06 November 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
161, Christ Church, Limerick

Behind the discreet sign and canopy, Christ Church, Limerick, is a church with an interesting history (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is Methodist churches, concluding this morning (6 November 2021) with photographs from Christ Church, the shared Methodist and Presbyterian Church on O’Connell Street, Limerick.

Inside Christ Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ Church on O’Connell Street looks like an ordinary office block in the heart of commercial block. But behind the 1950s façade is a church used by the united Presbyterian and Methodist congregation, bringing together two separate congregations since the early 1970s.

All that indicates that there is more inside is the name above the door. But, until the 1950s, there was a garden in front of what was a fine Gothic revival Methodist church.

The Methodist story goes back to 1739 and John Wesley’s preaching. Methodism was introduced to Limerick City by Robert Swindells, who preached his first sermon in the Parade in 1748 or 1749. The first conference of the Irish Methodists was held in Limerick in 1752, and it was chaired by John Wesley.

Wesley could be critical of Limerick’s Methodist during his visits, but in 1771, in the week immediately after Pentecost, he recorded in his Journal: ‘I spoke severally to the members of the society in Limerick. I have found no society in Ireland, number for number, so rooted and grounded in love.’

The Methodists in Limerick first rented the old church of Saint Francis’s Abbey near the Sandmall. They then built a new chapel ‘a handsome edifice near the city courthouse’ on Quay Lane (now Bridge Street). This was sold when Christ Church on George’s Street (now O’Connell Street) was built in 1812-1813.

However, a schism divided Methodism with a rising demand for sacramental life in Methodist chapels. A vocal minority protested that such a move would separate the Methodist societies from the Church of Ireland. In 1816, the Methodist Conference approved the consolidation of the Methodists into a more formal Church and the decision caused division, with one-third seceding and forming the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Society to preserve their links with the Anglicans.

The newly built-chapel on George’s Street was retained by the majority group, who were known as the Wesleyan Methodists. It was remodelled by Robert Fogerty in 1879 and reopened on 7 September 1879.

Meanwhile, the smaller minority Primitive Methodists built their own chapel, first known as the Independent Chapel and later as Central Hall, in Bedford Row in 1821. The new church was built of cut stone, in the Gothic style, with an iron balustrade and handsome entrance. David Lee and Debbie Jacobs, in James Pain, architect (2005) suggest that the church was designed by the Limerick-based architect brothers James and George Richard Pain, although there is no compelling stylistic evidence to support this. Beside it was the Independent Chapel on Bedford Row which later later moved to Hartstonge Street, where Ove Arup now has its offices.

Limerick had two Methodist churches until the Central Hall in Bedford Row closed in 1920 and the Methodist community there united with the church in O’Connell Street. The former chapel in Bedford Row was re-opened by Paul Barnard as the Grand Central Cinema in November 1922 and was later known as Savoy 2. A three-bay three-storey cinema, façade was built in the Art Deco style in early 1930s to the front the former Methodist chapel.

A shop front was inserted on the ground floor in 1973, and access to the cinema was from one side of the building and up two flights of stairs. Savoy 2 closed in 2004 and the old Art Deco façade was demolished in 2007. Part of the original church frontage is encased in a new modern shop on Bedford Row.

Meanwhile, the Methodist Church on O’Connell Street was substantially rebuilt in 1938. The congregation had dwindled in numbers, and an office block was built in the garden in front of the church to create a rental space and to maximise the commercial use of the street frontage.

The building erected in 1938 is a terraced, six-bay three-storey rendered building in the Art Deco style, distinguished by two shopfronts at ground floor level, flanking a centrally-placed door opening, with vertically emphasised window bays to first and second floor and narrow window piers giving a staccato rhythm to the façade. This is a fine, yet restrained example of Art Deco architecture that is relatively rare in Limerick.

A door opening to the side with a canopy gives access to Christ Church. This door opening has splayed bronze handrails and terrazzo steps, and the name above the door is all that identified this as a church for the passers-by on O’Connell Street. The church is reached through a long corridor lined with memorials brought to the church from the former Presbyterian Church on Henry Street when the two congregations united in 1978.

As part of the 200th anniversary celebrations at Christ Church, a genealogy and family History day took place in the church in 2013. Limerick Methodist registers date from 1842, and the Presbyterian registers date from 1829. They include the records of the Methodist mission in Kilrush, Co Clare (1847-1901), and the Presbyterian congregation in Killarney, Co Kerry (1879-1907). The Methodist churches in Kilkee and Kilrush, Co Clare, and in Tarbert, Co Kerry, once formed the West Clare Mission.

Christ Church received a facelift with funding from Limerick City of Culture 2014. But it is still possible to walk by this building without noticing that behind the discreet façade there is a church with such an interesting story.

The Communion Table in Christ Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 16: 9-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 9 ‘And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 1 1If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15 So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.’

A window in Christ Church, O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (6 November 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for governments around the world, facing difficult decisions in a time of crises. May You guide them to take the right actions and centre creation in their policies.

Memorials in the church recall former Methodist and Presbyterian ministers in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A glimpse of the structure of the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Bedford Row, caught through the windows of a modern building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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