We’re coming to the close of the school year which means a lot of turn-over in the things I do all week.

Since about Easter time my weekly schedule has looked like this:

Manic Monday:

Monday morning starts off with a meeting in city center with all 8 YAVs and our coordinator Doug.

Monday evening is cross community. 10 kids from our community center and 10 kids from a community center in a Catholic neighborhood are bussed to a city run sports council in towards the city downtown. There the staff lead sports sessions, gardening, laser tag, and even orinteering.


Tuseday morning I help out at Child’s Play in Garnerville Church. This is a play-group for parents, grandparents and child minders who bring their toddlers to play.

Garnerville Presbyterian Church

Tuesday afternoons I help the afterschools program at the community center. Kids age 4 through 11 come along for games and crafts.

Tuseday evenings I’m back at the community center for the tuseday night youth club. Its sports, cookery, and sometimes trips out with kids 9 – 13.

Knocknagoney Community Center


About once a month I help across town at a primary school in Karl’s neighborhood (one of the other Y.A.V.s) We deliver the assembly message for their students – usually something along the lines of believing in ourselves and respecting others.

Wednesday afternoon I teach Spanish class to the 9, 10, and 11 year olds at Knocknagoney Primary School back up in my neighborhood. Usually simple lessons with games attached. Two weeks ago we learned to salsa and this week we learned shapes and colors with a giant home-made Twister mat.

Knocknagoney Primary School


Mom’s and Tot’s (similar to Child’s Play) fills my morning at the primary school. It’s run by a handfull of mothers with kids in the school who wanted a place to bring their toddlers for some time together.#

Afternoons are spent at the community center for more After Schools Club.


Friday starts with a prayer meeting at Knocknagoney Church of Ireland and then the day is open for anything else that might have come up throughout the rest of the week. (Painting new murals at the community center, special events at the school, etc.

Knocknagoney Parish Church of Ireland

Now that’s a typical week, but it’s worth noting that I have yet to experience a typical week. There’s always a special event or a holiday rescheduling that comes along and shifts the whole schedule. Its a variety packed job with something new and interesting around every corner.

Next week, for example, the 8 of us are going on our concluding retreat to the Iona community in Scotland. After that it will be the last week of the school year and then everything will change up again.


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So Sorry, Again

Dear Anyone,

A couple of months ago the hard drive of my laptop crashed. I had some photos uploaded from our winter retreat ready for a post, but obviously failed to follow through with that. I will catch you all up to speed shortly, but I wanted you all (anyone?) to know that I haven’t forgotten and I am still here.



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My Brown Eyed Life

East Belfast is the birth place and child hood home of the rock legend Van Morrison. He doesn’t live here anymore. He lives a few miles away in Bangor, as best I can tell. But there is a plaque on the side of his child hood home on Hynford Street, about a mile from my house. A mile further down towards city center is a big performance arena called the Odyssey.

When I first arrived here I began checking Van Morrison’s website on a regular basis only to find that he kept adding dates in Britain: tantalizingly close but still relatively inaccessible. Imagine my elation when I saw billboards advertising a Van Morrison concert two miles from my house. And the special guest opening act? His daughter Shana Morrison.

Shana sang a song called “God Must Love Me,” which she said she was inspired by a phrase her grandmother always uses when she is enjoying herself. Her grandmother, she said, was in the audience:

Shana played about 6 or 7 songs all of which sounded very much like Nashville style country. She was born in California and grew up there, I believe.

Then Van the Man came out and opened with Brown Eyed Girl, probably one of the first songs I was ever able to recognize on the radio. The night went on and he kept playing. I was said to hear so few of his songs which are set or reference parts of Belfast, but it was still a great show by an old legend. At the end of it he left the stage as the band kept fading out. When they were totally quiet they counted in one more time and Van Morrison came out to finish with one of his oldest hits. It was something like this, minus the choir:

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Some More Thoughts On a Small World

This is our neighbor Johnny and his father shopping for a new drill at B & Q. I was eager to inform them that there was a Ryobi plant in Anderson and that components of those tools may have been made there (but were actually probably made in China). There is, I suppose some slim chance that some of my own grandfather's engineering went in to the tools designs or the designs of their forerunners.

This cannon ball was salvaged from the wreckage of a Spanish Armada ship off the north coast of the island. Given the Spanish history of my own last name, and the history of Scots-Irish Presbyterians in the upcountry of Tennessee and the Carolinas, I couldn't help but be struck by the idea that one of my ancestors could have been firing this at one of my ancestors. Thank God they missed.

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YAV Christmas I Gave You My Heart (The Very Next Day, You Gave It Away).

We the YAV’s knew there would have to be an all together Christmas moment between us but we weren’t sure exactly how we could pull it off. We all had a variation of commitments on the evening of the 24th and the morning of the 25th (a Sunday). Our final celebration looked like this: YAV Christmas Eve would take place on the 23rd and YAV Christmas morning would take place on the 24th, early enough for Patrick to get to the airport and meet his visiting parents.

So Karl, Kendra, and Christina came over and we played games and ate a lot of food. We played some silly party games and then Doug and Elaine came and joined in. We waited awhile for Zoe and her friend to arrive back from their trip to Dublin.

