On 23rd April St Marks Church of Ireland in Newtownards held their annual school celebration with over 600 P6 and P7 children from the town's schools in attendance. The schools represented were Londonderry Primary, Model Primary, Regent House Prep, Victoria Primary and West Winds Primary. Only Castle Gardens Primary and Abbey Primary were absent. However also present at the service were St Finians Primary, the town's Roman Catholic maintained school. During the service, amongst other things which took place, prayers were said for the local parish priest 'Father' O'Hagan and for all associated with St Finians because of recent bereavements. (We hold no ill-will towards any Roman Catholic in their grief but in this instance only seek to highlight some of the ecumenical nature of the service.) At this service both Protestant and Roman Catholic children were brought together as one, doubtless with the desire that they would be of the view that there was no difference between them but that they are all fellow Christians. The ecumenical nature of this service is not a new development, but has been its theme for the past number of years. St Marks has previously expressed its delight that 'Father' O'Hagan has been able to join them at this service and indeed he has participated in the event in the past alongside other so called Protestant clergy from the town. It is not known at present whether he was in attendance or participating on this occasion, however if he was absent it is certainly not because he was not welcome.
Ecumenism is little highlighted today however that is not an indication that it has gone away. Ecumenical services such as this still happen regularly across our land but few voices are raised. The great danger with this particular service is that Protestant children will likely get the view that there is no difference between their faith and that of their Roman Catholic neighbours, and get that view at the time in their life when they are most impressionable. They will view the priest as just another minister, not as he truly is, an imposter and blasphemer. Such events are not likely to become less frequent, but indeed more regular given the desire that there is among many people for integrated and shared education in Northern Ireland. We do not desire conflict with Roman Catholics but neither do we desire unity with a system which is clearly anti-Christian. That children from Protestant and Roman Catholic schools come together in a service like this will seem to many to be a small matter, yet there are no small matters where the defence of the gospel is concerned. True biblical Christianity can have no communion with the errors of Rome. How many parents in Newtownards, including Christian parents, will have been unaware that their children have been at a service of this nature? It is likely that are many. We trust it will be brought to light and that they will ensure that their children are kept from such compromise in the future.
'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.'