Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
Post by Andy Gans, pastor of Fort King Presbyterian Church in Ocala, FL
What a beautiful day it was in Northern Ireland today! The sun was out and the temperature got up to 45 degrees, I'm told that's warm. Not only was today beautiful but it was also very informative. This morning we spoke to Derek Poole of the LINK Project (Local Initiatives in Needy Communities). This sounds like a wonderful organization that works to bring peace and justice to communities that have experienced great conflict, not only politically but also socially. This organization seeks to transform conflict from abrasive and dangerous into relationships that respect and appreciate the others experience. Derek feels there will always be some type of conflict that will never be able to be resolved, but if you can transform it into healthy dialogue you can transform the relationship. Derek says one of the keys to easing conflict is helping people find the common story and working towards a shared experience.
You may or may not know that the "Troubles" were/are the time when there has been violent conflict between those who consider themselves Loyalists (loyal to the crown of England/ Protestants) and those who are seeking a free Irish republic (Nationalists/ Catholic). I was amazed that in the 1970's and 80's nearly 50% of all men in Northern Ireland were involved in some way with a para military group such as the IRA (Catholic) or the UDA (Protestant).
Following lunch we went to an old Celtic monastic community dating back to 521AD. This was a fascinating place with incredible Celtic crosses. The large Celtic crosses date back to the 10th century. These large crosses were used to tell the stories from the Bible to a congregation. The large cross I have pictured is the Muiredach's cross, one of the most perfect Celtic crosses in Ireland. The cross stands 5.5 meters high and is decorated with stories from both the Old and New Testaments. This area is now a beautiful cemetery.
Our day ended with a conversation with Olive Hobson, a local conflict mediator. Olive told us the keys to peace mediation and understanding are compassion, integrity, and truth. She also told us there are 4 building blocks to creating and sustaining peace, they are; stable economics, law and order, housing, and education. Without these she says there will never be equality, and without equality peace will never be sustained.
So how do you think we as a church can be instruments of peace? How can we transform conflict into healthy dialogue where stories are shared and commonalities are the focus instead of the differences. What is our calling as a church to create places of peace and reconciliation? I pray we can work together in our community to find the common story.