Five minutes of prayer around Belfast City Hall was the most public Christian response to the flags issue in Belfast. With the carols about the ‘Prince of Peace’ sung at Christmas, what else should the church be doing to bring peace and stability to the situation?
The church’s role in the Troubles will long be a subject of debate with accusations of a lack of leadership weighed against individual grassroots peacemaking and relationship building.
Planned long before the protests began, a new festival runs in January, organised by a cross-denominational group of individuals in Belfast.
The 4 Corners Festival “seeks to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and prosperity” and its events “re designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends”.
The festival overlaps with – but does not supplant – the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A series of events – music, prayer, storytelling, architecture and discussion – will culminate on Saturday 26 January at 11.30am with a symbolic act of worship occurring in four corners of Belfast before congregating in The Dock café in Titanic Quarter for lunch and worship.
- North – Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church, Antrim Road
- East – St Dorothea’s Church of Ireland, Gilnahirk
- West – St Oliver Plunket Roman Catholic, Lenadoon
- South – Belfast South Methodist Church, Lisburn Road
It’s a thoughtful festival, and time will tell whether it plays a role in achieving its vision of “bringing Belfast together”. That may largely depend in how the events capture the imagination of people who wouldn’t normally badge themselves as peacemakers. It certainly builds upon the collaborations and friendships (eg, Fitzroy-Clonard) that have built up over the past twenty or thirty years.
In a separate initiative, EU Peace III money – along with contributions from OFMdFM and the Irish Department of Environment, Community and Local Government – is being invested in another church initiative, the Irish Churches Peace Project. A partnership involving the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, the Church of Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches and operating between 2013 and June 2015, the £1.3m scheme has three aims:
- to promote sustained and well facilitated cross-community dialogue particularly focusing on the contentious issues that need to be addressed in order to develop good relations and promote reconciliation;
- to support local inter-church/cross-community groups in their development of new grass roots initiatives that will contribute to the lasting peace;
- to facilitate a process by which the main denominations speak more frequently in the public sphere with a united voice on social and political issues, and through that to model positive cross-community cooperation and undermine the vestiges of sectarian politics.
In some ways these are activities that you’d expect local denominations to be doing (and they are) without funding support from Europe and NI/RoI governments. Though perhaps the injection of public cash denotes the importance that those public bodies see in churches boosting their work on the ground to facilitate peace?