The Diocesan Commitment to Community Bridge Building 7
What do we mean by reconciliation? 9
The Good Samaritan 11
Reconciliation within Think Again
What is sectarianism?
Supporting each other in peace building
The role of parish bridge-builders
Around the Diocese
We live in a society where conflict and separation may be taken for granted, but we believe that as church people we must try to look to a more positive future. We do not know if our present situation will lead to lasting peace but we do have a breathing space where we can start to make a difference – a time to heal.
This booklet outlines the spiritual vision behind what we are already doing in the Church of Ireland diocese of Down and Dromore to promote a more reconciled society. It also explains briefly how reconciliation fits within the overall Think Again renewal programme. Some existing projects are described as examples of what can be done and there is advice which parishes might find helpful on how to plan projects and find people to help them. There are brief descriptions of some courses, books and other resources, and lists of useful contacts. This is not a complete description of everything that is going on in the parishes to build bridges within our communities. We hope that this booklet will provide a focus for further work in the diocese in this special diocesan year of reconciliation. A conference with the title A Time to Heal will be held in November.
In putting together this booklet we acknowledge the assistance of many people in the parishes and from partner organisations.
History and Vision The Church of Ireland united diocese of Down and Dromore is one of the two largest in Ireland with about 15,000 people worshipping in 120 churches each Sunday. It covers the eastern part of Belfast, all of Co. Down and the parts of Co. Armagh to the east of the river Bann. There are city parishes, country parishes and churches in towns and villages. Some parishes exist in communities which are evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants. In other areas Church of Ireland people are a tiny minority, while other parishes have almost no Catholic people. Some parishes have been sheltered from the worst of the Troubles while for others there is recurring community tension.
The original Community Bridge-Building Working Group came into being in 1997 as a result of concerns expressed at Diocesan Synod in 1996. When diocesan clergy were asked (also in 1997) to identify their top priorities and challenges by their new bishop Harold Miller, community reconciliation was a major concern. The existing working group developed a community bridge-building strategy which included the appointment of parish Bridge-building Co-ordinators. It was obvious that they would need help and so courses were organised. Later, a diocesan Reconciliation Development Officer was appointed to further serve the needs of the parishes and the strategy was integrated into the official Think Again renewal programme which is to run from 2000–2005. While it was recognised that there was a need to build new or stronger links with other denominations it was felt that our historical and political situation gives particular urgency to developing relationships with Roman Catholic1 parishes and groups. A draft Commitment to Community Bridge Building was circulated to parishes. Over 75% of parishes responded to requests for comments and were represented at two events held to launch the emphasis on reconciliation in the diocese. The Commitment was unanimously adopted by Diocesan Synod in June 1998 and many parishioners throughout Down and Dromore affirmed their support by signing Commitment cards.
Since then, a large majority of parishes have appointed two parish bridge-building co-ordinators, who have gradually come to be known, less formally as bridge-builders. Training courses were organised for these bridge-builders and parishes began to plan programmes which would lead towards healthier relations between churches and between people.
As an expression of Christian discipleship the Community Bridge-Building Programme seeks to contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland by encouraging and supporting parishes, groups and members of the Church of Ireland diocese of Down and Dromore to develop relationships with Roman Catholic parishes, groups and neighbours which will enhance mutual understanding and co-operation.
This programme will contribute towards new relationships between people of different religious and social backgrounds in which: fear has been replaced by trust, hostility by friendship, ignorance by understanding, competition by co-operation, prejudice towards those who are different by acceptance of diversity and, indifference towards those outside our own group by a commitment to the common good and a positive appreciation of what we can both offer and receive from one another.
Our recurrent Troubles are not new and over the centuries politicians have attempted to find solutions to conflict. The recent violence has produced more imaginative attempts at community healing. Politicians have searched for new political structures but there has also been acknowledgement of the need to work outside the political arena. So, over the last couple of decades community relations work has taken place with the aim of increasing confidence and trust and empowering local people to help in healing their own communities.
Churches have not always been seen as institutions which could help to stabilise communities and people in interface areas have often felt that churches let them down. On the other hand, throughout the Troubles visionary Christian people helped to preserve the hope of a better future through inter-community dialogue and peace groups. They have not always felt supported by their church institutions. Church leaders have also tried to be a positive influence for peace by working together and issuing joint statements. However, it has taken a long time for the main churches to consider formally how their congregations might best contribute to building a more normal society. So, in the early days, churches did not receive funding centrally for peace building. This has now changed and it has been recognised that if churches have been part of the problem they must also be encouraged to be part of any successful solution.
