Thursday, March 11, 2010

St. Patrick’s Day in Londonderry, New Hampshire

Statue of St. Bridget
Given by the Londonderry Presbyterian Church
to St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church
Londonderry has been a sister city to Londonderry in Northern Ireland for many years. The original Nutfield settlers fled the violence in Northern Ireland in 1715, and where it still occasionally erupts today. I remember when we first lived here (over 25 years ago), the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland were particularly bad, and teens from each city would spend time visiting back and forth across the Atlantic to promote peace and understanding. When the Irish teens came to New Hampshire, the first thing that surprised them was that St. Mark’s Parish (a Catholic Community) was meeting in the Presbyterian Church sanctuary because they hadn’t completed building their new church. Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, things seem to have improved and there have been no more teen exchanges.

I’m sure that the New Hampshire teens found many things to surprise them when they got to Northern Ireland, but I will always remember how St. Mark’s became a bridge between the Catholic and Protestant communities. I’m a protestant married to a catholic, and I never really thought about our differences. We’ve always gone to each other’s religious services, and shared our traditions. When the St. Mark’s church was completed the people of the Londonderry Presbyterian church gave a statue of St. Bridget for the new foyer. St. Bridget of Kildare is the patroness of Ireland (along with Saints Patrick and Columba.) She holds a miniature version of the church in her hand. It stands as a symbol of the friendship between the Presbyterian community and the Roman Catholic parish.

There is a second set of statues inside St. Mark’s church that has a deep meaning to me. It’s the grouping of statues forming the Holy Family above the sanctuary doors. You don’t see them until you turn around to leave after celebrating mass. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are wearing yellow armbands marked with Stars of David. It is a solemn reminder that all Christian religions came from the Jewish faith, and that Jesus was raised in a Jewish family. We had our daughter baptized at St. Mark’s and my both my protestant family and my husband’s catholic family remarked on this piece of art. It reminded everyone that our similarities are more important than our differences.

Recently the Londonderry Presbyterian Church underwent a schism, and half the members broke off to form a more conservative congregation. The community was divided over theological issues, and there was a lawsuit over which group would continue to own the historic building built in 1837. This reminded me of the original split between Londonderry and Derry, which was over the request for the people in the rural western half of Nutfield to have a meeting house closer to their farms. In this case, the new Presbyterian congregation will be building their house of worship on 15 acres of land directly adjacent to the older church.

Our Londonderry High School marching band has been invited for many years to march in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as well as in Manchester and other local communities. Our marching band is always cheered on in New York with standing ovations. They have marched in the Beijing Olympics, three Rose Bowl parades and other national parades. But the Irish have a place in their hearts for the suffering of their brothers and sisters in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

So, on this day when people of Irish Heritage remember the “Old Sod,” I’m thinking that there are many who are grateful to be here in New Hampshire, where the things that they are still fighting about in the Old Country don’t matter anymore. Here we celebrate our lives together, whether we are Irish or not, or whether we worship together or not.

For more information:

http://www.lpcnh.org/ The Londonderry Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Londonderry, member of the Presbyterian Church USA. The new congregation is the Orchard Christian Fellowship Church, with a website http://www.orchardnh.org/ They are currently meeting at the Matthew Thornton School for religious services.

http://www.saintmarkevangelist.com/ St. Mark’s Parish in Londonderry, the second Roman Catholic parish in Londonderry. The first Catholic church in Londonderry was St. Jude’s at http://www.stjudenh.com/ still located in North Londonderry.

A story in the Derry News about the Londonderry Presbyterian churches thriving after the recent schism http://www.derrynews.com/londonderry/local_story_174122805.html
--------------

This post was written for the 3rd Annual Irish Heritage Blog Carnival at http://irishheritagecarnival.blogspot.com/

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

2 comments:

  1. Very nicely written, Heather.

    Janice

    ReplyDelete
  2. You have a really ecumenical spirit in this post. I admire that.

    ReplyDelete