Have you ever wondered what Celtic Christian spirituality is all about? Maybe you’ve heard snippets from people in our two Celtic groups or heard a sermon or noticed the Celtic cross in our Memorial Garden or perhaps you still wonder what all the fuss is about.
Next week you have an incredible opportunity to hear one of the leading scholars in this field, John Philip Newell. But he’s more than a scholar, he has been a guiding light in Celtic spirituality on both sides of the Atlantic for decades. On our Scottish Pilgrimage in 2017, we met with John Philip Newell in Edinburgh, but you don’t need to travel that far to hear him! (And we’ve been waiting to hear him again, as this visit has been delayed by pandemic twice since 2020!)
John Philip was first with us at Plymouth in conjunction with my first sabbatical (and generous funding from a Lilly Clergy Renewal grant) about 15 years ago, and some of us still feel the impact of that first visit.
John Philip will be talking with us about themes from his new book, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World. What he captures in this book is rooted in the Celtic tradition of honoring, rather than subjugating, Creation. And with the specter of climate change hanging over us, people of faith need to lean into the best elements of our spiritual traditions to bolster our efforts.
We have a new Climate Justice Ministry Team under the Mission & Outreach Board at Plymouth, and they are welcoming new folks who want to be involved. And what you will hear from John Philip may provide spiritual and theological grounding to help our activism keep going.
This coming Sunday at 10:00 at our adult forum we'll have a brief introduction to John Philip and his work, and I hope you’ll join me for this introduction. You can also have a look at a video interview if you’d like to get a feel for his presence. (It’s from The Work of the People, and your giving to Plymouth supports our subscription. You’ll need to give them your email address, but they won’t share it.)
This is also a great opportunity to bring your friends to Plymouth for an evening with no pressure. We have a gift to share with the community, and I hope you will extend an invitation.
I look forward to seeing you then!
P.S. Our Share the Plate partner for May is The Food Bank for Larimer County. Last month, our Share the Plate offering raised $1,472 (in addition to $8,220 in designated giving). Thank you for your generosity!
On Friday evening and Saturday, a half-dozen members of Plymouth trekked down to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder for a workshop with the renowned Canadian-Scots cleric and scholar, John Philip Newell. And I am thrilled to let you know that he will be with us at Plymouth this time next year! (Hold the evenings of May 12 and 13, 2020.) I am really glad to bring a taste of our 2016 Scotland Pilgrimage to Plymouth!
Our Celtic Christianity groups certainly know John Philip’s work, like Listening for the Heartbeat of God and Celtic Prayers from Iona, and if you’ve worshipped with us at 6:00, you’ve sung his version of the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “Ground of all being, Mother of life, Father of the universe, your name is sacred.” His is one of the principal voices of the resurgent movement that explores Celtic Christianity.
I was curious about what “Celtic Consciousness” means…because the ancient Celts were, in fact, unaware of their Celticity in the same way that Bach was unaware of his Baroqueness! For John Philip, there are two strands of late classical/early medieval Christianity in the west: Celtic Christianity and Imperial Christianity. “Celtic Consciousness” is what survives in the former.
Celtic Christianity developed on the western fringe of Europe from Galicia to Brittany to Wales to Ireland to the Isle of Man to Scotland. It interpreted Christianity in continuity with the earth-based indigenous religions encountered by the Christian mission. (St. Columba of Iona even said, “Christ is my druid.”) It recognized the inherent goodness of life, including human life, as created in the image and likeness of God. Imperial Christianity, made the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD, created and enforced doctrine that perhaps had as much to do with control as with anything having to do with the teachings of Jesus, including the doctrine of original sin…the idea that humanity is, at its core, sinful, and that it can only find redemption through Christian adherence.
I don’t want to spoil any secrets, but there are a few choice things John Philip said:
“‘Born again’ has been hijacked, and we need to reclaim that phrase.”
“Original sin is a Christian problem, not a Jewish problem.
And Jesus was a Jewish rabbi.”
“Our work is to speak from a place of humility
and from our own deep knowing
and to listen to others’ deep knowing.”
“Empire does not want humans to be reminded that
God is at the heart of every human being,
otherwise it would be difficult to oppress them.”
“God’s grace is not to free us from our deepest nature,
but to help us embrace our deepest nature.”
“We are birthing a new Christianity…
are we willing to endure the birth pangs?"
If you’d like to learn more about John Philip or Celtic Christianity, try one of our two Celtic Christian Spirituality Groups when they reconvene in the fall, at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesdays or 9:00 a.m. on Tuesdays. And you can find his books here on Amazon.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.