In Christ We Journey Together
Church Leaders 2020–21 The Most Revd John McDowell, The Revd Dr Tom McKnight, The Rt Revd Dr David Bruce, The Very Revd Dr Ivan Patterson, The Most Revd Eamon Martin.
A Reflection on the 1921 centenaries from the Church Leaders Group in Ireland
Order of Service, text of sermon and reflections from the Service of Reflection & Hope, 21st October 2021
2021: A Message from the Irish Church Leaders
Church Leaders 2021–22 The Rt Revd Dr David Bruce, The Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, The Very Revd Dr Ivan Patterson, The Most Revd John McDowell, The Most Revd Eamon Martin.
Church Leaders’ 2021 New Year Message
As 2021 begins, many people will be hopeful for a brighter and safer future. The pandemic of 2020 brought grief, anxiety and uncertainty, as well as economic loss and disruption of livelihoods. Many aspects of life that we had taken for granted, like visiting loved ones in nursing homes, or popping in to a see a friend, suddenly changed.
The events of 2020 have served to remind us of our interconnectedness as human beings. Together we stood and applauded frontline workers and discovered a new sense of community with our neighbours. We wash our hands, wear face coverings, refrain from embracing and maintain distance, mindful that the actions of each of us as individuals have the potential to protect or endanger others. The actions of frontline workers who have sacrificially gone about their business, or those who have delivered groceries for neighbours who are self–isolating, sewn scrubs or kept in touch with others by phone have been a reminder that everyone has the potential to benefit others.
Churches too have been part of that collective response and in seeking to act in the interests of those who are most vulnerable have sought to live out faith in the context of the spread of Coronavirus. Faith has been a source of strength and support to many throughout this difficult time. Clergy, ministers, priests and lay people of faith have responded with compassion and imagination to the challenges of the pandemic, with online services, pastoral support and provision of opportunities for prayer.
Political leaders in both jurisdictions have faced huge challenges. We continue to pray for them and encourage them to work together towards the building of political stability in which the whole community can prosper.
As 2021 begins, we will face new challenges and opportunities.
The changes which Brexit will bring are another powerful reminder of that interconnectedness. As Church Leaders, we continue to encourage the building of relationships across and between these islands. The new context that Brexit brings demands a commitment to working together in constructive ways.
This coming year marks the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and of Partition. We recognise that people will approach the centenary from a variety of perspectives – for some this is a cause for celebration, others will look upon the last century with a sense of loss and separation. For us, as Church Leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities. This centenary also provides the opportunity for us to reflect together on the failings of relationships and use of violence across the whole island which have marred our past and which in some ways continue to cast a shadow on the present. Mindful of our interconnectedness we recognise our different perspectives on this centenary even among us as Church Leaders. Still we commit ourselves to building a future together in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past.
Our interconnectedness extends beyond our own communities to the global community. Covid–19 has made the daily challenges faced by those who live with poverty even greater than they were. We have corporate and individual responsibility to use resources not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others around the world.
Jesus’ reminder to love our neighbour is particularly relevant in this context. Jesus shows us what that love looks like in His care for others even in the context of historic differences, His concern for those whom many thought unimportant and His willingness to put the needs of others before His own. He came to serve not to be served. In our united commitment to be good neighbours we play our part as servants of the Gospel in building communities and a society in which all know that they are significant and in which all can prosper.
So, as we begin this new year we point to the hope that is made real as we recognise that we are interconnected and work together to build a better future. And as Christian leaders we point to, and stand within, the hope which has been made known in Jesus, who has promised His presence in every situation and who is the light of the world.
God bless you.
Church Leaders’ statement from Armagh
The Church Leaders, meeting today in Armagh (12 March) note the announcement regarding a Church service being planned for later this year to mark the Centenary of the partition of the island of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland. The Church Leaders are deeply mindful that the events of 100 years ago evoke a range of responses from communities across these islands. For this reason, this point of reflection will provide an opportunity to affirm our common commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation. The service will therefore be at the initiative of the Church Leaders and the Church Leaders will be wholly responsible for its planning, organisation and design. On St Patrick’s Day, the Church Leaders, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Rev Dr Thomas McKnight, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, and the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches, will make a significant announcement together about their prayers and work throughout this year.
Sovereign, wise and gracious God, in whose hands lie the past, present and future, we acknowledge before you our failures, our divisions, and the hurt we have caused you and one another. Forgive, restore, and heal us. The events of partition and formation, which took place one hundred years ago on this island, changed, shaped, and determined the outlook for this place which we all call home.
As we reflect upon those times and bring to mind what happened then and in the years since, we acknowledge before you our different and often polarised interpretations of history.
As we travel onwards in our journey, may we learn from the experiences of the past and from those who trod these roads before us, so that the inheritance we pass on to the next generation is the gift of understanding, peace, and hope. In faith we pray, and humbly ask, in the name of him who is the light of the world and giver of all hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Church leaders promote service of reflection and hope
Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation underpins Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland
A Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland will take place in Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh, on Thursday, 21 October 2021.
The service is being organised by the Church Leaders Group, as part of their wider programme of collective engagement around the 1921 centenaries, with an emphasis on their common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.
Armagh has been chosen as the location due to its significance as Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital – a status which has its origins in the 5th Century when the present site of the Church of Ireland cathedral was presented to Saint Patrick for building his ‘great stone church’.
