Last year, the first-ever 4 Corners Festival concluded with people from the four corners of Belfast converging on Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, meeting in the Dock Cafe to pray for the city. Tomorrow, 13 January, the second edition of the Festival begins where it left off, with a launch event at 11 am in the Dock Cafe.
This year’s programme is more extensive and more varied, yet still tied to the theme of “Bringing Belfast Together.” The Festival originally grew out of conversations between Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian in South Belfast and Fr Martin Magill, parish priest at Sacred Heart in North Belfast.
Stockman and Magill were motivated to provide people with opportunities to experience events – and to meet new people – in areas of the city they may have never visited before.
They were also motivated by their Christian faith, deliberately choosing to situate the Festival in and around the annual worldwide “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” the theme of which this year is, “Is Christ Divided?”
Perhaps the most striking element of this year’s programme is the prominence of “storytelling” events, a feature highlighted in an Irish News feature about the Festival last week. As William Scholes wrote:
“With the concept of storytelling identified as one possible way of helping the North deal with the legacy of the Troubles, the 4 Corners Festival may be blazing a trail.”
Some of the more notable Story-themed events include:
- 4 Corners, 4 Stories at Stormont, with politicians Alisdair McDonnell (SDLP), Chris Little (Alliance), Jennifer McCann (Sinn Féin) and Michael Copeland, 17 January at 7 pm
- Listening to Your Enemies with Brighton bomber Pat Magee and Jo Berry, chaired by Rev Lesley Carroll, 30 January in Skainos, Newtownards Road, 7.30 pm
- 4 Corners, 4 Stories: Is Christ Divided, with four church leaders, TBC, 27 January at South Belfast Methodist, Lisburn Road, 7.30 pm
- Where there are Stories there are Songs (and Poems) with Anthony Toner, Dave Thompson & El Gruer, 1 February, 174 Trust, Antrim Road, 8 pm
A full programme is available on the Festival website. All events are free, though for some places are limited and an RSVP is required.
The Festival has also helped organize two networking events for faith-based groups in City Hall, hoping to inspire Christians to become better engaged in their communities after the Festival ends.
This grassroots focus grows out of the organizers’ conviction that Christians have something constructive to contribute to ongoing public issues such as how we deal with the past, and how we can build better relationships amongst diverse groups on the ground.
In this the Festival echoes the Hope and History campaign, the online petition started by a group of clergy (including Stockman and Magill), which encouraged people to signal their support for the Haass-O’Sullivan Talks.
The storytelling – and storylistening – which the Festival encourages seems especially poignant in light of the failure of political parties to reach any agreement at Haass and O’Sullivan’s table.
The organizers want nothing less than to model new, constructive ways of communicating — even communing with one another — in our public spaces. They want to facilitate new discourses and raise the level of public debate. But who’s listening?
Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at www.gladysganiel.com