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100 years: reflecting on the past - building a future together

A service led by the members of the Church Leaders’ Group, Ireland, marking of the centenary of the partition of the island of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.

A Service led by the members of the Church Leaders’ Group, Ireland, marking of the Centenary of the partition of the island of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland and exploring how to build a future marked by peace, commitment to the common good, in Christ, in whom all things hold together.
Taking part will be the Right Rev David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, the Rev Tom McKnight, President of the Irish Methodist Church and the Archbishops of Armagh, the Most Rev Eamon Martin and the Most Rev John McDowell.
With music by the New Irish Choir, directed by Jonathan Rea

Choicest Psalmody (Jonathan Rea)
All my hope on God is founded (MICHAEL: Herbert Howells)
The Deer’s Cry (Shaun Davey)
O Thou who camest from above (HEREFORD: SS Wesley)
Great is Thy Faithfulness (FAITHFULNESS WM Runyan)
Be Thou my vision (Irish traditional arr Rea)

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Sunday Worship - Script

OPENING ANNO BBC Radio 4. Sunday Worship today from Belfast is led by senior church leaders from four denominations in Ireland.  The service is introduced by the Rev Dr Heather Morris, Secretary of the Irish Methodist Church and begins with the New Irish Choir singing “Choicest Psalmody.”
Music : Choicest  Psalmody (Jonathan Rea)New Irish Choir and OrchestraBBC Recording
 Rev Heather Morris “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)
God is here.  Whether we are together or apart, gathered or scattered, God’s presence is with us as we join together in worship.
You are welcome to this Service of Reflection on what is a significant weekend. The Government of Ireland Act, which had the effect of partitioning the island of Ireland and which set in place the  formation of Northern Ireland, came into effect exactly 100 years ago tomorrow on  3rd May 1921.  This act of worship, when we remember but also seek a clear vision for the future, is led by the members of the Church Leaders Group (Ireland). Members of this Group include the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches and the Irish Council of Churches. All of these churches extend across both jurisdictions on the island.  This group meets frequently and works together on a number of significant areas.
Our history in Ireland has often been contested and marked by division, As Christian leaders, we acknowledge and lament the times when we failed to bring to a fearful and divided society the message of the deep connection which binds us as children of God. . And, under God, we affirm our shared commitment to building a future marked by peace, and commitment to the common good; in Christ, in whom all things are held together.
Music : All my hope on God is founded (MICHAEL: Herbert Howells)New Irish Choir and OrchestraBBC Recording
Following a prayer the Scripture Reading will be read by Rev Trevor Gribben, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Let us pray
Eternal God,You are the source of all life,The God of hope who grants peace,The well-spring of all grace.You are the God of challenge, who in Jesus crossed and broke down barriersAnd who in the power of your Spirit encourages your people to follow in your ways
We tell your story in every generation;God of Abraham, Isaac and JacobGod of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel,God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,God of a pilgrim people, your Church.
To you we lift up our hearts and we worship you,One God for ever and everAmen
 Rev Trevor Gribben Scripture Reading: Luke 10: 30-37:
We read from Luke Chapter 10 when Jesus tells a parable in answer to the question “Who is my neighbour?”
Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 3The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Rev Tom McKnight  As brothers and sisters in Christ and in the context of trust and strong relationships we can honestly and humbly acknowledge that reflecting on this Centenary, these Centenaries, evokes both warmth and sadness. I’m Tom McKnight, President of the Irish Methodist Church and   someone who's come to Northern Ireland relatively recently, I'm interested in hearing how my fellow Church leaders feel as they approach this anniversary, .John McDowell, you are the Anglican Archbishop how do you feel? 

Archbishop John McDowell:  It’s interesting that you ask about feelings... “How do I feel” about the centenary, rather than “what do I think”. Looking back over the history of NI, with the best will in the world, it’s not really possible to say “That all went well”. And my feelings too are quite varied. I suppose the feelings we have from childhood make the deepest impression because the wax of our characters is still soft then.  So, for that time, feelings of warmth and friendliness. It was a wonderful place to grow up in many ways.
Those feelings have sometimes been overshadowed, although never completely overwhelmed by the feelings of sorrow and even shame at some of the things that have happened during those hundred years. Perhaps the most dominant feeling over the older years of my life is of frustration at unfulfilled potential. What a waste of talent and ability, so much of it exported to other places who were in a position to make use of it in a way we weren’t able to organise ourselves to be.
So, feelings of gratitude and great happiness but with a bit of a sigh never too far behind.

Rev Tom McKnight  Eamon Martin. You’re the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh
Archbishop Eamon Martin: As someone just within the border of Northern Ireland, The emergence of partition and the border in 1921 has particular significance for me and my family.  Around that time my grandparents (on my father’s side) bought a small farm right on northern side of the Derry -Donegal border so my father’s childhood was spent there. My maternal grandparents on the other hand lived just inside the Irish Free State on the Donegal side of the border. Like many Catholics and Irish nationalists I look back on what happened on this island 1921 with sadness, seeing it as a time of separation, a moment of loss even. In many ways partition institutionalised difference, and sadly it became a symbol of cultural, political and religious difference between the communities here. Still, my father and mother fell in love despite the border separating their families – they married and set up home in Derry which is just a few miles on the northern side of the border. That’s where I grew up, always conscious somehow my home city had been cut off from its natural hinterland by partition one hundred years ago.