When they finally came I left the last round of our party game and went upstairs to prepare my Christmas surprise for the

Light order: purple, purple, pink, purple, white. Meaning: hope, preparation, joy, love, Christ

group: I had made an advent wreath, PC(USA) style with color coded candles. It was sitting in the middle of my room which was lit solely by candle light. I had prepared a liturgy for a quick candle lighting service. The candle lit advent wreath is a pretty recent introduction to the churches here and none of us had experienced the kind of color coded family driven lighting ceremonies that we are accustomed to in our churches back home. I had been planning this for awhile and only told two out of the 11 people in attendance what was going on, though I had asked Karl if he could play some carols on our house guitar.

Everyone finished the game and climbed the stairs to my room. I had all the ambient candles lit and the guitar out and ready. Karl played a carol and we worked our way through the liturgy lighting candles on the way. We finished with another carol.

After that we danced the night away. We tried to watch Elf but everyone was tuckered out and settled in for sleeping over at our house on various floors and air mattresses. Christiana (who shares my enthusiasm for Christmas) helped me stuff stockings and hang candy canes on the tree. Santa has done this every Christmas at my house but he didn’t know where to find me this year so we had to do it ourselves… I almost cried as I thanked Christina for her help.

We woke up early on the 24th and gathered outside of the living room door.
When everyone was present we went in and passed out stockings and traded our “secret Santa” gifts and anything else we wanted to give to each other or received from our church members. I had a blast and it was as close as possible to Christmas at home.

After all the opening some people went back to sleep and some people prepared a full breakfast. After naps we all ate together and parted ways. It was time to prepare for Christmas Eve/ Christmas back in the real world, but there was no way it could ever be as meaningful, beautiful and special as the Christmas we had just finished.


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Advent: My Favorite Time of Year

I haven’t got many photos from the Christmas season so I will have to do a bit of writing and you (again, a hypothetical audience) will just have to read. I know I have been facilitating a largely audio visual experience but it’s good to change things up every now and then.


We had a pleasant discussion one day in one of our December YAV meetings about Christmas versus the Christmas season. I love Christmas because of the dramatic build up. Christmas day is a wonderful experience but the real joy comes from all the excitement before hand which all leads into a relative anti-climax of tearing up some paper wrapped around some new clothes. In short, I love Advent. It’s a dark, mysterious, energetic period of enthusiastic waiting and it’s marked by a lot of joyous celebrations such as:


  1. A children’s recital – Knocknagoney Primary School hosted its Christmas carol service in the sanctuary of the Church of Ireland. I apparently have reached a prestigious position in the community because I was escorted to the front pew which was marked “reserved.” In retrospect I should have abdicated the position to any given doting parent but I was too pleased and honored to have even let the thought enter my mind. The occasion was marked by young children singing, less young children performing a song driven play, and the oldest children performing a play (about a sad tree that doesn’t get chosen as a Christmas tree). It ended with “We Three Kings” led by the – I’m not joking – school recorder group (it turns out that British P.7 is exactly the same as American 5th grade). It was wonderful to see all my favorite kids on stage.
  2. Numerous appearances of Santa Clause – In addition to his showing up in all the usual places he also showed up at the Knocknagoney Pensioners Dinner. What makes this appearance exceptional is that the slim beardless lad filling out that costume was me! I passed out door prizes, had my picture made on an old lady’s lap and danced a little. The disguise was seen right through by my biggest 3 year old fan.
  3. Lesson’s and Carols – A week before Christmas our church put on the traditional 9 lessons and carols. I read lesson 4 and messed up a word. Afterwards I played a little pick-up football (soccer) with some to the church kids and messed up a toe.
  4. Putting up a Christmas Tree – It took two weeks of shopping around to find the right tree but I finally ended up with a Charlie Brown-esque misfit pine tree with more than one gross deformity. I seemed to be the only one in the house really enthusiastic about Christmas tree decoration so I ended up hanging a lot of pilfered ornaments myself. Special thanks to all the organizations I am privileged to be a part of for having an excess of tree ornaments and for their willingness to share.
  5. Wreath hangings – My mother has made a front door wreath every year I can remember so I felt obliged to make one for my own door this Christmas. Using borrowed hedge clippers I took botanical samples of various evergreen species around both churches with whom I’m associated. Over a period of a few days and with the help of some twist ties I assembled those branches into a round wreath which I hung form my door in with a discarded ribbon. The circle proceeded to sag into an egg-like shape, but it was nice enough and I look forward to continuing the tradition next December. Special thanks to all the organizations I am privileged to be a part of for having an excess of trees and for their willingness to share.

I was very worried that the Christmas season would bring about a heretofore unexperienced wave of home-sickness but the time was so filled with festivity, joy, and tradition that I felt right at home and rarely had a moments pause to dwell on (think upon, yes/dwell upon, no) all the things I was missing.


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Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

One night at the end of November we kicked off the holiday season with a little snow. We ran out to watch it fall but it was cold and late and so we didn’t hang around for too long. The next morning it had mostly turned to slush but the hills surrounding Belfast still looked very scenic.

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