By Susan Gately - 16 February, 2018
A unique venture uniting the four main Churches to work on a united social outreach, has gone into operation in Ballina, Mayo. The Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in Ballina, have joined forces with Church Army, an Anglican society of lay evangelists, to take their mission on the road – with a Big Blue Bus.
On the back of the large bus is a notice saying “The Big Blue Bus is a Ballina Churches Together initiative [of the] Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland in partnership with Church Army.”
“The four churches here in the Ballina area have a very good relationship and all agreed that we should have social outreach together in this area as a sign of our common Christian commitment and purpose,” said Bishop John Flemming of Killala. “The problem was to identify what that would be.” After years of surveys, research, meetings, and the forming and re-forming of committees, and the involvement of Church Army, Ballina Churches Together, “finally got to the stage – which is great – of the launch of the Big Blue Bus”.
“We talked about having a drop-in centre,” said the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achnonry, Patrick Rooke, “but then we began to look at the costings and the properties available; and whether people would come from the estates around Ballina to a drop-in centre. We thought it would be more practical and more sensible to have a vehicle to go out to where the people are who might avail of what we are offering.”
On the ground (or bus!), the project is run by Emma Rodrigues, a Church Army worker who is, in her own words “reaching into the community”. “In the community we’re gathering volunteers from the four Churches. On the estates we work alongside our volunteers, with children and youth and with people who are isolated who often are not coming to church.”
She has great ideas for the Big Blue Bus which was commissioned at the end of January. “We can run educational courses and training, do puppet shows, concerts, art classes – anything that will bring people together and reach out to share the Gospel in interactive ways.”
The large bus is equipped inside with a basin, kettle, small kitchen area, drawers, a shelf for leaflets, tables, a couch and two Eddie Rocket type ‘booths’ at which people can sit and chat. At the very back of the bus is an enclosure which Ms Rodrigues thinks would work very well as a backstage area for a puppet theatre.
The churches will use the bus to travel to housing estates around Ballina to deliver social outreach and mission activities.
Bishop John Flemming praised the role of the Church Army saying that they not only provided funding for the scheme, but also acted as the “catalyst” which got the project off the ground. Church Army is an Anglican society of lay evangelists which began in 1882. Founded by Wilson Carlile, its vision was to train ordinary Christian men and women to reach those most in need with the Gospel.