The Irish Council of Churches (ICC) and Irish Inter–Church Meeting (IICM) have been working to capture the experience of our member churches during this time of pandemic.
In particular we have been keen to highlight the good news stories of churches working together to bring hope and support to those who are struggling. We were grateful for the opportunity to reflect with the creators of ‘The Irish Blessing’ as this important initiative passes the 1 million views milestone on YouTube. In this blog series we will discuss: the inspiration for the initiative, the practical considerations involved in a project of this nature, and the contribution of ‘The Irish Blessing’ to a changing church landscape.
The second blog in this series considers some of the practical lessons from this initiative.
When Scripture uses the Greek word ‘kairos’, it captures more than just an extraordinary moment in time or a ‘God opportunity’. At its heart, ‘kairos’ is a space for action and transformation. If mission is ‘seeing what God is doing and joining in’, then Christians need to be alert to God’s timing, to seize opportunities and take bold steps of faith. Indeed as lockdown has somewhat eased, it is apparent that ‘The Irish Blessing’ was clearly very much a product of a specific moment in time and an expression of a unique season in our collective experience. At the time of pre–production and recording, Irish Christians were isolated from one another, which perhaps bore an unparalleled craving to connect and collaborate with one Christian voice. This collective yearning was a sign of the Holy Spirit agitating something new to the surface. It was this hunger that needed to be acted upon, within a very short window of time. Therefore, with God’s grace and favour, not only was ‘The Irish Blessing’ arranged, recorded and produced (within a 3 week period), it was then released significantly on Pentecost Sunday (Sun 31st May 2020), as a reminder of God’s nearness to us, pouring out the Holy Spirit upon the Church worldwide.
The best collaborations achieve an alignment between needs and skills. As mentioned in the previous blog, The Irish Blessing began with a Facebook post, which connected Fr Martin Magill in Belfast and Philip McKinley in Dublin, thanks to Rev Arlene Moore in Rathcoole, Co Antrim. They came together in their assessment of what was needed and the vision for how those needs might be met, but none of this could have been realised without the professional skills and technical expertise required to bring it to life.
In a short space of time a Production team and a Creative team had to be assembled, without the opportunity for those teams to meet virtually. The Production Team included Caren Collins (Retreat Facilitator, Co Antrim), Paul McNeilly (Open Skies Festival), Pauline Alton (Cork City Praise). In addition, a world class Creative Team comprising video and music specialists came on board. On video was Greg Fromholz (Director), Joseph von Meding (Editor) and drone footage was supplied courtesy of George Griffin, Jonny Somerville and Sam Kwan. The Music team included Stu Reid (Production and Mix), Drew Lavyne (Mastering) and David Walker (Engineer and Editor). The music was beautifully arranged and orchestrated by Jonathan Rea with additional instrumentation arranged by Stu Reid. Indeed a new original melody for St Patrick’s Breastplate was composed by Jonathan Rea. Ciarán J Corrigan and Ethan Tohill also provided technical and media support.
So what lessons might be learned from this experience for others who are considering ecumenical projects in the community? Firstly, the level of commitment required for a project of this nature should not be under–estimated. It begins with a clear vision, that needs to be communicated clearly and consistently to all prospective partners, taking care to manage expectations. The most effective collaborations are those that allow people to use their existing skills and experience. This, in turn, requires that the project design allows sufficient space for them to bring their creativity and ideas, without compromising that central vision.
At the same time, the ownership of the project is a critical factor in how it will be received. As Philip and Fr Martin are passionate about bringing Christians together across denominational boundaries, that sense of inter–church ownership was foundational. Accordingly, major representative Christian organisations such as the Irish Council of Churches, Evangelical Alliance Ireland, Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland and others were approached to lend their support to the project in a variety of important ways. This helped encourage participation from a rich and varied breadth of denominations. As ICC, we were honoured to have the opportunity to endorse this project, with our President, Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson commenting that, “It’s a wonderful and creative way to bless a community organisation local to your own church at the same time as sharing together with Christians from all over the island in blessing and thanking those who daily dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of all. The choice of an adaptation of ‘Be Thou my Vision’ is particularly apt in its call out to God to be our shelter in a time of affliction, when so many are suffering as a result of coronavirus. Still God is our refuge, and He is always with us.”
While financial considerations should not be the major factor in project design, with the emphasis firmly on the needs to which the project seeks to respond, funding will have a determining factor on what can be achieved. The organisers of the Irish Blessing were particularly grateful that the Methodist Church in Ireland generously agreed to be an organisational host for the project, which enabled much wider practical possibilities. In addition, the Ardbarron Trust, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Church of Ireland Church Fabric & Development Fund, the National Bible Society of Ireland, TBF and KL Thompson Trust and private donations, generously assisted with the practical costs for the project. As with contributors and project partners, clear communication with funders is an essential foundation for the relationships of trust that will give people the confidence to contribute in this way.
Adding to the complexity and reach of this project was the fact that ‘The Irish Blessing’ sought to represent blessings from churches and Christian organisations in Ireland, as opposed to individual artists. This was the same pattern as the worldwide movement. Therefore over 300 churches and Christian organisations from every county in Ireland submitted a total of over 700 files, whether audio or video for the project. The Creative Team then had one frantic week to arrange and edit a final video. Every audio recording was included in the final mix, as well as every church and organisation listed on the main page of www.theirishblessing.com, but not all video files could be included, due to the sheer volume of submissions. Every image did however appear at the end of the video. In fact there was enough video material to produce three unique music videos. The whole team was very burdened through the last stage, by the weight of stewardship of each submission, mindful that every single file represented a story and a blessing, which the participants wished to bestow. In the end, the list of participants that appears on the website captures well the remarkable range of geographic and denominational engagement – perhaps a feat not achieved by any other Christian project previously.
So, in conclusion, some of the main practical lessons from this experience could be summarised as follows:
- A clear vision for the project, that can be communicated easily, with a strong sense of the needs to which it responds;
- Sufficient flexibility to allow others to bring their skills, experience and technical expertise in appropriate ways;
- Clear and consistent communication that allows partners to endorse the project to their networks on the basis of relationships of trust;
- Careful assessment of costs and a strategy for how these might be met, attentive to the relationships that will be established with funders;
- An appreciation for all contributions that ensures that everyone who offers their support, in whatever form it might take, feels valued and respected.
It is hoped that some of the learning from ‘The Irish Blessing’ could inspire and support others who feel called to facilitate a collective response to community needs.