The ecumenical service of Thanksgiving for Fr Alec Reid, the Redemptorist priest who played such a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process, was held shortly after his death in November. If there was anything lacking in that service, it was that those from the diverse religious traditions who had gathered in Clonard Monastery did not share Eucharist with one another.
Such an action would, of course, be forbidden by the “discipline” of the Catholic Church. But at the same time, the opening and conclusion of the service was marked by reflection on this fundamental act of Christian Unity and reconciliation. As I wrote on my blog:
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.’
… 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.
“In Joyful Hope” is one of the latest in innovative initiatives to emerge from Belfast’s ecumenically-minded Christians. I have always thought that it has the potential to serve as an inspiring example of an incomplete – but desired – reconciliation between our divided communities.
Since its beginnings in 2010, “In Joyful Hope” has been publicized primarily through church bulletins and notices, remaining relatively under the radar. The organizers did not seek media publicity or use social media to advertise their events, although my blog has featured several posts about the initiative over the years, including reflections by Fr Reynolds and descriptions of some of the services.
Yesterday’s Irish News featured a two-page spread about the initiative, carefully researched and written by William Scholes.
It described the origins of the initiative, which are rooted in the friendship between Rev Jim Campbell, emeritus minister of Cooke Centenary Presbyterian in south Belfast, Rev Ken Smyth, one-time rector of St Mark’s Church of Ireland in Newtownards, Rev David Cooper, retired Methodist chaplain at Oxford University, Rev Dennis Cooke, retired principle of Edgehill Methodist College, and Fr Reynolds. It also charted the development of the events and their incorporation in services in varied denominations across the city.
Scholes stresses that the initiative continues to honour the discipline of the Catholic Church, but that the events give Christians of diverse traditions an opportunity to be present with each other in a new and meaningful way. This is expressed well in a supplementary column by Fr Dan Whyte, who writes that through “In Joyful Hope” he discovered:
… that limiting Christ’s presence to the bread and wine consecrated at Mass is attempting to limit God – and God refuses to be limited.
There is more to the Eucharist than the real presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. That is not the whole picture.
The whole reality of the Eucharist is also recognising and experiencing God’s presence in each other, in Christians everywhere and in the world.
Or as Fr Reynolds says in Scholes’ main article: “We have taken a truly new step in Eucharistic communion.”
But when challenged that “nothing has changed – Catholic Eucharistic discipline remains the same,” Fr Reynolds responds:
The liberating truth is that we have moved away from polemical attitudes and drawn closer to one another through these shared celebrations of the Eucharist.
Through In Joyful Hope we have promoted deep mutual respect and undermined divisions.
In view of our history that’s a significant and worthwhile achievement.
For me, In Joyful Hope has been a prophetic experience pointing towards the longed-for day of a common Eucharist.
In Joyful Hope events will continue to be held throughout 2014.
The failure of the Haass-O’Sullivan Talks may seem to send the message that we all just can’t get along. But it’s important that people at the grassroots of our communities continue to come together in initiatives like “In Joyful Hope” and the many others that are so often buried in a barrage of “bad news” stories.
For me, the “good news” is that Christians like those involved with “In Joyful Hope” have been faithfully meeting for the last three years and their resolve to do so has not wavered.
(Image: Fr Gerry Reynolds)