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the Church

northern ireland · post conflict past │ future │ now

The Church is charged with bringing good news, hope and life. It has a unique role to play in Northern Ireland. There are questions of leadership and direction in the public square following the Troubles, the Belfast Agreement and more recently the Haass talks. Here are some timely questions we are asking ourselves as the local Church.

Failure to find political agreement reminds us that followers of Jesus have an important role to play here in moving us all beyond legal agreements and institutions into relationships of grace. What can we as Church do to improve relationships in our society?

Simply put, the Church has not always got it right. On occasion earthly empires have been confused with the kingdom of God. At times the Church has been too vocal, at other times deafeningly silent. Culture, politics and religion have been confused. What do we as Church need to stop doing? What do we as Church need to start doing?

God pre-dates and transcends the many labels used in Northern Ireland. There are legitimate theological differences between Protestant and Catholic churches and between established and new churches, but there are also unhelpful artificial barriers. How do we as Church disagree well? How do we embrace diversity, while honouring Christ’s prayer for unity?

The Church is a missional body of believers across the globe. The Church must constantly ask if the way it ministers enables it to reach across class, age, race and gender. Locally, it must also ask if the flying of national flags and singing the national anthem is impacting its mission positively or negatively. The issue is not about right and wrong, but what is wise and what is missional. What are we as Church prepared to give up/lay down to see people transformed by Jesus?

For over a thousand years a rich Christian heritage has shaped the culture of this island. Today we continue to seek the peace and prosperity of this place. Could we as Church, help our community to creatively celebrate and commemorate things that aren't linked to one side defeating the other? Are there new spaces in the public square to work collaboratively on issues like family, well-being, social justice and sanctity of life?

There is no biblical mandate to parade or prohibition against it. People have the freedom to parade and to express their culture within the law. The question for the Church is a missional one. Can we have the important conversation about the place of loyal institutions within the mission of the Church?

Jesus calls us to love God and love our neighbour. The simple act of opening our homes is not just Christian hospitality but an intentional contribution to good relations. More controversially, Jesus calls us to love our enemies. This is so revolutionary to our cultural norm that violence erupted recently at an event on forgiveness. We inhabit a new dimension of human relationships. It can't be forced or legislated for, it's a work of grace. How do we as Church ensure that love, hospitality, forgiveness and grace are part of our defining characteristics?

The Church in the context of Northern Ireland must seek to move peace-making from the margins to the mainstream. Missionaries to Gaza, Bosnia or Sri Lanka would not be sent out without some training in the conflict of that culture. How should we be Church in our post-conflict culture? How are we as Church training our ministry students and members in this context?

It is imperative that we learn how to pass peace-making on to the next generation. Peacemaking language isn't fashionable compared to other social justice issues and can be lost on a younger generation of Christians who see the Troubles as a previous generation's moral failure. Can we as Church create new language and fresh ways of communicating reconciliation and conflict resolution?

The Church co-works in God’s redemption of broken things as a practical place of hope and healing. There are joint Church initiatives on addictions, suicide, prayers for healing, debt advice centres, pastoral care and chaplaincy work, care homes, foodbanks and social enterprises. The Church is bursting with good news stories of physical, social and spiritual transformation. Like the broken loaves and fish, the Church can miraculously stretch a long way. How can we as Church better tell these stories?

There are significant opportunities to meet local MLAs from all backgrounds to share hopes and practical ideas about flags, parades and the past. If enough people give voice to a brave new vision then radical things will happen. Can we as Church reflect our unity and diversity by creating a new, hopeful mandate?

Our cultural, political and spiritual forebears continue to influence us today. How can we as Church give permission to new generations to think and dream differently about the future of this island?

Speaking at a recent PCI event, Professor Donald McLeod concluded that the purpose of the Church in the public square is to warm it. We have had a process of decommissioning, but we continually seek to disarm a suspicious society with grace and love. Above all, we need to provide the hopeful counter-narrative. The Church should be the least judgemental, most forgiving, justice-orientated, mercy-full, welcoming, generous, creative and hopeful place in our community. Our identity as Christ-followers is prophetic - speaking truth, priestly - carrying God’s presence and royal – we are children of the King. We have access to all authority on earth and in heaven. This identity must re-shape our relationships with each other and the people around us.

We offer this as a respectful provocation.

The Church, Northern Ireland - post conflict  

The Church is charged with bringing good news, hope and life. It has a unique role to play in Northern Ireland. There are questions of leade...