This past summer, we spent some time in the States catching up with friends. One thing I enjoy about these trips is being able to meet face-to-face and hear the questions people have about what we are doing in Dublin. Often through these conversations, we discover that several people have the same questions…they just haven’t had the opportunity to ask.
During one of these conversations, a phrase stuck out to me. A friend asked what we are doing now since it seems there have been “several iterations” of our Dublin church plant journey.
In other words, you have been there 10 years…it seems there have been several attempts to church plant. What is the story?
We know that people follow our journey here to different degrees. Some keep up regularly, and others check in every once in a while, and that makes perfect sense. Now because we have been part of four attempts to church plant, that can lead to confusion. So, since I had the question, I thought it might be helpful to provide a brief timeline outlining these transitions and describing the various ebbs and flows of the past decade that led us to where we are now.
Introducing Our Various Twists and Turns
When we moved to Dublin in 2012, we had one central purpose — to help start churches. Since 1990, Liz and I have planted a church (in Ithaca) and two university ministries (Albany & Cornell). (Another friend on the trip told me, “you seem to like starting things more than running them”…guilty!)
The one thing each had in common was that the process was difficult. In the end, each continued, even after we moved on. We are proud of that. However, there is no guarantee that one specific church plant effort will become established.
This leads to our story. From a distance, it probably seems like we have been trying the same thing for 10 years. From our perspective, there have been four (five if you add Covid) distinct aspects to our time here, so I’ll break it up that way.
2012 → 2013 Iteration One
When we moved to Ireland, our plan was to take at least 18 to 24 months to acclimate to Dublin and learn more about the people and the culture. [We wrote about this here]. After two years, we were planning to start planting. We never wanted to move to Dublin and simply replicate what we did in Ithaca. This is an entirely different place, and we wanted to plant something that fit the culture.
So that is what we did. We were part of a local church (and our understanding was that they were going to send us out to plant). We began to network, find friends and mentors, and ask so many questions about our new city.
Our plan was to start a small group in our community in the fall of 2013. Eventually, we’d grow that group, which would become the core of a new church plant. However, what actually happened in September 2013 was that we were told that we were no longer welcome at the church. The denomination we’d been part of for 16 years said if the church didn’t welcome us, neither did they. [I wrote about this here]. That felt about as good as you would imagine.
So, yeah, iteration one ended ugly and abruptly.
Although we were churchless at this point, Liz and I were committed to staying in Dublin. We did need to find an organisation to work with, so we decide to take the next year to get resettled in Dublin and find a new organisation to work with. During that year, we reached out to the community, led an intro to faith course and did some servant evangelism.
2015→2017 Iteration 2
The organisation we eventually connected with was Communitas. [I wrote about this here]. Something Communitas values is partnering with other churches and organisations. That had always been our hope for Ireland, so it was a good fit.
Towards the end of 2015, I connected with an Irish guy who was planting an Anglican church. It was very similar to what we were hoping to do. Our families met, and we eventually decided to join his team and help him church plant.
It was a really good season, and we enjoyed being part of that church (ICON). It was such a positive experience after our first church encounter in Ireland, and we healed a lot! We were part of ICON for almost two years and part of their leadership community for most of that time.
But this is iteration 2 of 4, so you know what is coming.
In 2017 the other guy took a job in an established Anglican Church, and ICON was shuttered. Although we could have joined him at the established church, we remained committed to helping start neighbourhood-based churches in Dublin.
So, back to the drawing board.
(I still think ICON and this guy had the best opportunity to start the type of community we are hoping to create. But that isn’t how things went.)
2017 Iteration 3
As mentioned above, partnering with others to church plant has been a key value for us here. So a few months after the previous iteration ended, I met with several leaders across Dublin and proposed working together to church plant. While I received positive feedback, only one person, an Irish leader, took me up on it.
We began meeting regularly to plan, pray and strategise. We even had a name and had started thinking about spaces to meet. It was another good season of life. However, as we got to know each other better, we began to see that we had very different hopes for what church should be. It wasn’t at all that one of us was wrong and one was right — it just became clear that we weren’t a good fit.
It was sad. I really liked this person and their family, but we were not on the same page for a lot.
2018 → Present Iteration 4
When we were part of the Anglican Church plant a couple of steps ago, another family from Clontarf came with us. Once it ended, they also decided not to go to the big church. Our two families had been meeting together for about two years by this point.
In early 2018, we began partnering with a couple who had moved into our neighbourhood the previous year. They had lived in Co. Galway for over a decade. We hit it off and had very similar hopes for church planting. Over the next year, our three families continued meeting and began calling our small community “the Table”. That brings you to where we are now.
While I wouldn’t call it iteration 5, when Covid hit in 2020, like most churches, we had to drastically change what we did.
Eating a common meal together around a table? OUT
Throwing parties, hosting dinners? Also OUT.
Of course, Covid is over, but we are, like most churches, still figuring out what is ahead. Things look a little different than they had, and it sometimes feels like coming out of lockdown, we are restarting as we, like everyone, readjust to our new normal. But we’re still on number four!
So, yes, there have been four iterations. Hopefully, you can see a common thread running through each of these attempts as we have worked to church plant here in Dublin. We believe the goal we have been working towards has been consistent…the path has simply had a few more turns than we’d imagined.
But, it is about the journey.
If you ever have a question, please send it to us. Most likely, others have wondered the same thing!
Photo: I took the photo above in Co Kerry in August 2020