Ecumenical Celebration in Thanksgiving for Fr Alec Reid – Visioning Unity and Reconciliation

alecreidThis week’s Ecumenical Celebration in Thanksgiving for the Life and Ministry of Fr Alec Reid continued the tributes that had poured in since his passing on 22 November. The service at Clonard Monastery (you can watch online here), which featured the full participation of clergy and laity from a range of Christian denominations, commemorated not only his immense contributions to the peace process, but also his gift of friendship with people from a variety of backgrounds.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the service was the image of the church it presented: women and men, old and young, Protestants and Catholics: united, even reconciled.

But this was not inclusiveness for the sake of it, to keep up appearances. This was the vision of church that Fr Reid actually lived in his own life.

Rev Ruth Patterson, a Presbyterian minister who shared a reflection during the service, said that during some difficult times Fr Reid visited with her at Restoration Ministries. And he would often say:

When we come through this [the Troubles], we’ll have to sort out Mother Church.

Rev Patterson explained how Fr Reid ‘lived the sacrament of encounter,’ enriching and being enriched by those who were different. For him, this was how he ‘lived the future in the now.’

While the now might have been violent, he lived peacefully, and strove to facilitate others on that stumbling journey to peace.

And while the now might have been a divided and patriarchal church, he lived a reconciliatory vision, seeing Christians of other traditions as his sisters and brothers and valuing the contributions of women and the young.

Rev Patterson and Rev Harold Good, the Methodist minister who along with Fr Reid witnessed the decommissioning of IRA arms, both shared reflections. The Thanksgiving Prayers were said by women from congregations and parishes who had served alongside Fr Reid: Norma Dodds of St Michael’s Church of Ireland, Shankill; Sandra Rutherford from Fitzroy Presbyterian, Mary McDonagh from St Paul’s Catholic parish, and Roseleen Walsh from St Agnes’ parish.

Three others read from the Redemptorist Peace Ministry Mission Statement which Fr Reid had written in 1989 at the request of Cardinal O’Fiaich. The service concluded with members of Youth Link Northern Ireland and the Clonard Youth and Young Adult Ministry reading their ‘Inter-Church Commitment.’ The statement was inspired by Fr Reid and pledges the next generation to work for peace and unity.

Although the service did not include the opportunity for Eucharist or communion, the opening and conclusion of it was marked by reflection on this fundamental act of Christian unity and reconciliation.

Fr Gerry Reynolds, who lived and worked with Fr Reid for many years, opened the service by sharing how that night he has missed a long-standing commitment to attend another event across town in Knock Methodist Church: the latest in the series of services called ‘In Joyful Hope.’

In Joyful Hope allows Christians from all traditions to gather around the Eucharistic/communion table together. Those who participate continue to observe existing ‘church discipline’ about not actually partaking of the bread and wine when it’s not permitted by the institutional authorities. As Fr Reynolds has explained previously, In Joyful Hope is about recognizing and expressing the longing that Christians of all traditions will actually one day share together from that table.

Fr Reynolds said that the people of Knock Methodist had told him that he must speak at the service for Fr Reid, but added ruefully that ‘Alec would have told me to go to Knock.’

Similarly, the last words spoken before the final blessing and hymn were by a young woman reading from the Inter-Church Commitment: to work toward and look forward to the day of sharing Eucharist.

As Christians of so many traditions honoured Fr Reid, and as the service itself showcased that unity, the mention of Eucharist brought us back to Christians’ continued division around the Eucharistic table. It reminded us that we still have a long way to go.

Christians are continually caught in the tension between the vision of a reconciled kingdom of God and the imperfect reality. With Fr Reid, ‘Living the future in the now’ means creating a vision for the possibilities of unity and reconciliation that others do not yet see.

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