Brexit Reflections

Brexit Reflections

Photo: K.U. Ruof

Fly the Flag

Flags have always been a part of my life. Ironic, considering that my home country, Northern Ireland, does not actually have its own official national flag! But growing up in a housing estate near Belfast during what is euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’, you simply had to know your flags. On the one hand, our flag, the red, white and blue of the union and my almost sacramental understanding of it as an outward sign of a deeply held inner belief.  And then their flag – the green, white and gold of the Irish Republic. Of ‘the other’, who no doubt had equally deeply held beliefs about what their flag meant and signified. Beliefs I could never really understand. Probably because I never tried to. Nor wanted to. At least, not back then. Flags can do that to you.

My Journey

I came to the Christian faith as a young man, studied theology and became a minister of the Methodist Church in Ireland – a church that serves the island of Ireland, both north and south. My first appointment was right on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Flags were everywhere. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ were everywhere. ‘We’ were few.

In 1998 I was appointed as a mission partner to serve with the United Methodist Church, our sister church, in Germany. Again, flags – or rather, lack of them – was a theme. In Northern Ireland I was accustomed to seeing flags in churches or at particular worship services throughout the year. But the members of my German congregation had a very different attitude to flags. They had experienced the horrors of the Nazis during the Third Reich. The Hitler youth – and in East Germany, the Communist youth – with their flags and their uniforms, led the German church to be much more careful, much more critical of flags and their abuse for nationalist and populist purposes. In all my time here, I have never seen the German national flag in a church!

Identity Crisis?

For the past year I have also been serving the Methodist Church in Britain (MCB) as Europe Relationships Coordinator. It’s an interesting time for this Northern Irishman, living at the heart of Europe in eastern Germany, and working for the British Methodists, particularly as the Brexit deadline approaches and the UK formally leaves the European Union. And once again, flags are having their say. It is the Irish flag, for instance, that will enable me to stay, and travel and work in the EU. Yes, I did apply for Irish citizenship and now have an Irish passport. And yes, my father, staunch loyalist that he was, may well be turning in his grave because I now not only have our flag, …but also theirs!

The fact of the matter is that I no longer think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Flags and indeed my whole sense of allegiance took on a profound new meaning all those years ago, when I became a Christ follower. Don’t get me wrong – when Northern Ireland (try to) play football, I’m a loyal member of the green and white army. Or when Ireland are playing rugby in the 6 nations, you will know where I stand. And when I watch the Olympics, I always want to see Team GB do well.

Business as Usual – LOVE!

But as Christians our true allegiance transcends countries. Flags. Man-made borders. Jesus teaches us that every single human being is created in the image of God and is therefore our brother, our sister. The apostle Paul teaches us that our citizenship is not of this earth, but is in heaven. And John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, reminds me that the world is our parish.

That is why it will be pretty much business as usual for me and the rest of my Methodist family in Europe come the 31stJanuary. The UK may be leaving the EU on that date, but as Partnership Coordinator for Europe I will be helping the Methodist Church in Britain to continue its joint ventures with all its partners in Europe. We will remain active members of the European Methodist Council and its sub-committees, indeed honoured and delighted as MCB to be co-chair of the council in the coming year (together with UMC Germany). The national youth gathering of the Methodist Church in Britain (3Gen) will continue to invite, welcome and be enriched by their guests from the wider European Methodist family. Every district of MCB is currently being actively encouraged to seek and initiate church twinning and partnerships intentionally with churches in Europe. Group visits and joint mission encounters to, from and with our partners in Europe, will continue as before. And the many social, diaconal and missional initiatives of our partner churches all across Europe will continue to be supported with grant aid, scholarships, mission partner appointments, and prayers.

Why?  Quite simply because we are Christians. Our allegiance is to Christ, and through Christ to the world. Our mission and our calling remain the same, and for that reason, we will keep flying the flag, so to speak. Being church. Journeying together. Humbly doing faith in love.

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A poem.

”Friederike in Germany”

I didn’t even hear her falling.
Dawn revealed her to me, there where she lay.
So matter-of-factly sprawled out on the ground.
Silent. Forlorn. Broken.

Yesterday she stood tall. Upright.
With spindly arms raised skyward,
In some demonstrative act of adoration.
Somehow majestic. Even defiant.

Not today.
Those same arms humbled,
Bony fingers now extended more in an act of desperation.
Hoping someone would catch her. Hoping I would catch her. In vain.

