#sfaf2015 Martin McGuinness, Rev Steve Stockman, Fr Martin Magill, Declan Kearney – Reconciliation, Ubuntu & grace

Martin McGuinness took to the stage of Derry Millennium Forum on the opening night of Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis.

He said that “for almost two years the political institutions in the north stagnated” triggered in his opinion by Belfast City Council’s flag decision and unionism’s refusal to accept the decision of the Parades Commission in relation to Ardoyne.

So-called republicans also remain intent on dragging us back to the past but their campaign – if you can call it that – is not only futile and without support – it is counter-productive because the only time I see a British soldier on the streets these days is in response to their activities.

Martin McGuinness squareThe deputy first minister spoke about the Stormont House Agreement calling it “a political lifeline” and described the package of protections for those impacted by benefit cuts.

Sinn Fein doesn’t do austerity. Others do austerity. We do equality.

Referring to the DUP’s “so-called conscience clause” he praised Sinn Fein whip Caitriona Ruane and thanked Green Party’s Steven Agnew and NI21’s Basil McCrea “for standing with us in defence of equality for all”.

It is our young people who we should be taking the example from. They aren’t interested in fighting old battles. They have no time for sectarianism, racism or prejudice. They want to see compassion in politics … They want rights for all … They don’t want political leaders whose views on such issues [Irish, LGBT, minorities] are skewed by their own religious fundamentalism.

A relatively disappointing and uninspiring speech from Martin McGuinness in terms of the lack of freshness of its content.

The founders of Belfast’s Four Corners Festival – Fr Martin Magill (Sacred Heart Parish) and Rev Steve Stockman (Fitzroy Presbyterian) – jointly addressed the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis a few minutes after the deputy First Minister. Recently they penned an article for An Phoblacht and returned to the theme of reconciliation in their words to the Ard Fheis.

Ahead of this evening’s speech they said that they had accepted the invitation “after prayerful consideration” and was “very much in keeping with the ethos of the Four Corners Festival that we founded” and pointed to their “deep-rooted belief that peace-building is a biblical mandate that that we must follow as it comes from Jesus Himself, who calls all Christians to be reconcilers”.

Steve Stockman Martin Magill square[Steve] Dia Daoibh. Well this is the most interesting place I’ve ever preached. Thank you very much for this invitation. I am a Presbyterian from Ballymena. It is a long way from there to having a priest as one of your dearest friends and even further to be on a stage together at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis!

In preparing for tonight I reread the ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ article we wrote in An Phoblacht last June. We mention an American student I met, who when I asked him for observations about Northern Ireland said, “When you use violence, the healing is so much messier and takes so much longer.”

Profound, and we all need to come to terms with that.

Wounds are deep. Pain is raw.

Standing here tonight I can’t help but remember my Assistant Minister whose dad was shot dead when he was two, and my former intern who never met his dad, blown up in a bomb. And there are many Presbyterians in this very City who feel exiled from the City side. It has been a very painful and wounded road.

As we speak we are aware that most of us here tonight are dealing with are own wounds and pain. We pray that all of us find healing.

Yes, reconciliation is an uncomfortable conversation – thank you for inviting us in – We believe it is a God-honouring conversation and one we desperately need to have.

Sinn Féin are taking risks in reconciliation. You’ve invited us to speak, (and that’s a risk!) other Church colleagues to attend and Loyalist bands as well. Can we commend both you and the Londonderry Bands Forum for your engagement with one another. Wonderfully Refreshing.

From where we have come Shaping The Future Through Reconciliation will be messy… It will take time and courage; persistence and patience. Can we encourage you to stick with it.

[Martin] As we stand here tonight side by side, on this stage, we do so compelled by the words of Jesus: “If you find you’ve something against your brother or sister, leave your offering before the altar: Go and be reconciled.”

And we want to live out the challenge of those words. We want to play our part in helping people to be reconciled by overcoming the fear, distrust and hatred which still remain from our troubled past.

We have come along way down our wounded road BUT there is still a long way to go. Three current issues point this out; how we use the Maze/Long Kesh site; the naming of a play park in Newry; and the sale of poppies in a council building. We want to offer our support to all of our politicians as they seek to find agreement on how we reconcile our many differing narratives of the past.

As people of Christian faith we firmly believe that forgiveness, confession and hope have an important role to play in this vocational work. This will require sacrifice. We know that reconciliation comes at a price: the price of scathing criticism and even threats, the pain of being judged and dismissed as having ulterior motives, but this is the price we must pay if we wish to transform our society.

[Steve] How can transformation come? I believe that the best word in all the world is Grace. It is the gem in Christianity. Grace means unconditional love. God loved us and made the first move. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was about reconciling us to God and also to one other. Only by grace can relationships be restored.

Grace is not new at a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. Declan Kearney used the word last year… “Without grace, forgiveness or generosity there is no future.” he said. Preach it brother. What are you doing Sunday morning at 11 o’clock?

But seriously… Grace needs to be more than a favourite word or idea. It needs to be put into action in a generosity of words used and actions done.

Hannah Nelson the schoolgirl who out speeched Barack Obama at the Waterfront told us prophetically, “I don’t want to live in the past. I want to live FOR a future.”

