they have been Dublin-based because of family responsibilities but they continue the work with regular trips in support.
  • Arising from the church’s involvement in Bible translation in Cameroon, a charity called Water for Cameroon (WFC) was formed by church member Mick Toolan in 2007. Mick travels regularly to Cameroon developing this ministry of Grace: some sixty wells have been dug and other clean water programmes undertaken.
  • Arising in turn from the WFC work, a further initiative, Cameroon Medical, now provides financial assistance for needy cases, particularly women and children, whose requirements come to light as a result of Grace’s other work in the region.
  • Finally, through contacts of our former Sierra Leonian Deacon, the church sponsors education for orphan children in Sierra Leone.
Grace Bible Fellowship Temporary Accommodation 2016 - 2018
Grace Bible Fellowship Temporary Accommodation 2016 – 2018
Brunswick Halll 2018... Rebirth!
Brunswick Halll 2018… Rebirth!

 

Grace’s current building development programme

In 2006 we were offered a deal by the hotel next door:
“Sell your airspace for bedrooms and we’ll give you a new church!”

It didn’t work out and how blessed we were that it did not. Following the recession after 2008 it is quite likely that we would have ended up with just a hole in the ground. God is good! The opportunity came around again in 2015 and this time we did the deal. After a two-year development programme, during which time we were provided with very suitable temporary premises by the hotel less than two hundred metres away, we hope to move into our new premises in October 2018. The new building will give us greatly enhanced facilities which we will share with all our congregations, Jobcare and anyone else who wants to use it for the gospel. We never looked for a new building … someone just offered to give it to us as had happened before, in 1971. That is grace!

CONCLUDING REMARKS: WE STILL NEED GRACE!

The congregation at Grace started life in a building occupied by the Dublin and Wicklow Orange Lodge. It was, perhaps, an inauspicious beginning for a church whose vision was to win the lost in a monolithically Catholic city. It then moved to a building called Brunswick Hall on Pearse Street. Nearly all the congregation at that time could have told you who Padraig Pearse was. Few would probably have made the connection from Brunswick to the pre-1921 street name of Great Brunswick Street, after the house of Brunswick who took the British throne in 1714.

A poll of our present congregation might show up to half not really knowing who the Orange Order are, maybe two thirds not knowing who Padraig Pearse was and as for Brunswick – with the Trust wound up and the old building demolished, the name is finally consigned to history.

The Ireland of 2018 is almost unrecognisable to those of us who can remember back to 1968. It has changed utterly … and nowhere more so than Dublin. Less than two-thirds of people now living in Dublin were born there and every fourth person was born outside the State altogether. With the power of the Catholic church spent, just 56% of those aged 20-34 in Dublin City profess themselves to be of this persuasion, whilst 33 percent say they have no religion at all.

Right now, the challenge of the Gospel is to reach those who have been duped by militant atheism and the consumer society and are simply amusing themselves to death. It is not much different in Dublin than it is in London or Paris … that is how much we have changed.

Our new building has over its front door Jesus’ words from Luke’s Gospel:
“Heaven and earth will pass away but my words shall never pass away.”

We want to be a witness for the One who declared: “I am the way, the truth and the life”, in an increasingly God-denying and confused society. For that, we will need, as we always have needed, much grace.

Jon Blackwell, IBHS Journal

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