In a joint statement issued on Saint Patrick’s Day the Church Leaders emphasised the need to ‘be intentional in creating spaces for encounter with those who are different from us, and those who may feel marginalised in the narratives that have shaped our community identity’ and, in doing so, ‘to face difficult truths about failings in our own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation’. This Christian act of worship will involve people from across the community, from diverse backgrounds and traditions, and with different beliefs and aspirations, coming together to pray for the healing of past hurts and to seek God’s guidance in a spirit of hope for the future. The ongoing risks of Covid–19 will restrict the space for in–person participation, but the service will be broadcast and local church communities will be invited to support the initiative in prayer.
At the heart of the Church Leaders’ joint engagements over the course of this year, in prayer, in dialogue and in collective outreach to the wider community, has been a focus on relationships. In their joint statement they say: ‘We find inspiration and encouragement in the progress that has been made through our peace process in building relations of mutual respect and trust across these islands. These relationships are often tested, and will at times be found wanting, but our communities have also demonstrated great resilience, solidarity and compassion, evident most recently in the response to Covid–19’.
This Service of Reflection and Hope is offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships.
Church leaders invite prayerful support for Service of Reflection and Hope
In a joint statement the Church Leaders have invited ‘prayerful support’ for their Service of Reflection and Hope, which takes place at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh on 21st October 2021.
The Church Leaders said, “towards the end of 2020, after prayerful reflection and dialogue, we made a decision as the Church Leaders Group to undertake a collective programme of engagement with the 1921 centenaries. We were conscious that these centenaries would highlight painful moments from our past which continue to impact relationships in our present. We felt a responsibility as Christian leaders to explore the opportunity to deepen the work of reconciliation in a context of respectful dialogue. We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it, and we all have a responsibility to contribute to the healing of relationships from our different perspectives.
“As Church Leaders we have been saddened by the polarised public commentary around our Service of Reflection and Hope. The tone of the public debate has shone a light on the societal wounds we wish to reflect on in this service. We wish primarily to gather in prayer for healing of relationships, and in doing so, to demonstrate a renewed commitment to working together for peace, reconciliation and the common good.
“We of course understand that not everyone will feel able to participate with us in this service, but for those who do, particularly in our local churches across this island, we wish to clarify in this statement the context and original vision for the service, and invite people to join with us in prayer and reflection.”
Context for the Service of Reflection and Hope
Speaking about the context for the service, the Church Leaders continued, “we first set out our intentions and aspirations for this year in our New Year’s statementin which we acknowledged that what for some is a cause for celebration in the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland, will be for others the centenary of a key moment in the partition of the island, evoking feelings of loss and separation. We shared that:
For us, as Church Leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities. This centenary also provides the opportunity for us to reflect together on the failings of relationships and use of violence across the whole island which have marred our past and which in some ways continue to cast a shadow on the present. Mindful of our interconnectedness, we recognise our different perspectives on this centenary even among us as Church Leaders. Still we commit ourselves to building a future together in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past.
“We approached these themes through prayer and worship, composing a centenary prayer and coming together for a broadcast worship service in May in which we reflected on what partition has meant in each of our lives and families. We sought to contribute to reflection within churches, publishing a statement on St Patrick’s Day acknowledging our own failings and highlighting the responsibilities of the Church. We have engaged in dialogue with a wide range of different groups, both within and beyond the churches, including Christian leaders in the other jurisdictions across these islands, and community leaders from different backgrounds. We will soon be releasing a podcast series on the theme ‘Identity and Belonging — Past, Present, Future’ which shares something of these conversations.”
Content of the Service for Reflection and Hope
The Church Leaders continued, “the Service of Reflection and Hope was planned for the latter part of the year so that it would be shaped and informed by the range of engagements outlined above, and to allow as many people as possible to join with us in this work. We re–state once again that the service is an initiative of the Church Leaders’ Group and Church Leaders have been wholly responsible for its planning, organisation and design. As we stated in March, it does not form part of any other programme of events.
“The ongoing risks of Covid–19 will restrict the space for in–person participation, but the service will bring together community representatives from across these islands. It will be underpinned by a Christian vision of reconciliation, which calls us to acknowledge the pain of the past, confess our own failings and commit ourselves to peace in the hope that relationships can be renewed as God reconciled us to himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17–29).”
Hope for the future
In conclusion, they said, “as Church Leaders, people of faith, we stand united at this crossroads looking forward, by the grace of God, to a better and brighter future. We recognise the need to better respect our differences, but we must learn “to differ well” and be prepared to listen and show charity to those with different views and aspirations.
“As we prayerfully prepare for what will be a Christian act of worship we invite as many people as possible to join us in prayer on the day of the service and we hope that it will be a positive and honest contribution, through faith, to peace and healing in this land.”
Sovereign, wise and gracious God, in whose hands lie the past, present and future, we acknowledge before you our failures, our divisions, and the hurt we have caused you and one another. Forgive, restore, and heal us. The events of partition and formation, which took place one hundred years ago on this island, changed, shaped, and determined the outlook for this place which we all call home. As we reflect upon those times and bring to mind what happened then and in the years since, we acknowledge before you our different and often polarised interpretations of history. As we travel onwards in our journey, may we learn from the experiences of the past and from those who trod these roads before us, so that the inheritance we pass on to the next generation is the gift of understanding, peace, and hope. In faith we pray, and humbly ask, in the name of him who is the light of the world and giver of all hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This statement has been issued on behalf of the Church Leaders Group which comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland, the Most Rev John McDowell and the Most Rev Eamon Martin respectively; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rt Rev Dr David Bruce; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson.