There are those people in your life who simply bless you by sharing your space. Fr Gerry Reynolds was one of those. He was simply a human being full of the grace of Jesus. He had that gentle fruit of the Spirit in everything he did. His love for his Saviour and desire to live for him, share him with others and offer himself to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it was in heaven were inspirational. He was always reaching across divides, always keen to love neighbour and potential enemy. Dorothy Day once wrote, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” If that is our judge then Fr Gerry Reynolds loved God more than any other human being I ever met.
I remember the very first time I shook his hand. It was in Fitzroy maybe a decade before I became the minister there. He approached me with that gentle grace. I was immediately drawn in. I was brought up to be suspicious of Catholicism and kept my spiritual distance. His Christlikeness simply eroded that gap that I had set up.
When I became minister of Fitzroy Sandra Rutherford, a continuing force in the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship, took me for lunch with Fr Gerry in Clonard Monastery. It was the birth of a wonderful friendship and experience of spiritual enriching. Ever since, every time Fr Gerry walked into a room and we hugged I was simply blessed.
I have sat with him at the bed of the terminally ill, I have walked with him in the garden at Clonard while he recited a Psalm, I have prayed with him in the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship, we have shared in baptism, weddings and funerals, we met President Michael D Higgins together and just two weeks ago I had the privilege of him sharing at the Opening of the new Fitzroy Halls. Every one was a privilege that I thank God that I had. I cannot even imagine not hearing those grace filled tones of his voice and that sense that here is someone who loves me unconditionally. People like that are few and far between.
I loved his deep desire for the unity of Christ’s Church, even though as a contrary wee Presbyterian from Ballymena it was not on my priority list! I loved his passion for the Eucharist but, even though I saw the hurt in his face that he couldn’t give me the elements, Janice and I were happier with the blessing; for us, rightly or wrongly, the word was central! I learned from his reverence for Mary but at times my Presbyterian sensibilities were a little uncomfortable.
Those differences were always accepted. We chatted about them in ways that I had never discussed difference before. There was a careful listening. That listening never felt prejudiced, as if he was just listening to come back at me to tell me where I was wrong. He respected my thoughts. He was willing to learn from my opinions. In all of this he taught me how I should deal difference.
All of that of course is what made him one of Northern Ireland’s leading Peacemakers. When Fr Alec Reid, who many would say was the architect of our current peace, left Clonard Fr Gerry took over the mantle. One of his first questions after coming to Belfast in 1983 was, “How can we stop the killing?” That gentle grace was a real resource in that question being answered.
Very quickly in arriving in Belfast he came across my predecessor in Fitzroy, Rev Ken Newell. The two men formed friendship that led towards peace. They not only brought a Catholic community off the Falls Road into fellowship with a Presbyterian community in South Belfast, a prophetic relationship in just its very existence, but they also gave a space for the peace talks that we now reap the benefit of. Fr Gerry and Ken’s contribution to our present day well-being should never be underestimated.
Yet, as my phone rang far too early this morning with this devastating news it was not that big work across society that I immediately grieved. It was the small work, in that smile, that quiet voice, that brotherly embrace. Goodness I will miss his presence. I am thankful for the six years when I have had the privilege of those moments and I am so glad that every time it happened I made the very most of it. Brother Father thank you. We will attempt to stand on your giant shoulders. We will carry your love and grace with us as we continue the Kingdom work you were so passionate and compassionate for. To God be the glory for a faithful life.