It is greatly to the credit of the people of this diocese that before there was the promise of outside financial support they decided to fund a reconciliation post and provide resources for training. Since the appointment of a Reconciliation Development Officer in 1999, not only has this post received outside funding, but grants from the European Union Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (Peace I and Peace II) also cover the costs of training courses for clergy, bridge-builders and parish groups. It is important to stress that the Christian vision preceded the awarding of the money. We are not a vehicle for social engineering but are funded because our Christian vision is a positive one for a peaceful future.
An evaluation report for the Community Relations Council commented favourably on the reconciliation strand of Think Again:
'The project has mainstreamed peace building and reconciliation work within the management structure of the Church of Ireland and within individual churches and those involved have reported that the project has enabled them to have new relationships and added a new dynamic to reconciliation work.'2 The Down and Dromore diocesan commitment which was affirmed by many parishes in 1998:
Diocesan Commitment to Community Bridge Building As members of the Church of Ireland in the Diocese of Down and Dromore – seeking to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to follow him, we recommit ourselves to the work of reconciliation, peacemaking and bridge building.
We affirm our belief in the reconciling power of God in Jesus Christ.
We affirm our belief
• in God's love for all people
• that Christ calls us to love our enemies
• that it is God's will that, through the cross, all people should be reconciled to Himself and to one and other
• that God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.
We confess our need to follow more closely in the footsteps of Jesus the Peacemaker.
We confess that, at times
• our attitudes and actions towards those in other communities and religious traditions have caused offence, deep hurt and division
• we have been self-righteous and refused to recognise the need for change
• we have been content to condemn the violence of others, but have been unwilling to undertake the costly work of building peace.
We commit ourselves to pray and work for peace in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We commit ourselves
• to make the ministry of reconciliation a priority in our prayers
• to build relationships of trust and mutual respect with those from whom we differ
• to work for justice for all, not just those whom we identify as belonging to 'our' community
• to develop programmes of action which will build peace and promote reconciliation in our divided society.
Recognising that this can be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray that the life of our parishes and our diocese may be a witness to God's Kingdom of right relationships, as we exercise the ministry of reconciliation.
What the programme hopes to achieve: 1 An acceptance within the diocese of peacemaking as central to Christian discipleship and an emphasis on the biblical basis for this.
2 Some level of positive personal contact between each rector and his or her neighbouring Roman Catholic priest, or other priests and religious where there is no neighbouring parish.
3 Regular and ongoing contact between significant numbers of members of every parish in the Diocese with a group of Roman Catholic people, preferably at parish level.
4 Where parishes already have relationships with Roman Catholic parishes or groups, ensure that existing contacts and co-operation are made more meaningful.
5 The integration of specific initiatives and educational activities on reconciliation as an integral part of the ongoing programmes at both diocesan and local levels in Christian education, Sunday schools, youth work, Mothers’ Union, Mens' Societies etc.
6 The establishment of structures and programmes of training within the Diocese to sustain the commitment to peacemaking well beyond the initial five-year period of emphasis.
'Cross-community work aimed at reconciliation…is not simply a response to the pain of division, nor is it simply an objective established by various voluntary groups and government departments. It is intimately linked with God's purpose and plan for creation and our participation in it is a response to the initiative for reconciliation God has already taken.'3
What do we mean by reconciliation?
Reconciliation is a difficult word because it means different things to different people. For some, it is seen only in terms of personal salvation – spiritual reconciliation with God as expressed in St Paul's second letter to the Corinthians (Ch 5 vs18–19): '…God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.'4 They may see that mission purely in terms of bringing the salvation of Christ to others and everything else will appear to be a distraction. Such people may feel threatened by inter-denominational activity especially if they sense that 'reconciliation' through ecumenism means a kind of averaging exercise which leads to the dilution of doctrine.
For others the religious disunity of the Christian churches is so painful and scandalous that they see reconciliation mainly in terms of healing ancient denominational divisions. They have a vision of community healing led by the witness of faithful people meeting together for dialogue, study and worship. These people have prophetic things to say about peacemaking but they run the risk of excluding all those who fear theological compromise. Many are also weary from having struggled, often with little support, throughout the long years of the Troubles.
