Put down your green beer and tuck away your lucky clovers because St. Patrick’s Day has a much deeper significance than many modern celebrations. The differing legends of St. Patrick run deep and are quite diverse. According to George Hunter III in his book, “The Celtic Way of Evangelism,” this godly man brought more to this world than scaring away some snakes.
In the late fourth century, a boy named Patrick grew up in what is now northeast England. He was nurtured in a Christian home and his grandfather was a priest. When Patrick was 16, he was kidnapped by a band of Celtic pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland. His duty was to herd sheep for a tribal chief. During these solitary times Patrick’s faith was renewed as he met God in many powerful ways. Even through this ordeal he developed a deep love for the Irish Celtic people. One night in a dream Patrick felt God encouraging to him to return home. He managed to escape after six years in captivity and fled to England and trained for the priesthood. Throughout his religious schooling he became burdened to return to Ireland and did so as history’s first missionary bishop. The Celts were considered uncivilized barbarians and Rome viewed them as a lost cause. Moved by Jesus’ love, Patrick sought meaningful ways to share the “good news” with a culture that loved nature and had an affinity for the divine. The message of Jesus was attractive as it was accessible to all and it affirmed some answers for which they had been longing. The Celts lived in tribes and Patrick’s missionary approach was to reach one tribe at a time. They would travel in groups of a dozen which consisted of priests, Bible students, and women. If the group was welcomed by the tribe, they would live among the people and partake in common life. Through practicing hospitality and virtuous living, they would simply show people how the love of Jesus can be transformational in one’s life. They would “live out” the teachings in the Bible through fellowship and by praying for people. After weeks, or even months of ministering to people and even one on one a church community would emerge. Eventually they would build a building and let the organic church plant reflect the message of Jesus in their local indigenous community.
By the time St. Patrick died in 460 A.D. the gospel had spread widely among the Irish and it is believed 700 churches were started through his leadership. His successors adopted the principles of St. Patrick and continued with much vigor to live out the words of St. Patrick to see the Irish church’s place in the world “as a light among the nations” to “fish well” and “to spread our nets so that we can catch a great ... multitude for God.”
His life reminds me of the simpleness of seeing God in his creation and helping people to understand how much God loves humanity and desires to be in relationship with us all. His challenge to help people “belong” to Christ first, and then Christ would help them “become” the people he intended them to be is great lesson for the church today. It encourages me to live out the words of Jesus in Matthew 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Frank Alioto is the pastor of The River Covenant Church — Sundays, 10 .a.m. at The Challenger Learning Center in Kenai. Frank also serves as a chaplain with Central Emergency Services and can be reached at 252-2828 or www.therivercovenantchurch.org.