Years ago I moved to Collierville to plant a church. I had no idea when I moved here what it would be called or what structure it would take. I knew that it would take time and only happen as I got to know the people and the place where we would worship. After being in Collierville and getting to know the people and place, a name and a vision started to form. It was unconventional, but I was jazzed. When I told the staff from the church sponsoring us that we were going to call our new church St. Patrick Presbyterian Church, the room of staff members grew deadly silent and looked at me like I had two heads. I can understand why; there had never been a Presbyterian Church named St. Patrick. A Catholic church for sure, but not a Presbyterian Church.
When someone in the meeting got enough nerve to ask, “Why St. Patrick?” I first said, “Well, I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church doesn’t have a monopoly on the Saints.” And then I essentially told them the story written below. It is essentially the mythos of our church which I wrote when it began and it still represents what our ministry is all about….
People ask me, “Why did you name a Protestant Church St. Patrick?” Here is the answer to that question.
When you look at Scripture from creation to new creation, naming is foremost and immense. To name anything is to describe it, control it and articulate its purpose. In naming, we reflect our creator, showing we are creatures unique to God reflecting His image in a particular way. Naming is power; power which can be used to glorify or to manipulate. In naming a church we can, likewise, reflect these intentions – good or ill. For instance, we could mimic culture by choosing a name that draws people by its trendiness or we could name in such a way as to draw attention to our aspirations as a congregation and the people we hope to reach with the Gospel. We have chosen to name our church something that reflects our particular mission in this time in history. St. Patrick connects us with a story hundreds of years old and reflects the kind of legacy we desire to project into the future with God’s help. It also reflects our goal, our purpose and our dream.
St. Patrick of Ireland was born in Roman-occupied Britain in the fifth century. At the age of sixteen, Celtic warriors who raided his parent’s home kidnapped Patrick to serve as a slave. After six years in the wilds of Ireland, Patrick felt like God was saying, “Return home”. Immediately, he walked across the land and, by miracle, found his way home to Britain. There he studied for the priesthood. Sometime later in a dream he saw his former captors – the people of Ireland – begging him to come back and walk among them once again.
Patrick felt that this was a call from God. Obedient to His call, he went to his superiors and told them of his call to be a missionary to Ireland. At first, they were shocked and refused to allow him to go. After all, no one at this point in history had considered preaching to uncivilized barbarians. Even the Apostle Paul who we consider a cross-cultural missionary did not preach to barbarians. They were Greeks and Romans to be sure, but they all shared a similar language and cultural heritage across the Roman landscape. At that moment, the barbarians were sacking Rome, and everyone watched as Christian culture all over the civilized European world crumbled. To minister the Gospel to the barbarians was actually a novel idea. The Celts of Ireland represented the worst of the barbarian hoards feared by all. They were fierce, polytheist people loyal to their numerous gods. They fought naked with their bodies painted in blue woad. They offered human sacrifices and were led by Druid priests hostile to any encroachment on their power. That anybody would go to them at all was insane or foolish. Why would a single monk dare to tread where trained soldiers were more than happy to avoid? However, Christ’s power could reign even over them. Patrick’s superiors finally relented and with a cross, a chalice and faith, Patrick sailed for Ireland to preach as the first cross-cultural missionary.
When the Gospel was preached, amazingly the Irish nation was converted without bloodshed to Christianity. These unwashed hoards began to read the stories of Christ and the martyrs and longed to suffer for Christ and serve Him beyond the comforts of the “Emerald Isle.” At this moment in history, Europe was all but destroyed by fierce barbarians including Huns, Goths, Visigoths; and Christians were fleeing for their lives. All the advances of classical and Christian civilization were burned, looted or lost, the people being propelled into the Dark Ages. However, many fled to this new haven of Ireland, where they found a newly converted nation who worshiped God, copied Scripture and continued Patrick’s work. At this point, the Irish church began to send missionaries back to Europe and, in time, literally reconnected Europe with her ancient roots in Christianity. They also brought with them a love for beauty and nature that is our heritage to this day.
An unlikely story to be sure, but not for the God who uses obscure, small, and out-of-the way places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Sinai to change the history of the world. God works best where and when we least expect it. While the world looks to seats of power – Washington, Moscow or London, God works in the obscure and ordinary. He did that with St. Patrick and Ireland. He always does it that way. He can do it in Collierville.
Our church bears Patrick’s name because our moment in history is similar. We are enjoying the last rewards of Christianity’s fruits in our country. We are post-Christian. Like Europe, before Patrick’s mission, the Christian consensus has been all but lost. We have a memory of it, but it lacks persuasion and power. Our task, like St. Patrick, is to reconnect the culture in Collierville, Memphis and the United States with its roots in classical and Christian culture. Thus, St. Patrick Presbyterian Church expresses our past and projects our mission to the future. It shapes our vision of who we are and who we will be. It puts us in complete dependence upon the power of the Gospel. In the end, it is only the power of the Gospel that can create, recreate, change and bring blessings to our community, our friends and us. That is why the cross is our symbol and our hope. The Gospel is not the basic primer of Christianity but the finished Masterpiece of Christianity. It is the reigning power that guides both believers and non-believers in who they are what they accomplish and what they will become.
Christ be with you, Christ within you,
Christ behind you, Christ before you,
Christ beside you, Christ to win you,
Christ to comfort and restore you,
Christ beneath you, Christ above you,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in the hearts of those that love you,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger.
Adapted from the Prayer of St. Patrick
So here we are, years later and in just a few months St. Patrick will be worshipping here….