Rather than patching up violent situations many academics and theologians want to transform conflicts and they look to the major religions for inspiration. Christian ideas of a process involving forgiveness, repentance, truth and justice are used as a framework for people trying to build stable peaceful societies in some of the worst trouble spots in the world. 'Reconciliation' is how these processes are described.5
Theological writing on reconciliation is often centred on how we, as weak human beings, can follow the example of God in forgiving each other freely and obeying the command to love our enemies (Matthew 5: 44). We are all both challenged and encouraged by the story of the Prodigal Son, welcomed and accepted by his father, before he had confessed his sins.6 The reconciliation process can help people trying to come out of conflict and coping with change. Forgiveness and repentance, coupled with ideas on truth and justice, provide a spiritual framework for people recovering from trauma, and coming to terms with the death of loved ones. For them, the loving grace of God, available to help emotional healing, needs to be preached as often as the biblical instruction that we must forgive.
Those who work on peace building concentrate on processes and relationships. It is not just how forgiveness, repentance, truth and justice work as individual elements but how they work together to produce change. Transformed relationships are not instant. The journey of encounter and discovery is part of reconciliation as much as accommodation or friendship at the end of the road. This is just as true for estranged groups and communities as it is for wronged individuals. Finding out how our identities are formed and learning to listen is part of the process.
Some of the people most hurt by the Troubles are afraid that some artificial form of reconciliation may be imposed upon them, that they may somehow be pressured into forgiveness at the same time as they face unwelcome political change. They may misunderstand a long complex process but their pain is very real. It is important that this is acknowledged as part of our own reconciliation activities.
So, reconciliation has many meanings and all are important but nobody should feel threatened or excluded by the main diocesan focus, which is on building bridges in our local communities as part of a long-term process of healing and Christian living. These bridges may be developed through many activities including neighbourly hospitality, dialogue, study (both of the Bible and the nature of our sectarian society), community action, prayer and worship. There is no one correct, preferred route towards reconciliation. The only essential requirement is that relationships are real and that they deepen through time.
A valuable way of looking at this difficult word is to see 'reconciliation', in all its forms, as encompassing the Christian aspiration to begin in some small way to build God's kingdom here on earth, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In that way relationships between God and his people, between people and peoples, and between people and the world of creation, all blend into one as Christians come together to attempt to build the kind of world which God would want for us. We have before us Isaiah's vision of God's 'new heavens and…new earth' where 'they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain' (Isaiah 65: 17 and 25). We also have the instruction of Jesus to pray: 'Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven…' (Matthew 6: 10).
The 2003 Time to Heal theme in Down and Dromore is a call for us all to be bridges 'practical ordinary bridges for healing the wounds of the past and present, human viaducts over the divisions of history and race, culture and denomination, just as St Patrick was for the Irish and for the whole world'.7The Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh
The Good Samaritan
The Bible is full of indications that God expects strangers to be treated with respect and love. There are the instructions to the Jews in the law codes of the Old Testament, the warnings of the prophets, and the teaching of Jesus that people will be judged by how they treat those who are different. Some, such as Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke Ch10: 25–37) have striking parallels for us here in Northern Ireland today.
A man travels the notorious road from Jerusalem to Jericho and is robbed, assaulted and left for dead. A priest, fearing that possible contact would make him ritually unclean, and then a Levite, saw the man but walked by on the other side. It was only the Samaritan who risked finding out the victim's needs, and provided not just for his short-term care but also for his ongoing needs.
We all know where the roads to Jericho are in this diocese – the places where it would not be safe to go either because it would not be respectable to be seen there or because we would be in physical danger. We also know that the priest and the Levite could well be ourselves. We often weigh up our behaviour against how it matches the traditional rules of our group and override the command to love all our neighbours as ourselves.
If Jesus had suggested that it was a Jew who came to the aid of the victim his devout legalistic audience would have been uneasy at the way he portrayed religious people. But he went even further when he emphasised the shared humanity of all people, choosing as his hero one of the despised Samaritans who were like Jews by race but possibly tainted with the sinister blood of the brutal conqueror. Samaritans were almost the same as Jews in religion too, but regarded as heretics, using rituals which Jews found blasphemous. Jesus' audience would usually only have to meet Samaritans if they took risks. They were more likely to look the other way and avoid the danger of contamination.
In Down Cathedral there is a window illustrating this story, where the pale, stripped body of the victim has the appearance of Christ after he was taken down from the cross. When we meet people who are very different from ourselves we run risks, but when we suspend judgement and treat them as neighbours we do not know who we may meet.
