St. Aidan of Wales and Ferns, Celtic Missionary Saint
Monasteries in today’s world are places where people go to pray, work and learn for the rest of their lives. Monks are not wanderers or missionaries; they are silent, devoted types who live in stable communities.
But it was not always so. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, monks were often called in Latin Pedagrinationes Pro Christo, or, Wanderers on Behalf of Christ. This was especially true of the Celtic Monastic Movement. The Celtic (Irish, Scottish and Welsh) monks went to their great monastic centers for years of study and prayer and then set off across the British Isles and the European continent preaching Jesus Christ. Celtic Monks owed much of their spirit to the Christian monasteries of Egypt, which go back to the second and third centuries.
There were not one but two Aidan’s, both of whom were renowned missionaries in England.
The most famous Aidan lived in the late 600’s and became a member of the famed monastery of Iona in Scotland. From there he was sent south to found a missionary center at Lindisfarne in England. He is still called the “Apostle of England”. Both Iona and Lindisfarne are still today places of pilgrimage.
Our Aidan, Aidan of Wales and Ferns, lived in the late 500’s. His name means “Son of a Star”. In his very early years, Aidan was given a nickname by his family. He was called Maedoc. The name came from three Celtic words, Mo Aid Oc, meaning “my little Aidan”. He is often called St. Maedoc.
Aidan founded a monastery in Ferns, County Wexford, Ireland. After living many years at Ferns, he began his wandering. He traveled throughout Europe preaching, baptizing and teaching. Eventually he settled in Wales and he joined the great monastic center founded by the missionary apostle, David.
When the Saxons invaded Briton, the Britons called upon David to send someone who would intercede for them in prayer against the heathen Saxon armies. David sent Aidan. The histories say that God answered Aidan’s prayers and allowed the Britons to defeat the Saxons. History also records that “because of God’s favor and Aidan’s miracles, no Saxon invaded Briton while Aidan was there”.
Aidan returned to Wales and asked David to allow him to go back to Ferns. He returned to his first monastery where he died in 626. During his final years he lived close to nature and, like St. Francis of Assisi, was know for his gentleness with animals, befriending wolves and other wild animals. For this reason, the insignia printed on banners dedicated to Aidan is often that of a stag.
In 1994, when our parish began the process of choosing a name, Bishop Frank Allan gave us ten to consider. Overwhelmingly our parish chose Aidan and the reason is obvious: Just as David of Wales sent Aidan to Briton as a missionary, St. David’s parish community of Roswell sent us into Alpharetta to found a new parish family.
St. Aidan’s feast day is January 31.
1993 Rt. Rev. Frank Allan announces that the diocese will open a mission church in Alpharetta
April 3 1994 St. Aidan’s begins at an Easter sunrise service in Windward Park. 75 people gather as the Rev. Noel Burtenshaw, led the service.
June 1994 The new St. Aidan’s congregation meet for regular worship in a leased space of the AT&T building in Alpharetta. Everyone pitches in because of limited space. Prayer books, vestments, and a large, standing cross are brought in every Sunday, while children’s Sunday School classes are held in corners of the hallway!
November 1994 St. Aidan’s is recognized as a full parish at Diocesan Council. The name St. Aidan’s is chosen because St. Aidan of Ferns was a missionary monk sent to preach the gospel by St. David in 7th Century Ireland.
Father Noel leads the parish for 10 years and becomes the inspiration and driving force of the church, which adopts the mission statement “To Know Jesus Christ and Make Him Known.”
1994 St. Aidan’s moves to its next temporary meeting space in the Alpharetta Senior Center
1995 The congregation purchases the present 19 acre site at 13560 Cogburn Road and begins to build the church
Palm Sunday 1997 St. Aidan’s holds its first Holy Eucharist in its current building
June 2003 Father Noel retires
September 2004 St. Aidan’s completes its Parish Hall for education and fellowship
October 2004 Rev. Robert Wood is called as St. Aidan’s next rector
2014 St. Aidan’s celebrates its 20-year anniversary
February 2016 Rev. Robert Wood is called to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Cashiers, NC
June 2016 The Rev. Dr. Col. Patricia Lee Miller joins St. Aidan’s as interim rector
August 2017 Rev. Reginald Simmons is called as the third rector of St. Aidan’s
In its full history, St. Aidan’s has grown in community and ministries. St. Aidan’s supports dozens of internal, local and international ministires. We enjoy many fellowship and outreach events, offer Sunday School for all ages and a spirit-led Vacation Bible School each summer, and have a full-time preschool and MMO. Our staff has expanded to include office staff, and children’s, youth, and music directors.