Yesterday’s conference in Coalisland, ‘Go and Do Thou Likewise: How Can Clergy Address the Legacy of the Troubles?’ was sobering and stimulating, hopeful yet challenging.
The conference was organised by a group of clergy in Mid Ulster, in partnership with the Irish Churches Peace Project, and Good Relations in Dungannon & South Tyrone, Cookstown and Magherafelt District Councils.
Two of the local clergy organising the event, Fr Paul Byrne and Rev Andrew Rawding, opened the conference by reading the day’s entries from Lost Lives. It was a solemn moment that focused minds on the real human costs of the Troubles. (You can read about why Fr Byrne and Rev Rawding organised the event in their contribution, ‘On the Path to Peace in Mid Ulster’).
I was one of the invited speakers, and my remarks focused on the main conference theme: ‘How Can Clergy Address the Legacy of the Troubles?’ You can click here to download my remarks.
My thoughts were based on reading the work of other scholars, as well as on my own sociological fieldwork on the island of Ireland. I’ve interviewed and observed Christian advocates of reconciliation and it is from them that I have gleaned my deepest insights.
I explored five ways clergy can address the legacy of the Troubles:
1) prioritizing victims and survivors,
2) public acknowledgement (including self-critique and repentance),
3) re-defining and re-emphasizing reconciliation,
4) re-imagining worship and language, and
5) inspiring and involving the rest of the church – and by that I meant the laity.
One of my key points was that clergy may be able to provide some leadership, but they cannot address the legacy of the Troubles on their own. This was further confirmed for me during the group discussion sessions, when a priest shared that a woman had once remarked to him:
‘But you’re not human — you’re a priest!’
Whether the comment was tongue-in-cheek or not, it highlights how clergy are often expected to shoulder unrealistic expectations when it comes to helping and healing their parishioners, without regard for their own mental, physical and spiritual health.
Other speakers on the day were Prof Brandon Hamber from the University of Ulster (on the Conflict in and about Northern Ireland), Prof Peter McBride from the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (On Clergy as Victims, Survivors and Thrivers), Rev David Clements and Fr Stephen Kearney. I hope to write more about their remarks in the days ahead.
Photo by Brian O’Neill, left to right: Prof Brandon Hamber, Rev Rob Craig, Emily Brough (Irish Churches Peace Project), Rev Andrew Rawding, Fr Paul Byrne, Dr Gladys Ganiel, Prof Peter McBride)