30 November 2011

Saint Andrew: book-ending the Church year with a commitment to mission

Church and Cult … Saint Andrew’s Church reflected in a shop window in Suffolk Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

30 November 2011: Saint Andrew the Apostle

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

5 p.m., the Community Eucharist.

Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

First of all, “Happy Name Day” (χρόνια πολλά για το όνομα σου) to every Andrew among us. Your name day may come at the end of the year, but alphabetically you managed to be ahead of the class and first to be picked for much of your childhood ... it is just as well you were named after Andrew and not after Zebedee in this evening’s Gospel reading.

Our two Andrews may be prejudiced in favour of noticing these sorts of things.

So too may the Director, who is not only a graduate of St Andrews, but has served in two parishes where there have been churches named Saint Andrew’s, in Coleraine and in Lurgan.

But how many among you have noticed the two churches in Dublin that are named after Saint Andrew?

One is Saint Andrew’s in Westland Row, close to the Dart station at the east end of Trinity College Dublin; the other is on the corner of Suffolk Street and Saint Andrew’s Street, close to the West or main entrance to TCD, near the bus stop many of us use in Suffolk Street.

Both churches continue the name of a mediaeval church, built on a site near the City Hall, close to Dublin Castle, and dating from the early 13th century.

In the 17th century, the Church of Ireland parish church of Saint Andrew’s was relocated east, so it could be nearer to the newly developing suburbs around Trinity College. There it also became the parish church of the Irish Parliament and the Stock Exchange. An oddly-shaped church with a cone-shaped roof, it was known as the “Round Church.”

It was replaced in 1800 by another new, round church, designed by Francis Johnston. You may notice how that round shape is still reflected in the bend on the street at Suffolk Street and Saint Andrew Street, with Church Lane and Trinity Street leading down to College Green.

But the new church suddenly lost its social appeal when Parliament was abolished at the Act of Union in 1800. Greater disaster came when it burned to the ground in 1860.

The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Yet another new church, the present building, was built. Instead of rebuilding a round church, this one was designed in the Gothic Revival style by Lanyon and Lynn of Belfast. However, the church never recovered its parochial life, and it lost its potential for mission and ministry in that part of the city centre.

I remember Saint Andrew’s being used by the Ministry of Healing, certainly in the 1970s and the 1980s. But, when it closed in 1993, it had only two remaining parishioners. The building was sold, and since 1996 it has housed the Dublin Tourism Information and Booking Office.

Saint Andrew, carved by Edward Smith, crowns the portico of Saint Andrew’s Church in Westland Row, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Although Francis Johnston was also one of the architects, Saint Andrew’s in Westland Row was built in a very different architectural style. The other architects, designers and decorators included John Boulger and James Lever, and they built it in the classical style with echoes of the baroque of the Roman tradition, rather than the Gothic of the Church of Ireland’s Saint Andrew’s.

Outside, the church has a Doric portico, crowned by a statue of Saint Andrew, sculpted by Edward Smith.

He holds the X-shaped or saltire-style cross on which the apostle was said to have been martyred.

These two Saint Andrew’s churches bookend Trinity College Dublin – one at the east end and one at the west end. What an ecumenical – albeit unplanned – gesture. But Saint Andrew’s Day also bookends the Church year. This is the first great saint’s day in this new Church Year, which began on Sunday last, the First Sunday of Advent. And, in a rare occurrence, Saint Andrew’s Day is both the first and last great feastday of this church year, coming before the First Sunday in Advent, which falls on 2 December in 2012.

But these two churches also speak about the mission of the Church today.

One is seeking its relevance today, trying to attract local business people with its experiments in “no-questions-asked” confessions, Gospel choirs and Masses that try to attract local business people.

The other, in some ways, speaks about our failures or inadequacies in inner-city mission. Despite the healing services and lunch-time Holy Communions, the church had long lost its relevance before we all woke up to what was happening in the 1990s.

Let me digress for a moment. Some years ago, I was introducing a group of visiting Irish Church leaders to a Patriarch in an Eastern Mediterranean city. Bishops, priests and mission personnel were being received generously. On a table before us, there was a display of large icons, and I alone realised these were about to be presented to us as gifts as part of the hospitality.

But the mood then changed inexplicably. A monk was called over. The Patriarch nodded. The large icons were whisked away, and a tray of smaller icons was brought out. The Patriarch then immediately began to criticise the Western Church – all branches of the Western Church – for losing our priorities in mission.

He told us how he had seen churches in the inner cities in northern Europe turned into curry houses, garages, shops and cinemas. He told us how difficult it was for Christians to keep open their churches in mainly Muslim countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. But he insisted these churches should stay open, despite social and financial difficulties, because they are signs of mission and signs of the commitment of the Church, the whole Church, to where we find ourselves incarnationally.

We were asked: Are we committed to commerce? Or are we partners in mission?

And then smaller and less significant icons were handed out as parting gifts to the visitors, left with these harsh but pertinent questions: Are we committed to commerce? Or are we partners in mission?

The Apostle Andrew is a Gospel example of how we can be excited about mission.

Saint Andrew the Apostle was a fisherman, an every-day ordinary-day commercial occupation, working on the Lake of Galilee in partnership with his brother Simon Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and it is said that when Saint John the Baptist began to preach, Saint Andrew became one of his closest disciples. The story goes that Saint John the Baptist then sent two of his own disciples, the future Saint Andrew and Saint John the Evangelist, to Christ, declaring Christ to be the Lamb of God.

When he heard Christ’s call to follow him, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about that call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. He left his nets behind and went to Peter and, as Saint John’s Gospel tells us in another account of his calling, he told him: “We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus” (John 1: 41, 42).

In answering our call to ministry and mission, we must not forget those who are closest to us, those in our families and those who have worked with us. But, at the same time, like Saint Andrew, we must be happy about leaving behind the nets of yesterday and not getting caught up in them.

Tradition says Saint Andrew was so obstinate and so stubborn at his martyrdom in Patras, in today’s western Greece, that he insisted on being splayed on an X-shaped cross. He said he was unworthy to be crucified on a cross of the same shape as the one on which Christ had been crucified.

Unlike the other disciples named in our Gospel reading – Peter and James and John, the sons of Zebedee – Andrew never gave his name to an Epistle, never gave his name to a Gospel. But Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, truly took up his cross and followed Christ. And he called others to do the same.

His stubborn and obstinate commitment to mission, to travelling for the Gospel, has made him the patron saint of mission work and the patron saint of Constantinople, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Scotland.

That stubborn and obstinate commitment to Christ, to the point of a martyr’s death, makes Andrew an appropriate saint to start off the Church Year at the beginning of Advent. As Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mark 13: 24-37) reminded us, Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the coming of Christ again in glory.

This evening, Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, reminds us of the meaning of our call to ministry and mission.

The other day, I was looking at the sad reflection of old Saint Andrew’s in the windows of a shop in Suffolk Street called, of all things, “Cult.”

If the Church is to remain Church and not become a cult, then we must have a new commitment to relevance and to mission.

When you leave here, casting aside the nets of study, assignments and dissertations, may you remain stubborn and obstinate, like Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, in your commitment to Christ, to his Church and to his mission.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. This sermon was preached on Saint Andrew’s Day, 30 November 2011, at the Community Eucharist in the institute chapel.

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