(this is something close to the speech I made after receiving the Community Relations Council Award for Civic Leadership that I was awarded with my mate Fr Martin Magill!)
Thank you so much to Peter Osborne, Chair of the Community Relations Council, for presenting Fr Martin Magill and I with this year’s Civic Leadership Award. It was a surprise. I was honoured enough when Peter attended a 4 Corners’ Festival event. I was thrilled when he encouraged us that we were doing something positive. To receive an award is something beyond my dreams.
The last award I won was the Ballymena & District Under-18 Tolland Cup for goodness sake. And that day I ran like a demented whippet up and down the left wing in order to win that Cup. Fr Martin and I don’t do what we do to win awards. But I will take it because in what we do this kind of recognition doesn't come often!
After the sense of surprise my next thought was gratitude and utter delight that what we do has gotten noticed. When you do what we do it is hard to know what impact you are really making and so to be recognised in this way is such an encouragement.
What is particularly pleasing to me is that it is not a Religious Award. I have always believed that following Jesus should benefit everyone I come across and the whole society that a Church worships within. If it doesn’t I wonder if it is worth anything at all. In one of our first cups off coffee, chatting about 4 Corners Festival we wanted to take belief in Jesus out of the walls of Churches and imaginatively make a contribution to peace and reconciliation on the streets of Belfast. This award suggests we maybe have!
There are many people to thank:
Janice and my girls who take the brunt of my vocation. They are the ones who put up with my mind drifting and being distracted with ideas and schemes. Particularly during the 4 Corners Festival, Janice thinks I talk to Fr Martin more than to her!
When Martin and I spoke at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, we got the speech up on the web when we arrived home. Janice took that opportunity to let the dog out for a wee! I asked her did she not want to see the speech? She said that she had heard it in the front room, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom and was actually there when I did it live. She didn’t need to hear it AGAIN! My girls take a lot! Thank you!
Fitzroy. This was not happening without you. You are the congregation who changed me from a passive peacemaker to an active one. Your history and your reconciliation ministry is legendary and you have given me the opportunity to do this work.
Session. When I apologised for taking too much time over our Ard Fheis speech you told me you needed to help me find time to do it. I hope this award goes some way to making you feel that is worth it.
Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship. You have made a big contribution to this. Over thirty years of fellowship has been a wonderful inspiration. Clonard. It is lovely to have some of you here today. Ed and Audrey Peterson thank you for coming to share this moment.
4 Corners Festival Committee. This award has 4 Corners written all over it. Your time and gifts and commitment. Thank you guys. The Festival has opened so many doors for Martin and I. We are indebted to you all.
Then there are the mentors. Trevor Morrow was a massive influence on my theology and praxis when he moved to Lucan in the early 80s. He taught me to think differently about relationships with Catholics.
Ken Newell and Fr Gerry Reynolds. You are the shoulders of giants that I, and Martin, stand on. It was lovely to have Ken and Val with us today. I have said much about his influence on my life and ministry at his book launches recently. His example in the wider society and his wisdom into my own life have made a huge impact.
I have missed Fr Gerry at Ken’s book launch and now today. I remember walking across the Alexander Hall here in Fitzroy, years before I was minister. I wondered if I should shake hands with a Catholic priest. I did and his spirituality washed right through me. I am so sad that he is not here. He was so pleased when Martin and I formed a friendship. I know he would be proud today.
And of course… Fr Martin obviously. Without him I would not be here. A few years ago we had a coffee very near Fitzroy. When we came out of the coffee shop, I turned left and he turned right. We discovered later that both of us were taken by that meeting. I remember thinking that something had just started and I actually remembering wondering where it might end up. Well this award is one destination!
Fr Martin and I always say that peace and reconciliation is not rocket science. It is all about friendship. When we cross the divisions to make friends, our friendships ripple out to others. I become friends with people around Sacred Heart and Martin becomes friends with people in Fitzroy… and then beyond to Cliftonville soccer matches or festivals and rock concerts.
We took a decision early on not to contrive anything. We decided that if we built a friendship then we would be in a good position if we got opportunities to do something. From that came 4 Corners Festival, a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, various international peace talks and all kinds of things.
Can I end by saying that we are all leaders. Someone led me into supporting Manchester City, someone led me into being a Beatles’ fan. Someone led me to faith in Jesus. All the time we are influencers of others in our conversations and passions. If we become intentional with those friendships, in who we befriend and what we do within friendships, then we can be leaders who impact our society. Let’s all do it!
So can I thank CRC once again. I think it is an award that I will gaze across a room at for encouragement and energy when I am maybe discouraged or weary.
Now I would like to ask Chris Wilson to come and sing The 4 Corners Song. I wrote a poem and sent it to Chris. He ripped it up and wrote something else but what he wrote captured the vision of my poem. It sums up all that Fr Martin and I want to do… and what the 4 Corners festival is all about…