Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good (many sources spell his name “Good”) who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the second in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the influences when he was a child and young man. Next we learn of further influences from that time as well as later ones.

Reverend Good related another influence on him was his father who was the President of the Methodist Church of Ireland in his time. When the violence was just beginning in what would become known as The Troubles, the 30 year sectarian war in Ireland, the violence first flared in particular in the border areas. His father suddenly had to deal with the fact a young policeman from his congregation was murdered by sectarian assassins. His father was affected greatly from his prior history with the young policeman. His father had baptized the policeman and had known him as a child.

As a consequence, his father wrote a letter to the leaders of the other churches in Northern Ireland: Presbyterian, Church of Ireland (Related to the Episcopal Church in America), Roman Catholic, and Methodist. After his father passed away, Reverend Good found copies of the responses his father kept. His father's letter had asked the other religious leaders, “In the light of all that is happening in our land and in light of what looks like a potentially dangerous situation in this shift toward sectarian conflict, I feel we as leaders of our respective churches should meet.” Now, these leaders had never met and he suggested the four of them should meet to see if there was something they could do. All four replies are similar. They say, “It's a thoughtful idea. We appreciate your letter. But the time is not right.”

His father was shocked that the leaders of Christian communities could not bring themselves to work for peace. His father went to a Methodist Conference in 1959, and told the attendees how, in the absence of a support from the other leaders, he himself had gone to see the Republican leaders to plead with them not to engage in a campaign of violence, and to suggest to them that if they wanted to campaign for a united Ireland, they should do it in a non violent way. The “Republican leaders” phrase was probably a veiled reference to the IRA.

After telling us where he came from, Reverend Good noted his early experiences caused him to react as he transitioned into adulthood, rather than remaining unaffected.

Reverend Good decided he wanted to see the wider world, outside Ireland. He was given an opportunity of serving in Ohio. Shortly after he was married, he and his wife set off to serve on the staff in a large church in the Northeast Conference in Ohio as a youth pastor. He and his wife served for two happy years. After two years, he felt he had more to learn. He had an opportunity to go back to school, so he went to Indianapolis where he did Pastoral Education and got a Masters.

He wasn't to realize at the time the impact all this would have upon his ministry. It not only helped him to understand how you engage with people, it helped him look at a wholly different way of looking at how to engage people, and trying to understand people in situations he never would have encountered formerly. Not only did he get a Masters of Technical Education, while he was there in the mid-60s in the USA it was a difficult time. This was a defining time in history there and in the life of the churches too. He remembers extraordinary things.

When he was in the church in Ohio, there were two black families who wanted to join their church. There had to be a meeting of the church board to see if these black families could be admitted into membership in the church. Of course, the church had a long history of overseas missions to bring people who were entirely black into the family of God. So Reverend Good couldn't get his head around why the color of these people's skin was an issue. Now he heard things being said like he'd heard in Ireland, but the context was different. In Ireland the remarks weren't made about the color of someone's skin, but the color of someone's politics. He began to realize some of the parallels between racism and sectarianism, particularly the subtleties.

The people of that church would not thought of themselves as racist. They were saying is it fair to these people to have them come into our congregation? Will they be comfortable with us? What about some of our young people, will they feel comfortable with their children? He thought, “Where have I heard all this before?”

Later when he went to Indianapolis, he had made it known to his management he was available for any part time work in the church and such would go along with his studies. He ended up being a pastor at a church with an entirely black congregation. He was at this church when the news came Martin Luther King was assassinated.

He remembers very clearly that week and saying to the members of this church you'll want somebody from your own community to minister to you in on Sunday. He said he wasn't sure he'd be well equipped to minister to them in this situation. There was a wave of grief across the nation. It was a grief for a person who had symbolized all the things of which the black community had dreamed. But his congregants said no, you're our pastor. You minister to us. Then he found what it was like to try to enter into the feelings of a community where he didn't know so much.

This was another defining moment which lead him to his future.

This talk continues at this post entitled, "The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet"

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