Fr Martin Magill’s Small Steps Towards Reconciliation

handsdivideThe ‘Faith Matters’ segment in yesterday’s Irish News featured columns by Fr Martin Magill, parish priest at Oliver Plunkett’s in Lenadoon, and Rev Dr Heather Morris, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, on ‘Small Steps we can take Towards Reconciliation.’

Fr Magill, whose ‘ecumenical tithing’ appears each Monday on this blog, offered the following suggestions (reproduced with thanks).

Leading by Word and Deed

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster recently, Prof John Brewer of Queen’s University Belfast claimed that the churches have evacuated the public sphere and are not living up to their peace-making responsibilities.

In the wake of events on and following the Twelfth of July, there have been various constructive suggestions about how churches might take on this role from people such as Prof Brewer, Dr Gladys Ganiel of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Methodist President Rev Heather Morris, David Smyth of Evangelical Alliance, Fr Tim Bartlett from the diocese of Down and Connor and Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian, to mention a few.

In addition to what they have been saying, I would like to offer these suggestions, keeping in mind that for the churches to lead the way in reconciliation, it will take leadership from clergy and public figures, as well as ‘small steps’ by people at the grassroots.

1. As I am talking about churches, praying for reconciliation would be an obvious place to begin.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. – I Corinthians 5:18

This could mean including  a prayer for local churches of other denominations, mentioning the clergy by name in Sunday services or Prayer of the Faithful at Mass during the week.  It could also include a prayer for parishes where there is a special relationship.

The Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor is particularly good on this and often the monks in the Prayer of the Faithful pray for their neighbours of other denominations.

Churches and parishes could agree to give details in parish notices, newsletters, bulletins, and announcements on events happening in another church or parish.  This works well if there already is a link between churches or parishes.  It would also work well if churches are close by.

I hold up the example of one church of another Christian denomination currently advertising some events which St Oliver Plunkett has organised for this year’s Féile an Phobail.   One member of the church has already emailed other people he knew from different denominations to invite them to attend the events.

2. Commit to ‘ecumencial tithing.’

This is a term used by the late Fr Michael Hurley, founder of the Irish School of Ecumenics, to describe a commitment for Christians to spend a significant percentage of their time in worship and service with Christians from a tradition other than their own.

This can be done by individuals or in groups.  There already is the established model of the Clonard Unity Pilgrims who go together as a group to another church to worship on a Sunday morning.  They describe the very warm welcome they receive and how enriching the whole experience has been for them.

There is also the more recently established and growing initiative called ‘In Joyful Hope,’ where the Eucharist is celebrated on a rota basis in the different traditions and where the discipline of the denomination is followed.  The next celebration takes place in St Patrick’s Church, Donegal Street on Thursday 26th September.

On a personal note, I attend when possible the Sunday evening service of a church from another tradition and have been blessed by my experiences and the friendships that are developing through this practice.

3. Take part in an inter church project.

Gladys Ganiel’s website ( contains a calendar which lists a number of inter church activities.

Try one which reads the Bible together. Biblica,, has a structured scheme to read the New Testament in eight weeks and which easily could be done on an inter-church basis.

There is a growing interest in Lectio Divina which could be done across the denominations.

4. Decide to shop, socialise, and recreate in an unfamiliar area.

The Four Corners Festival which took place in January and which will run again in January 2014 following the theme of Christian Unity promoted events throughout the city encouraging people to leave their corners and visit other parts of the city. It promoted events throughout Belfast encouraging people to leave their corners and visit other parts of the city.

Attending festivals such as Féile an Phobail or the East Belfast Arts Festival also provides an opportunity to meet new people and get to know other parts of the city.

Churches wishing to get involved in a practical event could choose an event from each festival and attend it.  Even better churches could organise an event for one of these festivals as Fitzroy Presbyterian did during Féile an Earraigh in Clonard Monastery.

5. Arrange to meet Christians from another denomination for a coffee or a meal.

The Bible has over 75 references to hospitality, and table fellowship plays a very important part in the life of Jesus.

6.  Attend a self-awareness course to consider personal issues such as anger, resentment or lack of forgiveness.

Have a conversation with a trusted friend asking him or her to identify any sectarian traits one might have.

Churches and parishes could provide a safe environment in which to have some “uncomfortable conversations”, as Declan Kearney from Sinn Fein refers to them.

7. Attend events you would not normally attend, such as a GAA match, rugby match, soccer match, or Orange parade.

Going with friends or colleagues who regularly attend such events will make it easier and they will be able to answer some questions about the experience.

In the past, ECONI, Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland used to organise a visit to some of the Twelfth celebrations.  The Irish School of Ecumenics also organise something similar.

8. At a leadership level, churches could agree to do more –together.

For example, the Presbyterian Church sends out a daily email inviting prayer for specific Presbyterian events. This could be developed to include prayer needs from other denominations, and distributed jointly by a range of denominations.

The recent common prayer for Belfast supported and endorsed by the leadership of the larger denominations seems to have been well received across the city.

Joint statements from Church leaders could provide leadership at certain times of year.

9. Church leadership could agree to organise training events for clergy and or lay people across the denominations.

For example, at present there is a pilot ‘clergy well-being group’ offering space for pastoral reflection across the denominations – this could be developed to enable more clergy to take part.

Recently the Northern Catholic bishops organised a training day on the issue of suicide – this I understand it will be offered across the denominations when it is next organised.

The inter church initiative entailed ‘Flourish’ has developed a training programme for clergy across the denominations on dealing with suicide.

Other training opportunities such as media training could be organised together.

10. At a leadership level, churches could make it a priority to speak prophetically about the need for reconciliation in our divided society – and then follow that up with actions.

John Brewer and Gladys Ganiel have been  pointed out that the institutional churches have shied away from this. Previous initiatives like the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel Project, the Presbyterian Church’s Peacemaking Programme, and the Irish School of Ecumenics’ Moving Beyond Sectarianism Project have been largely forgotten.

The insights and activities from such programmes could be revived, alongside renewed initiatives from church leaders to press for social and political measures that could promote healing and reconciliation.

Churches could be leading the way in calling for a comprehensive process for ‘dealing with the past,’ promoting victims’ rights, and establishing mechanisms (such as a revived Civic Forum) for promoting reconciliation.

(Image sourced on flickr by Fabio Casadei)

Leave a Reply