Ministry, Pastoral Life, Preaching, Prayers, and Devotions

Lessons from St. Patrick for Today’s United Methodists

St. Patrick is an important part of church history and he has many lessons to teach us. Feel free to use the prayer at the end in any church setting or for your own personal devotion!

The featured image shows a shamrock and the words “Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! As United Methodists, we believe in the importance of church tradition. In fact, tradition is one of the four sides of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (the other sides of the Wesleyan quadrilateral are scripture, reason, and experience). Although Wesley himself never used the phrase “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” this framing is a helpful device to help us understand and interpret the world around us from a Wesleyan perspective. John Wesley believed that questions bring us closer to God and that study can deepen our faith.

In the United Methodist tradition, we do not revere saints in quite the same way as our Catholic brothers and sisters do; however, we do believe that there are important lessons that we can learn from our ancestors in the faith. In the United Methodist tradition, any Christian who has gone home to glory is called “a saint that has gone before.”

 St. Patrick is one of the most famous and revered saints in Christian history and there are many lessons we can learn from him. In this post, we will discuss the life and legacy of St. Patrick, as well as some of the lessons we can learn from him.

History of St. Patrick

St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century, but was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was young. After six years of slavery, he managed to escape and return to his family.

When Patrick grew up, he became a priest. Eventually, God led Patrick back to Ireland to evangelize in the same land where he had once been s slave. He went to Ireland as a missionary to spread Christianity to the pagan Irish people.

St. Patrick faced many challenges during his mission, including opposition from the pagan priests. However, he persevered and is credited with converting the majority of the Irish people to Christianity. St. Patrick is also known for using the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, as a tool to teach the concept of the Trinity.

Teaching the Trinity with the Shamrock

One of the tools I use when teaching young people about the trinity is the symbolism of the shamrock. Although any attempt to explain the Triune God with human language is bound to fall short since we cannot encapsulate God with the limits of our human speech, I have found that the shamrock is a helpful symbol that children can understand. I inherited this idea from St. Patrick and I am grateful for this helpful teaching tool.

According to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people. He pointed to the three leaves of the shamrock and explained that, like the three leaves, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct entities but are also One, just as the three leaves are part of the same plant.

This simple illustration helped the Irish people understand the complex concept of the Holy Trinity, which became a cornerstone of Christian theology. Today, the shamrock is still used as a symbol of St. Patrick and is closely associated with Ireland and its culture

Lessons from St. Patrick

St. Patrick’s life and legacy teach us many lessons that are particularly pertinent for the United Methodist Church today. Here are a few of them:

  1. Perseverance: St. Patrick faced many challenges during his mission, but he never gave up. He continued to preach the gospel and do his best to win hearts for Jesus. We can all be inspired by St. Patrick to continue to share the Good News, even if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar place or on a difficult journey. The United Methodist Church is going through a stormy time right now, but I believe that if we remain true to our commitment to persist in preaching the Gospel as “plain truth for plain people,” God will see us through.
  2. Humility: Despite his many accomplishments, St. Patrick remained humble throughout his life. St. Patrick eventually became a bishop and is now considered to be the Patron Saint of Ireland. Nevertheless, he gave all the glory to God and recognized that he could do nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit. He recognized that his success was due to God’s grace and not his own abilities. The story of his life is a good reminder to all of us that we are called to remain humble and that “the least of these” is the greatest in God’s Kingdom.
  3. Prayer: St. Patrick was known for his devotion to prayer. Some legends claim that he prayed hundreds of times a day. He was constantly seeking guidance and strength from God. We can all learn from his example and be inspired to make more time in our busy schedules to pray and connect with God. The Bible reminds all Christians that we should “pray without ceasing.” As United Methodists, it is a good spiritual practice to take time to pray for our local church as well as our entire connection, including our church leaders and those congregations that are struggling with difficult and divisive questions at this time.
  4. Love: Despite the fact that St. Patrick was forced into slavery, he followed the call of the Holy Spirit to return to Ireland and share the Good News of Christ in the same land where he had once been in bondage. St. Patrick’s mission was to spread the Gospel and convert people to Christianity. He did this with love, patience, and a deep understanding of the Irish people and their culture. As followers of Christ, we can all learn from his example and seek to share our faith with others in a way that is respectful, compassionate, and culturally sensitive. One of the joys of our connection as United Methodists is that we are united with diverse congregations and local churches throughout the world. It is a joy to be part of a denomination that praises God in so many unique ways in so many different places.

A Prayer for St. Patrick’s Day

Let us pray:

O Holy Triune God,

On this Feast day of St, Patrick, we give You thanks for Your grace and love. We pray that we would be inspired by the story of St. Patrick to be willing to humbly follow wherever You lead us. May we boldly share with others how experiencing Your Love has changed our lives. May we be willing to carry the Gospel anywhere and everywhere.

We also give You thanks for all of those who work diligently to teach our young people about the wonders of Your love. Thank you for the parents, grandparents, guardians, and Sunday School teachers who work diligently to share the stories of our faith.

Finally, O God, we lift up to you our beloved United Methodist Church. Please offer our church family comfort, mercy, compassion, discernment, and strength. Be with our bishops, our clergy, our local churches, and our laity. Help us to reflect the love of Christ and to do no harm to one another. May we walk with humility and always place the love of Christ above all things.

O Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit– Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer– You alone can grant us peace. Be with us now and always , we beseech You. Amen.

About the Author: Rev. Rebecca L. Holland (M.Div.) is visually impaired, Filipino clergywoman ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church. She is the pastor of two congregations in Central Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on the intersection between faith and disability theology. She is the author of Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse, The United Methodist Church and Disability, and Hope for the Broken: Using Writing to Find God’s Grace. She is currently working on project that focuses on interpreting Disability Theology from a Wesleyan perspective. To stay up to date with her work, please subscribe to this blog by typing your email address into he box labeled “subscribe.”  

1 thought on “Lessons from St. Patrick for Today’s United Methodists”

  1. Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing this devotional. It is important for those of us who are choosing to stay with The United Methodist Church in this time of splintering and disaffiliation to stay connected with God and each other so we can discern the next steps God wishes for us to take toward the bright future God has planned for us. I grieve the break up of our church and loss of fellowship with departing clergy friends, some of almost thirty years acquaintance. Saint Patrick’s discipline of constant prayer is a fine example for us to follow in a time such as this. Thank you for the reminder!

    the Stump Person Stumpy, “We are God’s workmanship created for good works in Christ.”


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