After more than 30 years in the Truth, in 1988, June and I moved from Scotland to the Republic of Ireland in response to an appeal from the CBM. The original plan was to stay for a year, but eventually this extended to 16 years, after which we migrated to New South Wales in order to be nearer our family.
Initially we were involved in preaching and pastoral work in Dublin, but after 15 months we moved to Ballymartle in County Cork — 12 miles south of Cork City and 170 miles from Dublin. The nearest ecclesia was in Waterford, nearly 100 miles east of Ballymartle. Over the years we got to know it well. We have never liked living in isolation, and very much missed going regularly to other ecclesias, fraternal gatherings, and special efforts in Scotland and northeast England. We learned to cope with our circumstances, and were very well blessed with visits from brothers and sisters. Since there are only about 20 brothers and sisters in the whole of the Republic, plus two very small ecclesias in Northern Ireland (UK) at Belfast, their visits were especially welcome.
The response to witnessing in Ireland was varied. The Mini-Bex Exhibition was used on several occasions in different venues; vacation campaigns were held; and several billing efforts were supported by brothers and sisters from UK. Trickles of requests for the Glad Tidings magazine and other literature continued. Across the years a considerable number of friends have completed correspondence courses. The encouragement generated by our friends’ lively interest in the Word was marred by acute disappointments. We are convinced that a good number have grasped the essential features of the Truth; however, many stopped short of baptism. There have been a few baptisms in the Republic.
At times we had problems with the Irish accent and pronunciation! In one discussion group we thought a visitor was talking about “fate” ñ after a few minutes we realised that he was speaking about”faith”! In more recent years considerable interest was shown in seminars, but this interest seemed to be focused on getting to know the Bible better, rather than a desire to search for truth.
One of our main problems was finding suitable accommodations for meetings, as the Roman Catholic Church is involved in the management of most schools, community centres, and public halls. In a good number of areas Roman Catholics comprise between 90 and 95% of the population. The Catholic Church did not see us as a threat, generally speaking, but some local priests could make life extremely difficult for interested friends and potential converts. There were a small number of militant evangelicals around of the Ian Paisley ilk, who sometimes disrupted meetings and exhibitions. One thing we soon learnt was not to refer to ourselves as Protestants, as many people in Eire associate Protestantism with militant fundamentalists.
There were very marked changes during our 16 years of sojourn. The power of the Roman Catholic Church was weakened considerably due to serious sex scandals. Increased secularisation has also played an important part, and resulted in the weakening of ties between the Church and the major political parties. Attendance at Mass appeared to continue at a high level, particularly in rural areas. Nevertheless, we did form the impression that attendance at church was more a social function than a religious one. It seemed for the most part that the more modern younger generation continued to attend in order to please ‘Mommy’.
Another marked change was the considerable increase in wealth generated by membership in the European Union, although these riches were distributed somewhat unevenly. Picturesque hovels have been replaced by modern cottages, villas, and holiday homes.
The worship and adoration of the Virgin Mary is very prominent in Ireland, to such a degree that one brother suggested that the Holy Trinity had been replaced by the “Holy Quartet”! The late Pope John Paul II had a tremendous influence in this respect. Shrines to Mary abound — in public places, along the roadside, and in private gardens. Catholic churches are often elaborate edifices, and even very small villages had their own church. Over the years we witnessed thousands going to Mass, but we never saw any worshipper carrying a Bible. This was in marked contrast to our experience in Scotland.
Even though the power of the Church had been eroded to a considerable extent, it still received considerable media coverage in Ireland. This was in marked contrast to religious reporting by the Australian media. Several months ago, the Australian ABC-TV channel broadcast the result of a poll of Australians regarding “my favourite book”. The winner was Lord of the Rings, followed by Pride and Prejudice, and third was the Bible, which was a very pleasant surprise. Certainly this would not have happened in Ireland, where it was not unusual for a household to be without a single Bible. Mass, however, was a regular feature on television and radio, both of Sundays and special occasions, and there was even coverage of Protestant services.
For the most part, it is obvious that Australia is a very secular society. However, in contrast to the weakening of ties between church and state in Ireland, the religious right in Australia appears to be progressively exercising considerable influence on the political landscape. The emergence of the “Family First” party, which has very close links with the Pentecostal Church, is a significant development. The growth of a multi-cultural society is very evident, and there is concern over the influence of Islamic fundamentalists. And we are struck by the wide range of religious buildings of both Christian and other faiths.
It was a strange experience for us to observe Christmas “down under”: blue skies, hot days, light evenings — contrasted with grey skies, dark nights and cold weather in Ireland. Generally speaking, the commercial activity associated with Christmas seems to start later in Australia, and has much less of a religious tone than in Ireland. Even so, the commercialization of the “festive season” in Eire is widespread.
It is great to be involved in ecclesial activities again after our years in isolation in Ireland; we have been very warmly welcomed by our brothers and sisters in Australia. When we first arrived we joined Wollongong Ecclesia, but recently we have transferred to Mittagong, which is now more convenient for us to attend.
What has impressed us so far in Australia is the vastness of the continent, and the tremendous distances involved, not just in travelling interstate, but within the separate states themselves. Associated in our minds with this vastness is the scale of the missionary work in Asia. The ecclesias of each state in Australia, plus New Zealand, have responsibility for preaching and pastoral work for particular regions of Asia, including China. This is an immense venture for the brotherhood in Australia and New Zealand.
Many ecclesias hold weekend or week-long camps, usually by the coast; weekend preaching efforts are held to support very small ecclesias, and/or brothers and sisters in isolation. These efforts appear to be similar to the ‘Study and Serve’ weekends practiced in the U.K. and Ireland.
One must emphasise that these early impressions of ecclesial life in Australia are based on limited experiences. We do really appreciate the fellowship that we now enjoy with our brothers and sisters “down under”.
Kenneth Camplin, Mittagong, AU