As someone who identifies as a Christian I have my own thoughts on prayer, which change from time to time. But setting aside existential questions about whether God answers prayer, I think last night’s Prayer Vigil for Belfast at the Hopelink Centre on Carlisle Circus, North Belfast, communicated something significant.
It’s up to individuals to decide whether such communication is direct from the divine. But for me the message from those who were gathered was clear:
As Christians from different denominations, there’s more that unites us than divides us. It’s important to demonstrate that unity in public spaces, and to reclaim a voice in the civic sphere for those who advocate healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. We know there’s a lot of work to be done to build a better Belfast, but we’re up for it.
The prayer vigil was organized by a group of clergy in North Belfast and assisted by Laura Coulter, the North Belfast fieldworker for the Irish Churches Peace Project. Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and High Sheriff Brian Kingston attended.
Rev Stephen Thompson of Joanmount Methodist and Fr Martin Magill of Sacred Heart Parish were two of the main instigators of the event. Drawing on some of the readings from the Hope and History Campaign’s Advent Liturgy, they shared the platform during the service.
Breige O’Hare of the Well led the reflections, which included commitments to work for reconciliation and to walk alongside all those who have been disadvantaged and disempowered.
Two young musicians, Jordan McMurray from Joanmount Methodist and Cahal Clarke from Sacred Heart Parish, led the singing. The liturgical aspect of the service was followed by a journey outside to the footpath alongside Carlisle Circus for carol singing and lessons led by the 174 Trust’s ‘Together, Stronger’ choir.
While the significance of the cross-community choir may have been lost to the passers-by on foot and in cars, for me the prayer and singing was a relatively gentle attempt to model an alternative use of public space.
Those of us who work or live in North Belfast know that the claiming of space for political and sectarian purposes is a common practice, and the point is to exclude others from that space.
And while I acknowledge that Christmas carol singing may exclude non-Christians, I appreciate the organizers’ intent to be as inclusive as possible and to welcome others to share a space in an ‘interface’ area.
Inside and outside the building, they also prayed the ‘Prayer for Belfast,’ which has been promoted by Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir during the year. It was written earlier in the year by Fr Magill, Rev Heather Morris, and Rev Mervyn Ewing.
A Prayer for Belfast
God of love whose love streams
unceasingly and relentlessly to all, we cry to
you for our city.
We pray for peace on our streets, for
economic well-being, for understanding
across our differences.
Build us as one community, though diverse,
that being reconciled to you we might be
reconciled to one another.
Lord, turn our hearts to you that your glory
might dwell in this city
In the name of Jesus, who is Lord of all.
As Northern Ireland prepares for what the Haass-O’Sullivan Talks have to say about how we ‘deal with the past,’ I am struck by the theme of reconciliation that runs through the prayer.
It is a vision of reconciliation that does not settle for a ‘peaceful co-existence’ or a ‘benign apartheid.’ And it is a vision of reconciliation that is orientated towards a future together.
Events like the Prayer Vigil for Belfast are just one example of what such a future together might look like.