Almost all of my recent posts have been about the 4 Corners Festival, which complements the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January). This year’s theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “What Does God Require of Us?” (Micah 6:6-8).
The 4 Corners Festival marked the opening of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Friday with a cross-community prayer breakfast at Clonard Monastery, addressed by Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
As Rev Steve Stockman, minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian, explains in a post on his blog, Baggott was approached to address the prayer breakfast before the flags crisis. Given that the protests have required such a massive police response, we were unsure if Baggott would still be able to fit the event into his schedule.
He did – and Stockman describes an event as inspired and inspiring.
In many ways, the flags crisis has confirmed the concerns that many of us, as organisers, had about our society as we planned the festival. Namely, that 15 years on from the Belfast Agreement:
- we still live in a divided society,
- outstanding issues from the peace process remain unaddressed
- there is a lack of political will to “deal with the past”
- there is a lack of vision for a shared future
When we asked ourselves, as Christians, “what does God require of us?”, we couldn’t help but come back to the call for Christians to be peacemakers.
We felt that peacebuilding – seemingly and unfortunately a minority pursuit among Christians even during the worst days of the Troubles – was not being prioritized by the churches.
“For the prayer of Christian unity I would like to add again that one for peace, because, in the ongoing diverse conflicts, and end to the massacres of unarmed civilians, an end to all violence, and that courage to dialogue and to negotiate is found.”
Doubtless the Pope had a number of different conflicts in mind, but those are apt words for Belfast.
We hoped the 4 Corners Festival would capture people’s imaginations and get them crossing the geographical, mental and spiritual boundaries necessary for transforming our still divided society.
The flags crisis has demonstrated that we still have a long, long way to go.
As I explained in my last post, I’m away from Belfast for a few weeks, so I’ll let Stockman’s reflections on Baggott’s address bring this post to a close:
Yes, there are difficulties and he didn’t ever deny that but his faith in God translates to his faith in God being involved in what he does and what goes on in our world. To share such an energy for this particular group at this particular time was so vital. It was why I saw the bright sky not the dark one. There was a sense as we headed back into our vocations that our job was about loving that dark cloud into blue. If Matt Baggott had been to all our 4 Corners Festival planning meetings he could not have been more accurate about our intentions. Building relationships and pulling down walls has been on our lips for some time. We long that this morning might have given a little strength to those who are building those relationships and that some more might have begun around these tables at Clonard.