Institution of the Revd Asa Bjork Olafsdottir O’Hanlon – She Will Continue to Make a Difference in Dun Laoghaire
A large congregation gathered in Christ Church Dun Laoghaire on the eve of the Epiphany (Friday December 5) for the institution of the Revd Ása Björk Ólafsdóttir O’Hanlon by Archbishop Michael Jackson. Ása has been Vicar of the parish for five years and opening the service, the Archbishop welcomed her to a place where he said she was already well known and where she was already part of the community.
The church was filled with family and friends, some of whom had travelled from Ása’s native Iceland, as well as parishioners, clergy from neighbouring parishes and public representatives. The service had a personal touch with Ása’s daughter, Messiana, singing during the service adding to the music led by the parish choir. Following the service, and instead of speeches, the International Harmony choir, of which Ása is a member, sang in the parish hall.
The preacher was the Revd Gary Dowd, Rector of the neighbouring parish of St Paul’s, Glenageary, who wondered if there was really a need for another Rector in an area where there were already far too many Rectors and parishes and asked if there was a plan. However, he concluded his sermon by saying that if the Holy Spirit had been at work then Ása was amongst us for a reason and had been appointed Rector for a reason.
“God is working through her to give us glimpses of where our priorities in the ministry of the church should lie today. We are not a minority interest club whose sole purpose is to preserve those things that are important to us personally. We are here to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the often cynical, disinterested and distracted world that lies beyond our doors. I believe that Asa has, and will continue, to have a leading role in showing us some very practical ways in which we can make a real difference and allow more people to experience the new life and hope that Christ offers,” he stated.
Speaking of the story of the Epiphany, Gary said that Ása was like the wise men in that she was wise, intelligent, learned, exotic, a foreigner who set out some years ago on an unknown journey when she decided to come to Ireland. While he doubted she followed a star, he said she arrived in Dun Laoghaire, following a stopover in County Meath, from a different country, culture and a different Christian tradition having been ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. But he said she was no longer a stranger.
He suggested that Ása saw herself as a bit of a rebel and had some unconventional ways. He said she was thoughtful, had a huge pastoral heart and had worked diligently to fulfil her responsibilities. She had put a lot of emphasis on reaching out beyond the walls of the church building and beyond the needs of her congregation. Setting up The Dining Room in the parish hall, she and her volunteers offered free hot meals to the homeless, the marginalised and the lonely. The pioneering project has since been absorbed into the work of CrossCare but Gary said this ministry would continue to be a priority for Ása.
“Asa encourages all of us by her actions and by her example to live out the words of the king in Matthew 25 ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’. Family is incredibly important to Asa, her own extended and scattered biological family of course, but also her parish family, the community family here in Dun Laoghaire, and the family of the universal church. Such is her charisma she has even managed to get five local Church of Ireland clergy to work together more closely in recent years, now that is some achievement! It speak volumes about her priorities in life that her dining room table is a recycled door. She has an inclusive, open door policy of ministry, at times, some may say, an unhinged approach, all are welcome, hospitality is freely offered, regardless of status, background or faith, she is here to serve and to selflessly help in any way that she can,” the preacher stated.
The word Epiphany means manifestation or revelation, he explained, adding that we could learn a lot from both the journey made by the wise men and from the journey Ása had taken in her ministry: openness to new things, a constant search to know more, a recognition of seemingly ordinary things as signs from God, being prepared to take risks. “We are called to do the same, our faith must be more than something we have inherited or learned, we must explore it for ourselves, be prepared to work, study, pray, seek, brace ourselves to be challenged. Even then, it is not enough to know just facts about Jesus, we must encounter Him for ourselves,” he said.
Gary said that Ása’s ministry would continue to challenge people and move them out of their comfort zones. He encouraged her parishioners not to try to change her.