In the midst of some disappointing news in Northern Ireland over the past week, there is something very positive happening.
The week long images of streets on fire across Belfast, and elsewhere, was a horrible reminder of how sectarianism can so quickly raise its ugly head and leave some of our communities polarised and too easily turn to violence.
Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol and the fall out of the Bobby Storey funeral has unsettled our fault-lines and when politicians seek to play to their voters in such shifts it can get even more dangerous.
Something is different though and I do not want us to miss it. Indeed I long that we notice it, highlight and encourage it.
The Churches are making joint statements and they are being heard. To hear politicians at Westminster quoting church leaders has lifted my soul.
A few years ago I was involved in Peace Talks with the politicians and military leaders of a country with its own divisions and violence. Professor John Brewer was explaining to this group that Northern Ireland’s Troubles were not religious. It was more political and tribal.
Much as I agreed that the murder and bombings of our Troubles were not about justification by faith, how we revere Jesus mother Mary or about what the bread and wine become and do during Communion, I did think that there was religious dimension.
I guess I was actually influenced by John Brewer’s writings about the churches lack of involvement in peace and reconciliation during those horrific years. Yes, we can look to Fr Alec Reid who was so instrumental in getting the IRA into talks and others like Rev Harold Good and Rev Ken Newell along with Fr Gerry Reynolds as contributors to the peace we finally found in the 90s.
However, my argument was that the hierarchy of Churches were not seen as crossing our sectarian boundaries. They skirted around each other, many of their clergy holding back real contributions. As a result though the war on the street was not at all religious, there was a religious apartheid that mirrored the streets, almost endorsed it.
As well as that it meant that the Churches were not involved in their calling to be peace makers. We have every right to stand accused of a passive complicity.
Something has changed. It is a good thing. We are beginning to see 4 Church leaders together. We are seeing them not just having a civil cup of tea together we are hearing joint statements. During the Troubles, Churches were accused of pastoring their own communities rather than making prophetic statements into the whole community.
We must have it. I am delighted that at the moment we do. Watching Church leaders being honest about their differences but to find common ground where they can make comment about ways to fuel the common good. Standing together. Being photographed together. Speaking together. It challenges the divisions and gives an alternative. Thank you.