…when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? Matthew 25: 38
• Where are our roads to Jericho?
• Who do we walk past without seeing them as a neighbour?
• Who are our Samaritans?
Many courses for reconciliation group work within congregations or for inter-church activities are biblically based. (See p.?.) All aspects of human conflict are in the Bible – suspicion, rivalry, division, violence, pain, remorse, love, forgiveness and healing.
Reconciliation within Think Again
There may be confusion as to what Think Again is and how it relates to the ROY project involving Reconciliation, Outreach and Young people. The objective of Think Again has a lot to do with where the discussion on reconciliation ended (see p.?) – about building a diocese full of parishes which (even dimly) reflect God's kingdom. The Think Again programme for renewing the church is based on building a vibrant, supportive, welcoming community of disciples which reaches out to society and respects the ministry of lay people working in partnership with their clergy. In fact, parish life will only be transformed in a Think Again way if it reflects the kind of values and processes which are involved in reconciliation. These include sensitive and inclusive planning, decision-making, leadership and communication, which acknowledge the differing gifts and needs of the congregation, and of the surrounding community. This is all about building bridges.
Parishes often hold inspirational events to bring people from different denominations together. However, if more events occurred within a framework of prayer, consultation, strategic planning and the encouragement of lay leadership, they would confer much greater long-term benefit on the vitality of the parish and the healing of society. That would reflect a Think Again approach which may seem exhausting in the short-term but has the potential to enhance all aspects of church and community life.
Find out from the Think Again team how they can advise you on planning, training and resources. They are there to help every parish.
The Think Again Team, Diocesan Office, Church of Ireland House, 61–67 Donegall Street, Belfast BT1 2HQ, Tel: (028) 9032 2268/ 9032 3188 Fax No: (028) 9032 1635, Web: www.downand dromore.org
Team Director: Norman Jardine, Home Tel: (028) 9050 4976, Mobile: 07811 548968, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reconciliation Development Officer: Charlie Leeke, Tel: (028) 9265 2838 Fax: (028) 9265 0178, Mobile: 07712870799, Email: email@example.com
Outreach Development Officer: Nigel Parker, Home Tel: (028) 9146 6409, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Youth Development Officer: Andrew Brannigan, Home Tel: (028) 9084 9838, Mobile: 07740 583340, Email: email@example.com
Administrator: Mary Coles, Tel: (028) 9032 2268/ 9032 3188, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is sectarianism?
Historians and political scientists disagree as to how far religious difference is to blame for our conflict. However, more academics are beginning to examine the origins of sectarian division, to analyse how sectarianism works and assess how important it is. A six year study in the Irish School of Ecumenics resulted in an important book, Moving Beyond Sectarianism, and the production of training materials for adults and children.8
The Christian authors of this book, Joseph Liechty and Cecelia Clegg have concluded that sectarianism is a distorted expression of the positive need to belong to a group.9 Its complex religious and political roots and subtle forms may lead us to see sectarianism as something which is only a problem for those people who are directly involved in verbal and physical violence. We may even feel superior to people who live where there is interface violence and who cannot get on together. Drs Liechty and Clegg have a totally different view. They see sectarianism as a complex, particularly nasty system which involves us all and which can be maintained unwittingly by people who individually 'do not have a sectarian bone in their bodies'.10 The polite separation of nice people leads to the identity and needs of other people being overlooked and this sustains the system just as much as the open hatred and violence. If sectarianism is a complex system which runs almost by its own steam then it needs us to stop passing the buck and admit that we are all responsible for its removal. If we are not taking positive steps towards community bridge building then we are helping to preserve sectarianism.
Other academics are influencing how we can reduce the threat of future conflict and live a properly shared future. The ideas of Duncan Morrow and Karen Eyben of Future Ways were taken up by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council and are being promoted in training within public bodies. They suggest that a combination of treating people with EQUITY, respecting DIVERSITY and acknowledging our INTERDEPENDENCE will create a society which is less sectarian. These are Christian principles and it was appropriate that Karen Eyben finished a conference presentation on EDI by saying 'We only learn from those who are different, from the stranger in our midst.'11 This brings us straight back to the language of the Bible and what it has to say about the way we should treat people who live alongside us but who differ from us. Many of us pay lip service to the principles of treating people with respect in all their diversity, but until we realise that we depend on each other, and acknowledge our interdependence, our problems will remain.