Tom    Rev Dr David Bruce is the Presbyterian Moderator.
Rev Dr David Bruce : My father, was a strong influence in my life and a committed member of the Presbyterian Church,. Had he lived, he would have been 100 next year, so the life of Northern Ireland almost exactly mirrors his. His was a story of determined resilience and personal growth – during his life his family moved from a small county Derry farm in childhood to grammar school, university and ultimately a career in medicine. On the way he navigated the great depression of the 1930s, the upheaval of the Second World War, the optimism of the 1950s, and then the long hard years of the Troubles through to his retirement in 1986. He could have left Northern Ireland, but he chose to stay. He could have become bitter but he never did. He decided instead that this was his home and he would remain here and seek to make it better. So I find it difficult to think other than positively about this theatre stage upon which has been enacted the story of my family. But neither would I be human if I didn’t lament with a keen heart of grief over its deep-seated conflicts which have wounded us all. I have mixed feelings.

Music : The Deer’s Cry (Shaun Davey)New Irish Choir and OrchestraBBC Recording

Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson 
Speaking to the Senate and House of Commons of the new Northern Ireland Parliament on the 7th June 1921 His Majesty King George V said:  ”I pray that today may be the first step towards an end to strife ... and in that hope  I appeal to all Irishmen to pause, stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation and to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill”.
100 years later we are still some way off achieving  what was prayed for on that occasion.  However, that should not blind us to the fact that there is still much we can do together to build a healthy society.
Looking back we may wish that things had been different but the past ought not to be our master. It should teach us how foolish we have been at times and motivate us to do better right now in building a future where everyone matters.
We often blame those in leadership for lack of progress and, in some cases rightly so, as their silo mentality has made them reluctant to take risks in reaching across to those with whom they disagree.
They can often make statements or engage in actions that inflame the ’other side’. Even if that has some degree of truth it does not let us ’off the hook’ as individuals.  We each have a role to play.
Jesus said: ’blessed are the peacemakers’ and the Apostle Paul’s advice was: ’If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”
In the business of peacemaking the Christian Gospel invites all to love their neighbour. So as we seek to navagate a way through our contested past the Gospel calls us to fnd ways to heal relationships in the present and create the circumstances that will make for a hopeful future.
One of the few positives that Covid-19 has produced is a new sense of neighbourliness.  It has been so encouraging to see how the community has come together in care and helpfulness as people have reached across various divides to meet someone else’s need.  We need to continue in this spirit for the continued good of society. 
Christ’s teaching, ministry and sacrifice was offered in the context of a society that was politically divided, wounded by conflict and injustice. Yet He lived out this message of hope by repeatedly and intentionally crossing boundaries and affirming people of all sorts.  He did not seek to minimise differences but rather sought to establish connections and build relationships.
Jesus ‘ story of a Good Samaritan.  This provides a significant picture of how faith and practice should connect. 
When the legal expert asked, ‘And who is my neighbour’.  Jesus’ answer shows that the man was asking the wrong question.
His answer shows that we are not to pick and choose who is worthy of our help.  What counts is an inner attitude of spirit that acts compassionately toward ‘the other’ whoever that might be. 
The hero in the story is not the respected priest or the teacher of the law but the one who crossed religious and cultural divides to do what was right.  This was what Jesus approved of. 
This act of compassion, of the Samaritan, was set in a public space and involved political and community leaders.
The story sets a challenge to us all to act with respect and civility towards the other – people with whom we may fundamentally differ.
Above and beyond race, ethnicity, religion, politics or any of the other categories that separate, what binds us together is basic human compassion arising from the fact that we are all created in the image of God.
This story of the Good Samaritan speaks powerfully to a society that is fractured and is still broken.   If we are to heal our common life we need to resist being captive to our own agendas and to see each other through God’s eyes, building relationships of compassion and support as we love our neighbour.
This is challenging work to be engaged in. But it is the Jesus way for bringing healing and for Jesus it eventually took Him to sacrifice His life on the Cross.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ presents a radical call not only to embrace individually all that He offers us in His Gospel of redemption but in His name to choose to love our neighbour as ourselves.
As we look to the future can we, as King George V prayed 100 yerars ago, ’stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation and join in making for the land which we love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill.’

Music : O Thou who camest from above (HEREFORD: SS Wesley)New Irish Choir and OrchestraBBC Recording

Rev Tom McKnight:  So, where do we go from here? What are your hopes for this island - and these islands?
Archbishop Eamon Martin: The past year has reminded us of how interdependent we all are on this planet; that we are connected and that the future of life on earth - our common home - depends on cooperation, caring for one another and a recognition that we are all brothers and sisters in need of each other. All the more so, then on this beautiful and historic island of Ireland – if we want a hopeful and prosperous future our children and grandchildren, one which  free from the negativity, discord and pain and grief, then we need to be able to understand and appreciate that people here have different perspectives on our shared past, and diverse but legitimate aspirations about our shared future – my hope is that we can all learn to recognise Christ in others and build more of what Pope Francis in his recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti”  calls “social friendship” across borders and barriers, whether they be on land, or sea, or in our minds!

