This article first appeared in the Lisburn & Dromore Circuit magazine, “The Light”, March 2019 edition. It introduces us to the six churches among whom we now live and work, and gives an update to readers of this blog who haven’t seen any news since some GDPR guidance nearly a year ago!
Hello, I’m Ross Harte. I was stationed to the Lisburn and Dromore Circuit in July 2018, with responsibility for Dromore Methodist Church as a Minister in a Part-Time Appointment. I’m married to Kathryn, and we have four sons: Timothy (12), Micah (8), Samuel (7) and Ethan (2). As we introduce ourselves to you, I’m using a collection of paradoxes to describe who we are, some of our journey to this point, and how we see the world: a collection of ‘seemingly contradictory statements that may nonetheless be true’.
Local and Global:
I grew up in Aghalee, a village not too far from here. Kathryn grew up in Derry/Londonderry, and after her Mum and Dad moved to Lisburn we worshipped together as part of Craigmore Methodist Church. We were heavily involved in Craigmore Youth Club as part of a great team of youth leaders during an exciting time of growth and change. Our hearts were for the young people of Aghalee and Ballinderry, but we also invested ourselves in leading worship at all-island Methodist gatherings like Autumn Soul and Castlewellan Holiday Week. We led teams of young adults to London, America and Brazil, and Kathryn was a member of the youth committee of the World Methodist Council for a season. Following my training in Edgehill College, we were sent to the Dundrum, Newcastle and Downpatrick Circuit, and then to Ballynahinch before moving to Dromore. Kathryn now works for the Irish Home Mission Department and the European Methodist Council. John Wesley wrote, “I look upon all the world as my parish” – we too have found ourselves ministering at home and overseas, within church buildings, on the streets or in the homes of people who don’t belong to any church.
Noisy and Loving:
Perhaps it goes without saying, but from quiet beginnings our house is now often noisy! Even when all is calm, it’s only a matter of time before someone explodes over a misplaced item in Minecraft, a Netflix session shifted to CBeeBies, or finding onions in the spagbol sauce. However, clashes of personality and preference are always resolved by the end of the day – as a family, we have tried to live by ‘don’t let the sun set on your anger’ – and evenings end with hugs and prayers. It is possible to disagree and still fully love one another!
Melancholy and Joyful:
Probably the most significant event in our life together so far, apart from our wedding day and the boys’ birth days, has been Timothy’s battle with blood cancer. He was admitted to hospital when Ethan was two days old and eventually diagnosed with a condition called Myelodysplasia, which is incredibly rare in children. It can be cured by a bone marrow transplant, which Timothy underwent in Bristol in April 2017. This involves intense chemotherapy followed by transfusion of bone marrow cells from a matched donor, and a very long recuperation when the immune system is compromised. The graft was successful and he gradually recovered strength, returning to school full time after six months. Timothy celebrated being one year post-transplant by dancing the night away at his uncle’s wedding party! Unfortunately, six weeks later a blood test indicated that the graft had failed and very quickly he had to undergo a second transplant, again in Bristol. These past years have been times of worry and distress where our whole family (and many friends) have known a lingering sadness. And yet it’s also been a time of joy as we have learnt to take one day at a time, and enjoy the good moments when they occur.
Isolated and Accompanied:
Timothy’s lowered immune system meant that he needed to be kept apart from other people, especially children, for long stretches of time. Our sphere of social activity became incredibly limited, often not even risking going to church. I spent eighteen months without pastoral responsibility and Kathryn stopped working. But in the loneliness we also discovered that we were being accompanied on the journey – hundreds if not thousands of people committed to praying for Timothy, and we could sense the ‘lift’ from the Holy Spirit’s presence and peace. Families in the CLIC Sargent ‘Home from Home’ in Bristol became good friends and formed a close community sharing a common purpose: beating cancer! Friends, colleagues and strangers shared encouraging words and brought food because God had put us on their hearts. This whole experience has reminded us of the importance of being part of an extended family of faith, both to give and receive care and love.
Part-time and Full-time:
Our enforced time off work gave us space to consider how we wanted the second decade of ministry to look. Caring for Timothy was going to eat into future work time for a year or two, but we also realised that our encounters in the past with mission-focused communities who treated one another as extended family had whetted our appetite for more. We had seen children and adults study the Bible, sing and pray together; we had experienced love and kindness that was so encouraging, and we had seized the opportunity to nurture seeds of faith in young people and older folks alike. What if I could be the minister of one church in a small town for half my time, caring for people, preaching and leading worship consistently, partnering with other church leaders in Kingdom work in the area; but also have time to, with Kathryn and our boys, pray and notice where God is at work in the people we might meet every day? What if the six of us could learn to be a family on mission that included other people into healthy rhythms of worship, community and mission? Even better, what if we could help our church to do the same? With these sorts of questions in our minds, we asked the Stationing Committee if I could be appointed to ‘Ministry in a Part-Time Appointment’, so we could exert a family full-time ministry – which led to our arrival in Dromore last year!
Some final paradoxes for you: Healed and Recovering – Timothy’s second bone marrow transplant has, we trust, dealt once and for all with his Myelodysplasia. However, the intensity of the treatment means his body will continue to feel the effects for years to come. He finally got to start his new school in February but won’t be able to use public transport, go to the swimming pool or have a trip to the cinema for months yet. Now and Not Yet – this classic description of God’s Kingdom, that is already with us but only as a glimpse of the glory to come, both encourages and frustrates us at the same time. When life is tough and full of difficulties we can look ahead to the time when there will be no more tears, and all will be well. But when the miraculous and beautiful things of God’s kingly presence touch us as individuals, families or even churches, we find ourselves asking, ‘why can’t it always be like this?’ Maybe it is at these times that we need to be reminded of our main learning from the last three years – take life one day at a time, recognise God at work in it, give thanks, and be kind.