Added on 24/06/2014
‘Dare to Hope’
Above: L–R: Bishop Donal McKeown (Chair of ICPP), Keith Hamilton (Director ICPP), Rt Revd Dr Michael Barry (Presbyterian Moderator), Bishop John McDowell (CoI Bishop of Clogher), Revd Dr Donald Watts (President ICC), Mrs Joan Doherty (ICPP Vice Chair, Methodist Church)
The Irish Churches Peace Project (ICPP) marked its first year of activity with an event entitled ‘Our Journey in Peace Building – Stories, Reflections, Conversations’, at Malone House Belfast on 20 June 2014, bringing together around 70 people from across Northern Ireland and the border region to reflect on what has been achieved through ICPP’s work so far and to discuss how best to build on the various initiatives already undertaken, underway and in development. ICPP Good Relations Officers, people who have been inspired ‘on the ground’, clergy and lay people from various Churches, a number of politicians and partner agency representatives listened to presentations and conversed with one another in discussion groups over the course of a stimulating morning.
Bishop Donal McKeown, ICPP Chair, set the scene for the session, saying that the event was ‘not just an exercise in accountability or to boast about achievements’ but about focusing on Christ–centred reconciliation in order to develop the ‘skills and confidence to keep the work going long into the future’. He spoke about ‘the tremendous degree of enthusiasm to stand together on common issues’ which was now evident and ‘a desire to give common witness in stressful times’ set against the backdrop of the recent challenging Dr Paul Nolan Peace Monitoring Report (Community Relations Council). Bishop McKeown suggested that despite the challenging context, in fact ‘many in the faith communities are energised’, believing ‘that ordinary pragmatic solutions can and will be found’ and ultimately peacebuilding and reconciliation ‘can be done’.
ICPP Good Relations Officers (GROs) shared some of their project–based news: Glenn Harvey (Fermanagh and the Border Region) introduced Monsignor Peter O’Reilly of Enniskillen who spoke about his strong working relationship with Dean Kenny Hall which had stemmed from HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee visit to the town and the decision which he and Dean Hall took to work and give media interviews together ‘not just for symbolic significance’ but also to move away from the language and perception of ‘two communities’. This had been built upon by cultivating friendships beyond clergy to wider society and the success of a ‘Leadership Meal’ in Enniskillen – one of several stories about impacting upon society to be found in the recently published ICPP Annual Report for 2013 which was also profiled at the event.
Emily Brough, GRO for Armagh, Dungannon and Cookstown, spoke about work in the Mid–Ulster area. In addition to the ‘Go and do thou likewise’ clergy conference on the legacy of the Troubles held in Coalisland, creative work had been undertaken at a cross–community away day at Corrymeela on the theme of forgiveness which participant Libby Keys outlined. She spoke about the depth of pain which still exists for many as well as apathy and resistance to peacebuilding and the need to ‘keep continuing to create the spaces’ for conversation and encounter. ‘Peacebuilding requires patience and persistence … it is a process not an event or project and needs to be long–term’, she concluded.
Introduced by Peter McDowell, Newry and Mourne GRO, Aneta Dabek and Artur Kmiecik, both originally from Poland, spoke about the work of bringing wide–ranging ethnic communities together with local people in partnership with EMBRACE and enriching each other through explaining different cultural perspectives as well as hearing from local people about their own direct experiences on a visit to Derry.
Elizabeth Lightbody of Joanmount Methodist Church spoke about her own active participation in a project with Sacred Heart Parish facilitated by Laura Coulter (GRO for Greater Belfast). The project allowed people to move from getting to know one another to exploring identity and faith, spiritual journeys and culture and politics together. As evidenced in this work in North Belfast, progress is achieved through taking small but significant steps.
Keith Hamilton, ICPP Director, said that the Peace Project’s work was about reducing the fear factor in talking to one another. Work so far has been wide–ranging from community hubs to housing estates to youth work to anti–poverty initiatives. He said that ICPP was designed, as he saw it, to bring all the Churches together as ‘a beach–head’ – ‘a safe place to start and now a secure one from which to build’.
Small groups discussed the impact of the ICPP thus far and the required next steps, highlighting the desire to ‘add value’ to local communities and to raise the profile as well as bring an international dimension to it – something which will be enhanced by a conference planned for Spring 2015.
Local MLAs attending – Alban Maginness, Trevor Lunn and Danny Kinahan – also all spoke about the opportunity which the ICPP’s work affords as a catalyst for organic change, using the Churches’ collective resource and its mission for the transformation of relationships between people to work for reconciliation across society. The MLAs encouraged all in the Churches to engage with politicians and civic society, Alban Maginness concluding that it was imperative to ‘put reconciliation at the heart of a society which can move from co–existence to real and living partnership’.
In conclusion, Bishop McKeown said that everyone involved with ICPP’s work should ‘dare to hope’ and, encouraged by the stories and reflections shared, ‘not be afraid’ to work wholeheartedly for reconciliation.
Paul Harron, Church of Ireland Press Officer – on behalf of the ICPP
For further information on ICPP, see: www.icpp.info