Thursday 17th of March marked St Patricks day where thousands of Irish people or those who would claim Irish descent celebrate the feast  day of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th Century. Many who celebrate this saint, however use this day as a celebration of Irish Culture, dance and music and an excuse for lots of drinking rather than a celebration of Christianity in Ireland.

The Irish built monasteries, sent out missionaries, converted people they met by preaching the gospel and baptizing believers. Wherever they went, Irish missionaries brought a Celtic spirit: haunting Irish hymns, delight in natural beauty and love of adventure. Even today there are very few countries in the world that have not had Irish people settle there and contribute to their culture, history and politics.

They went out in groups of twelve, imitating the Apostles. They impacted the cultures and people of Europe and enhanced their civilizations. The cities of Wurzburg, Fontenelle, Salzburg and others exist because the Irish planted monasteries there.

History records that this missionary movement began with Columba (c. 521-597). Legend says that he preached the Gospel in Scotland in an attempt to atone for killing a host of rivals. Columba founded a monastery on Iona off the coast of Scotland. His zeal and holiness, along with the purity and love of his fellow workers, made a great impression on the heathen. Half a dozen new monasteries emerged from Iona, each staffed by Irishmen and local converts who longed to be part of the Kingdom of God.

It is difficult for most modern Protestants to understand the concept of the medieval monastery. However, if we think of the Irish monasteries as mission compounds, and the monks as missionaries who renounced marriage in order to carry the Gospel without family encumbrances, we begin to see them in a new light. These early monks were hard-working, rigorously disciplined, zealous to reach souls for God’s Kingdom, ready to confront any danger, and happy to lay down their lives in martyrdom. They truly suffered for Christ. Wherever they went, local people flocked to them. Today evangelistic witness is growing in Ireland particularly in the Republic of Ireland with new Churches being planted and missionary outreaches to the local people.

The Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland has been around since the early 1600’s. Today it is a group of 115 autonomous churches in Ireland which have voluntarily agreed to work together. There are 94 located Northern Ireland and 21 fellowships located in Republic of Ireland. Presently committed membership is around 8,500 Baptists in Ireland. However each week about 20,000 people attend the churches.

As autonomous the churches are self-governing. The Association only acts on behalf of the churches for the work which the churches have agreed to do together. These areas cover the work of the Irish Baptist Association, Baptist Missions, Baptist Women, Baptist Youth and the Irish Baptist College. These ministries are based at the Association building in Moira County Down, Northern Ireland.

Author: Tony Meehan, Irish Editor