Here’s a great story of being missional in Dublin.
HOPE IN THE INNER CITY: a story of theology in action
Sometimes I get asked “So what’s this emphasis on applied theology at IBI all about?” Maybe there is no better answer to this than tell a story of one recent MA graduate, Joe Donnelly.
Joe grew up in Ringsend, an inner city dockland area. There wasn’t much hope or opportunity in Ringsend in those days. As a kid he used to vandalise the ‘foreign’ local Protestant mission hall, or get wasted on cider in its back yard at nights. Like many of his friends, Joe didn’t finish school and drifted until, at one particular low point in a foreign land, life didn’t seem to be worth living any more.
It was into that hopelessness that Joe first heard the Good News of the Gospel and it transformed his life. And the power of Christian hope has always fascinated and stayed with him.
Years later, he and his wife Sharon were asked to consider returning to Ringsend – right back to that same old mission hall building – to see what they could do in bringing hope to the area. Joe would say this seemed crazy, this hall, an old Protestant relic, was the worst place to begin to connect with the neighbourhood.
One thing he was sure of; mission would have to begin with listening and serving. And over the next few years Joe and the team, with no state funding, built an award winning community centre called the Anchorage Project. Its name links back to that theme of hope (Heb. 6:19).
This was very much ‘doing church’ from Monday–Saturday: building relationships and trust by serving the community rather than starting with a Sunday programme and inviting people to ‘come to us’.
But Joe came to the stage where he needed fresh vision for the next stage of development so he joined the IBI MA programme on a part-time basis. Joe wanted to explore hope theologically. What practical difference would an applied theology make in the inner city – a place of hardship, deprivation and cynicism? What would it look like ‘on the ground’?
“As I had been working in Christian ministry for more than 20 years, more than 10 of these in Ringsend, I was equally terrified and excited at the prospect of using my MA dissertation to provide a missiological and theological framework for our ministry of Christian Hope.”
To cut a long story short, after completing the taught modules over two years, Joe completed a first-class dissertation on Hope in Dublin’s Inner City Docklands (engaging with theologians like Bauckham, Volf, Moltmann, Wright, Pannenberg and others along the way). Quite some going for the boy who never finished school …
But this was no academic piece of research to sit on a shelf gathering dust. A group of us gathered recently in the Anchorage to hear Joe share how his studies were working out in practice. Four clear themes emerged that are currently in the process of re-shaping the vision and work of the Anchorage as it seeks to be a ‘signpost of the kingdom of God’ in Ringsend.
“Notwithstanding the great fellowship and craic among fellow students and tutors, I think that the real legacy of doing an MA in applied theology in IBI has got to be the application of that same theology into your local context.”
Beauty: Christian hope looks forward to a beautiful city, the heavenly Jerusalem. So building on ideas of authenticity and simplicity, the Anchorage is re-developing an urban concrete space into a beautiful space, full of flowers, a greenhouse and aviary. There will a space for visitors to sit and ‘consider the birds of the air’ and ‘the lilies of the field’.
Justice: Christian hope longs for justice. From its early days the Anchorage has developed several income generation projects which give away all their proceeds each year towards projects around the world that are promoting justice for the weak and marginalised. Over the years it has helped projects in places as far afield as Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and locally in Ireland. This is a powerful symbol of how even those with little can help others in even greater need.
Community: as part of a vision for serving the area, the Anchorage has recently opened a missional café. Staffed by Christian volunteers, it is beginning to provide an attractive and welcoming community space within a Christian context for people to meet, use the internet, eat, drink and talk. There is planning permission for a family support centre on the site to help provide hope to those in need.
Children: a significant way of serving the community and building relationships has been to provide a pre-school playgroup for the children of local residents. In an area of high unemployment and limited facilities for children, play, fun, laughter are all profoundly hopeful things!
“I’ve come to see that a ministry like IBI is crucial for instilling a sense of confidence in Irish Christians so that we can step up to the mark in our generation”
It was deeply encouraging listening to Joe. This is why IBI exists – to be a place of learning, reflection, discussion, ideas – all to better equip and prepare people already called by God and active in ministry to go out and make a difference for the Lord wherever he has called them – whether Ringsend, Ringaskiddy or Roscrea!
[If you are interested in doing some volunteer work at the Anchorage Project you can contact Joe at jdonnely[at]indigo.ie or check out the Cafe Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Fair-Play-Cafe/116373981773959.]