Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
Post by Rev. Carl Horton, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program staff member
On the first Sunday after Easter, our peacemakers set off in small groups to worship with 7 different congregations in the Belfast area. Some went to the "leafy suburbs" to worship with congregations surrounding the city and mostly removed from the contexts of violence. Others, went to congregations in the Shankill Road area, places highly impacted by the sectarian bombings and violence of their neighborhoods. One congregation at the epicenter of the Troubles, still to this day locks its doors during the service with a posted sign in the narthex that reads: "These doors to remain locked at all times. Abductions have occurred from this church."
Our time of sharing later in the day included the largely expected reports of worship experiences - many mentioning projection systems and praise music, lengthy and numerous hymns, lively children's talks and limited (or dare I say, "wee") liturgy. Some got tours of church facilities and communities; others were invited home by their hosts for coffee, tea or lunch. Some stayed all afternoon, returning late to the Farcet Centre; others came back in time for a Sunday afternoon nap. Universally, the most cherished parts of these congregational visits were the candid conversations, the stories shared by the members of these congregations, and the genuine interest they took in and appreciation they expressed for our presence with them.
In the evening we heard from Presbyterian minister Ruth Paterson and her Catholic cohort Rose. Ruth was the first woman ever ordained in any denomination in all of Ireland. A number of years ago, after serving as minister of a congregation, she started a spiritual community for Protestants and Catholics called Restoration Ministries. The ministry, small and volunteer dependent, provides a place where people can 1) build relationships across divides and 2) really tell their story and be heard. "Prayer is the heartbeat of our ministry," Ruth told us. In our time with them we felt the strong, steady, hope-filled heartbeat of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
All in all, this was a day of connection and relationship building, listening and sharing stories, sacred space and holy presence - ingredients we have heard over and over again that are critical to the ongoing transformation of conflict into a sustained and sustainable peace.
Thanks be to God for this Lord's Day in Ireland!