Now she moves not. Her lifeless limbs frozen in time,
Capturing the fateful moment that dislodged her crown and forced her bough down.
The ultimate snapshot. Of an act of God, conspicuous by his absence.
Whose breath blows where it will. Or so they say.

A witness no more, unable to speak
Of comings and goings. Of forbidden encounters or scars that recall liberties taken.
And so the names of her tormentors go with her to the grave.
Etched into her memory, carved now into oblivion.

The rings under her eyes would surely tell tales.
When rooted to the spot as that ferocious storm trooped past, dictating destruction.
Or of people and power and a peaceful turning.
She was there.

Recounting regimes and rules and the common era.
And the wallflower who danced to the wind of change,
Blowing autumn leaves from brown to red to green shoots of new life.
We forget how much she knows. No longer.

Every fall leaves her pale. But the fruits of her labour, all around to see.
Like her, a breath of fresh air. Sheltering, nourishing, expiring life.
Why did I take her for granted?
I didn’t even hear her falling.
Barry Sloan

(Chemnitz, Germany)

 

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Book Launch of English Edition!!!

engish cover-page-001I am delighted to announce that my book “Pilgern auf Irisch” will be published in English. The English title is: When the Saints go Marching.

Official launch is in Bangor, Northern Ireland (Saint Columbanus Parish Church, Ballyholme) at 11.30 am on Saturday, 21st November. This will be part of the official celebrations marking 1400 years of Columbanus. More details here.

Some blurb about the book to whet your appetite …

Why would a Northern Irish Protestant, raised in a staunchly loyalist community, hitchhike through Catholic Europe on the trail of medieval celtic monks? What role did an Ulsterman play in the creation of the European Union, and what can be done today to break down walls and bring people together? Who was Columbanus of Bangor and why are present-day librarians from all over the world indebted to him? Why does God not like zebras, has Murphy’s Law anything to do with chaos theory, and why are the Germans the reason Ireland had to wait 1900 years to get decent, straight roads?

The answers to these questions are found in ‘When the Saints go Marching’, the story of 6th century Irish saint, Columbanus, and of a 21st century sinner, the book’s author! Weaving history, politics, theology, and personal narrative together in a humorous and readable way, Sloan tells the fascinating story of Columbanus and his colleagues from Bangor and their legacy in uniting Europe. Profound moments of reflection, insight and food for thought are punctuated with hilarious episodes of breakfast with Vikings, an attack by monster bees, and lunch with a talking horse!

From November my book can be ordered from either here on my website (just drop me a line here), or over Amazon or at any good book store (ISBN 978-1-909644-95-3). Hope you like it!

Blessings

Barry

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When the Saints go Marching

Today, the 12th of July, is a national holiday in my home land, Northern Ireland. It is the highlight in the calendar of the Orange Order and many Protestants in Northern Ireland as they celebrate their culture and their Protestantism. As a child growing up as a Protestant in Protestant Greenisland I always looked forward to “The Twelfth“. I was a member of the Orange Order. As a teenager, I played in a Loyalist flute band. It was just what you did – at least if, like me, you didn’t belong to a middle class family who would often use the “Twelfth Fortnight” to take themselves off to sunnier climes on holiday.

Later, when I became a Christian (not just on paper, but deep in my heart!) I began to think about what it means to be “Protestant”. When I hitch-hiked my way through Europe from Bangor to Bobbio in Italy, on the trail of 6th century Saint Columban from Bangor, I reflected further about what it means to be Protestant, but even more importantly, what it means to be Christian (Christ-like). I wrote about this in my book which has been published (and already reprinted!) in German (Pilgern auf Irisch). In the autumn I hope to publish it in English as an ebook under the title, When the Saints go Marching. I would like to share two passages with you today. The first passage, taken from chapter one of my book, describes my visits to Bangor with the Junior Orange Order….

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Carrickfergus Castle, where Prince William of Orange landed to fight King James.

The only time I went to Bangor as a child was on Easter Tuesday. In fact I was in Bangor on Easter Tuesday for about five years in a row, because it was the venue for the annual Easter parade of the Junior Orange Order. This organisation, with its annual parades celebrating Protestant culture and religion, was – and still is – an important part of life for many in my community. As a member of LOL 52, I always looked forward to Easter Tuesday, when I would wear my new white shirt, crimson-coloured lodge tie and white gloves, along with the orange sash, clearly identifying me as a member of Loyal Orange Lodge number 52. I was only 10 years old but felt much older, marching with my tribe to th
e beat of the drum around our housing estate before traveling by bus to Bangor, where we joined dozens of other lodges and bands for the main parade. Mehr lesen

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