Let us all live FOR Hannah’s and all of our children’s future…. my daughter Facebooked me from school today “Bring Peace Daddy”.

Let us be uncompromising in our grace-driven willingness to compromise old entrenched positions to find a new way forward for us all.

[Martin] If we want to live for a future, if we want reconciliation to shape that future, then we can’t leave this to politicians or to one party alone, “Ní sinn féin amháin ach muidne uilig le chéile”, (it is not ourselves alone but all of us together) or in the words of an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

All of society needs to be involved in this, not in a piecemeal fashion but in a coherent and structured way. Government needs to fund this adequately.

We are passionate that the Churches have an important role to play in the work of reconciliation. The words of Jesus in the Beatitudes encourage us: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

So what does peace making and reconciliation look like? It certainly means listening, really listening and seeking to understand the other. To want to be reconciled each of us needs an open mind and an open heart.

From my personal experience of sitting down with some young loyalist bandsmen, listening to them talk about their band practices, the pride they take in the uniforms they wear, their love of regimental music and military marches; these conversations have taken me way outside my comfort zones.

I have found worshipping in Protestant churches enriching but also challenging because I have had to let go of some of my stereotypes and prejudices that I’ve held onto for almost 50 years.

Getting to know all four corners of the wonderful but wounded city of Belfast has really stretched me. But Jesus does talk about “going the extra mile”.

For us in Northern Ireland as we get to know one another, build new relationships and rebuild old ones we might finally reach a place on the road where we humanise instead of demonise one another.

In a powerful performance called Greater Love by New Irish Arts which tells the stories of individuals from the all the communities of the North who served in the First World War there is the memorable line: “hatred is compromised by relationship”.

[Steve] While I was Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens I took hundreds of students to South Africa over a ten year period to build houses on townships. I chose South Africa because I believed it was a good place for my students to look from a distance at our own wounded past.

When we asked South Africans the secret of their reconciliation there was ONE recurring word – UBUNTU. It means “Without you, I cannot be fully me.”

Nelson Mandela wasn’t happy just getting out of prison, just getting a vote or even just becoming President. He wanted more. More than a political peace, Mandela was determined to build a societal peace. He spent the rest of his life creating a rainbow nation that included everyone.

When Jesus told us to love God and neighbour he was also saying that without God and others we can’t be fully us. When Jesus told us to love our neighbour and our enemy they weren’t nice sentimental phrases… but subversive behavioural commands to create justice, peace and prosperity. Jesus knew that “without me, you cannot be fully you.”

Two closing thoughts from South Africa. When my students met FW de Klerk, the last white president of the old South Africa, he told us what he called the first two rules of peacemaking. First, search your motives to the marrow of your soul. Second, check again and make sure you haven’t deluded yourself. I found this great advice for anyone seeking to be involved in peacemaking.

Lastly, my friend Dr Spiwo Xapile, minister in Guguletu told us that he gets up every morning and thanks God he is a South African, black and a Christian because every day he gets the chance to forgive my enemies. Wow. Now that is grace?

So… as we continue down this wounded road… let the uncomfortable conversations continue… WITH Mandela’s UBUNTU and Christ’s GRACE we believe that we can make the change. Let’s do it together. Beannachtaí!

Unlike a previous clerical intervention at the 2011 Ard Fheis in Belfast, the two Belfast clerics stick to their script and don’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. Humour builds rapport with the audience. They don’t shy away from the Gospel they preach. They encourage, and they explore reconciliation and teach using concepts the Sinn Fein delegates are used to hearing: South Africa and Mandela.

Unlike the McGuinness/Latimer combo in 2011, this was a Stockman-Magill/Kearney double bill in 2015. “New” Sinn Fein was wanting to reflect on how to work alongside unionism rather than against it.

Declan Kearney spoke next [full transcript now available], and suggested that “healing our society needs to be placed above political differences” and called for powerful and shared expressions of reconciliation “that would require grace and generosity from all sites”. It was time to “dismantle barriers and build bridges”.

The unresolved legacy of our past conflict casts a long shadow. Too many families from all sides of our community and across Ireland and Britain live with real and continuing pain. I am sorry that their loss cannot be undone. With the benefit of hindsight we can all see things we would wish had been done differently or not done at all …

Reconciliation is our future. It is not a new battleground. Fear and mistrust are huge blocks to progress. And republicans should consider carefully what more we can do to build trust and confidence with our unionist neighbours. That is an imperative.

So too, language and listening are very important. I am aware that some within unionism do not hear that Sinn Fein is genuinely committed to reconciliation and healing among our people. I accept that they may not understand our message. and others simply simply do not believe our sincerity … Reconciliation does not mean giving up being a republican or a unionist or any political aspirations or religious persuasions or none.

But the party chairperson’s message fell on closed ears as later speakers – all but a lone voice from Derry – spoke in favour of motion 21 (which was eventually passed after a teller count) which sought not to invite British royalty or government to 1916 centenary celebrations. While Martin McGuinness got a generous standing ovation, his hand shakes with the UK monarch may be scarce in 2016.

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