(Fr Martin Magill and I were asked to write this piece for Community Relations Week and International Peace Day... might be published tomorrow!)
“But we only had a cup of coffee.” That was our immediate response when we received the surprising, if thrilling news, that we were the recipients of this year’s Civic Leadership Award from the Community Relations Council Of Northern Ireland.
On the day we were presented with the Award in our home Churches of Sacred Heart Parish in North Belfast and Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in South Belfast we had to investigate our lives to work out why!
Maybe in Community Relations Week, or on International Peace Day (September 21st), some us think that we cannot do anything to bring our divided country together. Perhaps we think that it is for the big players, international peacemakers, politicians, religious gurus. We beg to differ.
What we have become more and more convinced of since receiving the Civic Leadership Award is that making a contribution to peace and reconciliation is not some big grand clever plan but an accumulation of small things. We only had a cup of coffee.
Of course that cup of coffee was loaded with meaning. The two of us, drinking that first coffee and the many ever since, were from across the community divides. At the time, one of us was living in Lenadoon and the other just off the Malone Road. One was a Catholic Priest and the other a Presbyterian minister. The coffee moved us out of our comfort zones.
It was like a depth charge that sent ripples out from its drinking. Those ripples effected us. They then effected the friends and communities we live in. They then rippled out beyond that and we have found ourselves in all kinds of fascinating places.=
Another cup of coffee and we were sharing how we were completely unaware of large swathes of Belfast. Steve described going up to Lenadoon as going through CS Lewis’s Narnia wardrobe into a world he had never been. Martin would talk about getting lost in East Belfast trying to find events at the East Belfast Festival.
So, we conjured a Festival where we might encourage people to cross their comfort zones, explore their wonderful and wounded city, meet each other and maybe suggest a cup of coffee. For us the success of any 4 Corners Festival event is when people from across our communities bring out their mobile phones to take each others numbers. Relationship is born. Community relations change. The ripples go on.
So, we have become firm believers that friendships are transformational. A Catholic Priest and a Presbyterian minister walking into a Cliftonville soccer match or turning up at a rock concert or even just in both of our Churches. Being together, laughing with each other, liking each other’s company. In the simplicity of that, prejudices can be challenged, walls can be broken down, community relationships can be developed.
When we look across a room and glance our award we are encouraged that we might be right that it is all about an accumulation of the small things. We are inspired to continue our work. We are reminded that it might be time for another cup of coffee!