Rev Dr David Bruce: The Christian message is inherently hopeful and optimistic, because God has stepped in to rescue us, and set us on a path which leads to a glorious future in heaven. Yes, our past in Ireland has been conflicted and the scars from those days live with us, but “this is the day that the Lord has made – we will rejoice and be glad in it”. It is as if the Lord constantly gifts us with a new start. One thing that gives me great hope is the vision of an emerging generation of leaders – not only in the churches but in every department of life. They won’t be satisfied with the old paradigms of the past, but will want to map the future for themselves. Many of these “New Irish” weren’t born here, and have come to these shores with stories of their own to share with us. They will help us expand our view of the past, and give us a new song of joy to sing, as they join with us in our churches.

Archbishop John McDowell: “Where do we go from here”. That’s our choice. Up until now, or at least until quite recently, we have had no common culture. Nothing that everyone loved, apart from the landscape. Nothing that bound us together and kept us together as a whole society. We had separate identities and I think we actually quite liked being a divided society.
But there is a generation on the rise which believes that it can create its own identity. And that identity will be based around some very mundane things like houses and jobs, but also around some very profound things like a respect for the earth and its resources, which my generation hardly thought of. There is also a willingness to live with “difference” which is almost second nature to people under 40.
I would be hopeful for that generation, although I’m not so sure we have handed on much for them to be proud of. In some ways my generation had a rich heritage from the past, but we didn’t question it nearly enough or adapt it for the future. And as churches we were much more influenced by society than we influenced it. Maybe I’m being too critical. We’ll see perhaps there was some depth in it.
I am also hopeful that relationships within this island will mature and strengthen and find their own way along the unmapped territory ahead. I’m hopeful too about the East-West relationship in the long run. We are just too like each other to be anything other than brothers and sisters in the long run.

Rev Tom McKnight  As, in the grace of the Spirit, our Reflection prompts hope and action we are deeply mindful that consistently throughout Scripture God’s promise is that as we face challenges, humankind is not abandoned, never alone.
 Music : Great is Thy Faithfulness  (FAITHFULNESS  WM Runyan)New Irish Choir and OrchestraBBC Recording
 Our prayers are led by: Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, Monsignor Joe McGuinness, Executive Secretary of the Irish Episcopal conference and Rev Trevor Gribben and be me Very Rev Shane Forster, the Dean of Armagh and an Advisor to Archbishop McDowell  ,.
Sovereign, wise, and gracious God, in whose hands lie the past, present and future, we acknowledge before you our failures, our divisions, and the hurt we have caused you and one another.  Forgive, restore, and heal us.  The events of partition and formation, which took place one hundred years ago on the island of Ireland, changed, shaped, and determined the outlook for the place which many of us call home.  As we reflect upon those times and bring to mind what happened then and in the years since, we acknowledge before you our different and often polarised interpretations of history.  As we travel onwards in our journey, may we learn from the experiences of the past and from those who trod these roads before us, so that the inheritance we pass on to the next generation is the gift of understanding, peace, and hope. In faith we pray, and humbly ask, in the name of him who is the light of the world and giver of all hope, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Music : The Lord’s Prayer (Byzantine)The PriestsCD: The Priests Harmony (Sony) 
Loving God, as we reflect on our past, may we have truly learned from our mistakes and failures and from those occasions when only self- interest was served. Help us to look back with a new perspective and seeking forgiveness.  Help us to embrace and celebrate difference with a new understanding.  Grant us your mercy and the reassurance of your love. 
Loving God, as we live in the present, help us not to turn a blind eye to the history that has shaped us and these islands.  Give us a fresh understanding and a new vision.  Help us to deal sensitively with one another’s dreams and aspirations and to offer comfort and not hurt in times of pain and sorrow.  May the impact of the global pandemic have awakened in us a new appreciation of the fragile and sacred nature of human life.  Lord bring healing and wholeness to the world and to all your people.
Loving God, strengthen us and give us courage for our onwards journey.  Guide us in our thoughts, words and actions and grant us patience and wisdom particularly when the path seems unclear.  Help us to live fruitful lives, and may you lead us always in the ways of reconciliation and peace.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.May the love of the Father enfold youThe wisdom of the Son enlighten youThe fire of the Spirit enflame youAnd the blessing of God, the Three in OneBe upon you and abide with you, now and for everAmen
 Music : Be Thou my vision (Irish traditional arr Rea)New Irish Choir and OrchestraBBC Recording
CLOSING ANNO Sunday Worship was led by the members of the church leaders group (Ireland) and the preacher was the Very Reverend Dr Ivan Patterson. The New Irish Choir was directed by Jonathan Rea and the Lord’s Prayer sung by The Priests. The producer was Bert Tosh
The American monk, Thomas Merton wrote "The secret of prayer is hunger for God". Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York explores the question of how to pray – that’s in next week’s Sunday Worship.


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