Q&A with Ruth Garvey-Williams

Q&A with Ruth Garvey-Williams


Ruth Garvey-Williams is the editor of Ireland’s cross-denominational Christian magazine VOX. She has travelled throughout every county on the island, visiting churches and individual Christians from all different denominations and church backgrounds. In her spare time, she is a youth leader with over 20 years of experience working with both Christian and secular youth groups, clubs and drop-in centres.

Q: How does the Church's long history in Ireland affect current efforts to disciple young people? 01

Over the last 100 years, religion has become deeply entwined (some may even say entangled) with cultural identity in Ireland. This has created a “Christianity” in which loyalty, conformity and adherence to religious practise and moral boundaries are more important than a consciously chosen relationship with God. In the clash between allegiances, national, ethnic and denominational ties win out over any sense of “heavenly citizenship.”

As a result, many view God as a distant being who has to be appeased through a series of rules or rituals. A blanket religious observance also leads to widespread hypocrisy. People might faithfully attend their particular church and then go out to live lives that are far from Christ-like throughout the week. The challenge we face today is to change this historic and rather bankrupt understanding of tick-box “Christianity.”

Some churches have simply rejected all historic forms of church and seek to create new streams of vibrant faith. Others are rediscovering the heritage of Celtic Christianity, finding authentic and holistic expressions that are informed by Ireland’s history but still relevant to our modern context.

Still others are working within the mainstream denominations, embracing tradition but encouraging those with a loose affiliation to come to a deeper understanding of their faith.

Q: A common theme in Barna's study is that young people sense their progressive values are at odds with their faith. What would you recommend for older Christians who hope to spiritually mentor young adults as they wrestle with their questions and concerns? 02

With the seismic shifts that have taken place in Irish culture over the last 20 years, along with the digital revolution of the last decade, young people are bombarded with myriad messages from every conceivable perspective. More than ever before, young people are hungry for mentors who will journey with them as they explore their questions around faith and spirituality. And yet, it is also evident that older Christians often seem unable to provide the kind of environment in which there is freedom and safety for  young people to wrestle with their concerns.

There is a significant opportunity for older Christians who will live out their faith with integrity and authenticity–people who will be like Jesus (bearing the fruit of the Spirit) and point to Jesus. Healthy discipleship will create safe spaces for younger people to ask their questions without fear of immediate condemnation or criticism. It will also focus on teaching young people the tools to think through the tough issues by seeking God and searching the scriptures rather than demanding conformity to one particular view (Luke’s description of the Bereans springs to mind, from Acts 17:11).

Q: As a person of faith producing media for a modern Ireland, what do you think it will take for the Church to continue to be seen as credible or distinctly beneficial, particularly to a generation that doesn't necessarily place lasting value on religion? 03

I would question whether the Church is currently seen as credible or distinctly beneficial in modern Ireland. While there are wonderful exceptions, the Church has often failed to be good news for our nation. But there is also a tremendous window of opportunity. Although turned off by organised religion, people are interested and curious about spirituality.

So what will it take? This is a time for Christians to serve sacrificially rather than being consumed with our own interests. This is a time for Christ-followers who will be gracious and wise in their interaction with others (both online and in real life). This is a time for believing the best, esteeming one another better than ourselves, loving each other deeply and honouring one another. This is a time for incarnational mission–loving the people in our community so much that we don’t just share the gospel with them, but we share our whole lives. This is a time to listen to people’s concerns and issues rather than making assumptions. This is a time to be so secure in our identity in Christ that we don’t fight to defend our own rights but rather champion the rights of the oppressed, the poor and the marginalised.

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