The Community Relations Council (CRC) this week presented its annual award for Civic Leadership to Fr Martin Magill of Sacred Heart in North Belfast and Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian in South Belfast.
Magill and Stockman are outspoken advocates of Christian peacebuilding, regularly making the case in their writing and broadcasting that part of being a Christian on this island is seeking reconciliation among our divided communities.
The CRC has created a short video profiling their work, where they provide their perspectives on how their friendship has spurred them on to cross boundaries and to encourage others to do the same.
They are founders of Belfast’s 4 Corners Festival, which encourages people to come out of their segregated ‘corners’ of the city to attend events in places where they have never been before.
Magill and Stockman’s story is above all one of friendship: what started as a conversation over coffee has had a knock-on effect where they have not only built their own relationship – but met new people from different backgrounds who have enriched their lives.
It’s clear that for them, relationships provide the foundation for reconciliation.
In the video, Magill describes how his conversations with Stockman have blessed and inspired him to continue in peacebuilding and reconciliation.
As a sociologist of religion I’ve researched the extent that clergy are engaged in peacebuilding and reconciliation among Catholics and Protestants and I am very much aware that it is a minority sport. Magill and Stockman are exceptions to this rule.
Magill and Stockman, like Christian peacebuilders before them, face the challenges of hostility and apathy as they try and lead by example.
Stockman says that: ‘… When it comes to peace and reconciliation we [the churches] were slow to get involved during the Troubles.’ Citing the examples of Fr Alec Reid and Rev Ken Newell, he makes the case that Christian discipleship means ‘that you have to love your neighbour, love your enemy, cross those boundaries. …
‘When I read the Christian scriptures in the context of Northern Ireland and hear Jesus saying “love your enemy,” I don’t have much thinking to do to work out where that happens. It happens when we cross those boundaries that are historic.’
Past winners of the award include Linda Ervine, NI Assembly Speaker William Hay and former Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
Photo, l to r: Rev Steve Stockman, Peter Osborne, CRC; Rev Ken Newell, former minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian, Fr Martin Magill
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