Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Goode who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the third in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the influences from his father's experience and from his experiences in mostly white and mostly black churches in the Midwest of the United States of America. Next we learn of his experiences upon his return to Ireland.

When he was due to return to Ireland in 1968, he asked to be placed in a “quiet” parish, perhaps a rural parish, if possible somewhere in the midlands of Ireland due to the fact his wife had grown up there. Part of his ministry had been in the Republic of Ireland. That's where he met his wife, who knew nothing about Northern Ireland. These connections to middle Ireland were part of the balance which had been produced in his life. She and he thought they needed a break from all the pressures they'd been through professionally, and the burdens of raising two little girls they'd brought into the world. They had in their minds five years in Ireland to undo the pressure of the wonderful but sometimes trying experiences they'd faced, and then they'd move back to the States.

The word came back that instead of going to the midlands of Ireland, they were going to Shankill Road (There was a stir in the crowd, probably because Shankill Road was a hotspot within the hotspot of Belfast during the Troubles). Within a year they found themselves in a very different spot. They just did their best because they believed in their hearts they must do what they were called to do. Ministerial reconciliation is part of the package.

Not everyone in those parts of Ireland sees it that way.

Reverend Goode remembers Father Murphy, who is the administrator of one of the cathedrals not far down the road from the Forth Spring Center. Father Murphy often had the same thoughts as Reverend Goode at the same time. Father Murphy and Reverend Goode thought at least a slender bridge between the two sides in the conflict should be established in the Shankill Road. They thought the people of the church should do it, as no one else appeared like they'd do it. They invited as many of the clergy as would come to meet together. It was the first time a meeting like this had been called in this type of setting. The meeting was good.

At the end of it, the clergy decided to meet again, and that they should bring some of their main people with them, non pastors and ministers. Then the discussion was, well where then would they meet? Because the meeting would have more than clergy, they couldn't meet in the Falls Road, couldn't meet in the Shankill Road. All the potential places had heavy associations with one side or the other. Those from the opposite side, literally wouldn't be safe in the opposite area from the group they were part of.

There was one Presbyterian minister who was very opposed to all things ecumenical, but he'd come to the meeting. His name was Donald Gillies, and he said in his Scottish accent, “I don't mind coming to this upcoming meetin, but I want to make one thing clear: There must be no praying. If you want to meet and have a cup of tea, that's all right, but there'll be no praying together.”

Father Murphy couldn't get his head around this, and queried, “You're saying we can't pray together?”

Reverend Gillies said, “No. No-No. No praying together. Tea is all right.”

To accommodate this man and to make sure he came with us, we agreed there would be no praying.

But there was no resolution of where to meet.

At the end of the day, Reverend Goode remembered there was a Jewish leader who had said he knew he wasn't Catholic or Protestant, but if there was any way he could help to let him know. So Reverend Goode phoned him up to ask would there be any chance of the group meeting in the synagogue?

The leader said it would be wonderful, of course. So it was agreed the meeting would be at the synagogue.

The Jews brought the Christians together.

And the Jews put on great suppers for them all so there was no question about not going back to them again, because the suppers were so wonderful!

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage".

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