This morning saw the launch of the Northern Ireland Good Relations Awards 2023. They were held at The Hill of O'Neill & Ranfurly House in Dungannon. Fr Martin Magill and I were honoured to receive the Civic Leadership Award in 2016 and were asked to say a few words about what the award meant to us.
I better be careful to get this right. My notes are on the page across from Sunday’s sermon. Well actually, while I have you... I ended my sermon on Sunday with words from a new book by James K A Smith, a Professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes:
“Our past is not what we have left behind; it’s what we carry. It’s like we have been handed a massive ring of jangling keys. Some of them unlock possible futures. Some of them have enchained our neighbours. We are thrown into the situation of trying to discern which is which."
I have brought my Award with me today. Firstly it means a lot to me and secondly my daughter won an Award at Stranmillis College and so mine that used to sit on the mantel piece is now on the hearth! I wanted to lift it up again.
The Award meant a lot to me for various reasons. As someone said at the time I wasn’t getting it from my denomination who actually paid no attention to me winning it. It meant a lot that it came from civic society.
It meant a lot that I won it jointly with Fr Martin. This was an Award given for friendship. A very remarkable friendship for sure. I look back at Kairos moments in my life. Life changers. My conversion experience as teenager, my call to ministry, meeting my wife for the first time. Another such moment was meeting Martin. We both left our first cup of coffee wondering what just happened. It was like a vocational call to friendship that we knew was going to go somewhere and little did we know where.
It also meant a lot for me to share it with Fitzroy a congregation who encourages me in all this peacemaking. And the 4 Corners Festival committee and board. This was for them and the work that they do for the Festival.
My family. The photo of this trophy with my Janice and Caitlin and Jasmine is a treasure. They sacrificed for me to do what I do.
And my mum. She passed away just a few months after we received the award and I hope it told her that I wasn’t wasting my life.
The day we received the award Peter Osborne asked me what it meant to me. I told him that I hoped that it would see me through the down moments, the difficult times. That when I felt like giving up I would look at the award and it would lift me and keep me going. I think it has.
A few months ago Martin and I went into spend some time with Pope Francis. A couple of days later another denomination wrote to a news paper trying to get me sacked. That is when I look at the Award even if it is now on the hearth.
Also, whether Martin and I should meet the Pope, you gotta think, “It’s like we have been handed a massive ring of jangling keys. Some of them unlock possible futures. Some of them have enchained our neighbours.”
So thank you so much for this Award. As the ancient text says, “let us consider how to spur one another on towards love and good deeds” (Hebrew 10:24). Thank you for spurring me on!
The James K A Smith’s book that I quote is How To Inhabit Time; Understanding The Past, Facing The Future, Living Faithfully Now.