Bishop John McDowell: Building respect and seeking new perspectives on the “new Ireland”

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St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, where services were held during the General Synod last week. The cathedral will also host the Centennial Service of Hope and Reflection in Armagh later this month.

I STATED last year that I was concerned about certain diplomatic and political currents and developments within and between these islands which had the potential to erode many of the gains, particularly in Northern Ireland, achieved, for example, by the Belfast / Good Friday Accord, and Legacy Agreements.

These pressures persist and have intensified where appropriate. And they will continue to do so as long as Northern Ireland is governed by policies that primarily meet the needs of places other than Northern Ireland, wherever they are.

Indeed, all of Ireland is starting to look like it was in the 17th century, with Europe’s belligerent superpowers beating it for supremacy, but leaving behind social and political divisions that will be difficult to heal. .

Nowadays, weapons are not made of iron and steel but of bitter words and manipulations of facts and emotions.

Sometimes the opposing parties can pull on each end of the diplomatic rope so hard that the knot becomes so tight that it is very difficult to untie.

This counts for those whose main allegiance is to the God of peace whose Apostle exhorts us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in this island where we inhabit.

With this in mind, I want to pay a public tribute to the late Pat Hume, who passed away in early September. Her silent, totally invisible, hard, consistent and permanent work for peace and good relations on this island and between these islands was of untold value, and I thank God for every memory of the work she did and of her influence she has had and, to convey to her family our most sincere condolences and the assurance of our prayers.

In public discourse on these islands, we risk reverting to a situation where we consider someone we disagree with as (to borrow an expression) “an Amalekite who is attacked in the hip and thigh. “.

Strong feelings are inevitable, they spring up in us. Strong and deceptive words are not; we can control them and be careful with them. In God’s creation, words are ordered to the truth. And the truth always ages well.

Above all, good Anglo-Irish relations matter more than ever. It has not been unusual for me in episcopal ministry to have been in a parish in Northern Ireland in the morning to pray for Her Majesty The Queen and in a parish in the Republic of Ireland in the afternoon to pray for the president.

Indeed, it is one of the great privileges of ministry in an island church to do so. But if that means anything and having any integrity, then I must not only pray, but also work for the good of both places.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has, I think, broadened our horizons. It is a global crisis; a global pandemic. And the Church of Jesus Christ is a world religion. “For God so loved the world …” gives a faint indication of the extent and depth of his love.


Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell, who delivered his General Synod presidential address online.

We are now called as citizens and as Christians to meet the challenges of creating a new world based on a new set of relationships.

Relationships matter. The path that Jesus Christ opened for us to enter into a new relationship with his Father, and the implications this has for all other relationships.

Maybe our relationships with each other in the church are a good place to start to get that life back. A life of simplicity, truth and tolerance which is a life of service in the places where we live. We are a family, and as I never tire of saying, families derive their strength and interest from where siblings differ from each other, rather than where they are similar.

As a Church with members all over the island, we have a vocation to show how to maintain a kind of non-political unity in the face of these forces; differences within the family.

To give an example, this centenary year of the founding of Northern Ireland and Saorstát Éireann had the potential to divide with different interpretations of these important events becoming a flashpoint for bitter words and hardening of attitudes. .

To some extent, the restrictions necessary to control the spread of Covid-19 have blunted the edge of any extravagant commemoration of these events. Of course, this does not relieve us of the responsibility to think about it critically, and this within a particularly Christian frame of reference.

And the fundamental principle of this frame of reference for us is “You will love your neighbor as yourself”. In any case, as the late John Hume often said: “A country is its people.

It is for this reason that the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) tried to make a small, though I think important, contribution to the year in our St. Patrick’s Day Declaration.

In that statement (and on shows and other events since), we were able to recognize the shortcomings and failures of ourselves as churches, but also highlight the good things we have inherited in this prosperous part of the world.


Leaders of Ireland’s main churches – pictured giving a message for St. Patrick’s Day this year – have worked closely during the pandemic and in considering the ‘decade of the centenarians’

Let me quote something from this statement: “[Churches] to have the opportunity, by marking these events from our past, to intentionally create spaces of encounter with those who are different from us and those who may feel marginalized in the narratives that have shaped our community identity.

“It will force us to face difficult truths about the failures of our own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation.

“As Christian churches we recognize and lament the times when we have failed to bring to a fearful society this message of the deeper connection that binds us, despite our different identities, as children of God. , created in his image and likeness.

“We have often been captive churches: not captives of the Word of God, but idols of state and nation … Churches, alongside other civic leaders, have a role to play in providing spaces outside political structures that express our interdependence and shared concern for the common good. “

We were able to write and work together in this way because we had taken the time (and to some extent the pandemic had provided us with the time to Zoom) to meet and share our stories and thoughts.

While each of us undoubtedly has political leanings, we have tried to view these important historical events simply as disciples of Jesus Christ, who have been called to a particular form of leadership in the service of the Kingdom: our first and ultimate. allegiance.

I don’t want to exaggerate what we have done or what we have achieved. We were talking to each other and to some extent also working together; we did not rule together, as we ask our political leaders of different traditions to do.

Nonetheless, it was an honest attempt to respect the differences. And “respect” is the key. When you respect someone and they know you are listening to their words without passing judgment on what you cannot hear or see (the intentions and secrets of their heart), then, over time, a real communion grows and the differences seem not to matter as much as the bond of peace.

Later this month we will be hosting a Hope and Reflection Service in Armagh to enable a very wide range of people from the north and south, young and old, and from different ethnic backgrounds to come together to reflect on the different accounts of our common history. but multiple experiences of the partition of Ireland and the founding of the State of Northern Ireland.

The preacher in this service will be the President of the Methodist Church of Ireland, Dr Sahr Yambasu from Sierra Leone, who will bring us new perspectives of “the new Ireland”.

Behind all of this lies the deeper question of “How do we want to live?”

Here’s an answer, but not the answer, from an unusual source, at least for a Northern Prod.

In a later parodied and derided radio speech he gave on St. Patrick’s Day 1943, Éamon de Valera spoke of the island he and his generation dreamed of.

It would be, he said: “… the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis of a just life, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted his leisure time to things of the spirit … the home of a people living the life that God desires men to live. “

The language is dated and over-gendered, but in a more modern version, what is wrong with reverting to a much simpler way of life given the plundering of Earth’s resources and the exploitation of the poor in poor countries to keep us richly secure?

And who wouldn’t want their children to be healthy and relieved of lingering worry about what will happen to them if they get sick or get old?

Live in an integrated society of men and women, living in peace with themselves and their neighbors, and who have seen their humanity deepened and not stunted by living the life that God desires.

Why, as a Church, wouldn’t we move heaven and earth to play our part in making these things happen?


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