Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blog Listing of Talk Given by Reverend Harold Good on Peace in Northern Ireland

Blog Listing of the Entire Talk Given by Reverend Harold Good on Monday 10 May 2010 at the Forthspring Community Center which resides in the Springfield Road Methodist Church:

Defining Moments

Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict

The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet

A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage

Indigenous and Settler People in Ireland

First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons

The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons

Prayer at IRA Weapon Decommissioning

Finishing the Reconciliation

The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation

The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation

On a Monday, May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the eleventh in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, we learned how some of the victims families have been the most ardent pursuers of peace. Next, he related to us:

Reverend Good said some people will want to talk about the agreement as the Belfast Agreement, but it is always known as the Good Friday Agreement. He believes in calling it the Good Friday Agreement because Good Friday comes before the resurrection. That agreement represents so much of the pain and anguish of the Irish community, but it has led them into a whole new way. For the Irish, the humbling thing is that people come from around the world to hear of their experiences with this agreement.

Reverend Good has made this presentation to a group of people from Iraq who wanted to come and hear the Northern Irish story. He said that's all the Northern Irish peacemakers can do is share their story. He believes they cannot tell other people how to solve their problems, but they can share their story. Hopefully, people will find some kind of pointer which will help them, just as the Irish peacemakers learned from others, particularly South Africa.

A question came from the audience: Did the Irish come together together to fight the Nazi and Fascist threat during World War II? Was that a useful teaching tool in the years since? It would seem the differences in Ireland would appear minimal compared to true evil.

He responded the Battle of the Somme is often cited as an example where many, many Irish of both traditions died side by side in World War I. Similarly, Irish volunteers died throughout World War II.

Reverend Good was thinking of this in church the other day. The Church was having their Christian Aid Sunday, where they try to determine how they will approach their war on poverty in the world. He asked himself why aren't we concentrating more on the thirty thousand children a day who are dying out of hunger and poverty? That's the evil we should be fighting.

Maybe we think the women in Afghanistan are not being treated the way we would like, but let's not make that a cause for war. He's more concerned about the 30,000 children who have no choice about anything except dying. He said if we can get our young people around the world to become involved in changing and in getting incited about, those are the causes we must get behind.

He said we must help our young people to travel more to see these things. He heard a young woman speak in church whose life is turned around because she's been to see some of this for herself. Some of the young people who think the world begins and ends on the Springfield Road or the Shankill Road, they need to discover the wider world. It's not just in Ireland. In the United States people need to see the world beyond their state boundary.

An audience question was about the stepping stones on a slide Reverend Good showed. He was asked if he could explain how “confidence” helps to create peace and reconciliation.

He thought its interesting because he's been away from the election in Ireland. But in the few days he's been back he sensed the people of Northern Ireland are confident. He said there is a remarkable result for the election. The people in Northern Ireland have voted hugely for the politicians and parties who want to move forward.

There was one politician named Jim Alister who represented the people who wanted to take them back. Not to violence, but to the days when there weren't any Nationalists or Republicans around the place. Mr. Alister wanted to take everyone back to the days when Unionists would rule everything, exclude everybody else. He totally opposed Unionists and Sinn Fein working together. He wanted to dismantle all of that. For awhile, he was feared. He's a highly skilled and trained lawyer. He's an advocate, what is called a Queen's Counsel in Northern Ireland. He was very persuasive.

But Mr. Alister got nowhere. He put up candidates in every constituency and they were all sunk without trace.

The people have voted their future overwhelmingly and that has given them confidence in each other. Also, it's showing there is confidence in the process.

Already, Reverend Good said, the language is changing. He heard a political show the day before, where usually the politicians and others are aggressive, and people were different towards each other in light of the election results. That's confidence.

The healing and the forgiveness – if the faith community doesn't have something to offer about these, then he doesn't know what the faith community is about. He was taught quite a bit about this in the United States when he was asked to speak at a Roman Catholic University down in Houston. They asked him to talk about dealing with the hurt of the past and has faith something distinctive to offer? That was the theme of the conference. He was focusing on words like Grace, Truth, and Forgiveness. Those are three very key words in believers vocabulary. If you think those three words are too preachy and you are not a conscious believer, there are other words that are common to us all, like Generosity, and Honesty. Those are words everyone needs to begin to think about. Being honest about what we have done or not done is important. Our contribution to conflict, our contribution to what has brought this and such situations about, our failures have to be openly discussed. What the sides have done to each other must be publicly acknowledged.

Next comes Forgiveness. What is meant by forgiveness? That is a hugely significant question. The Methodist's and other denominations use it every Sunday in their liturgies. But what does it actually mean in their practice?

He said the word Grace is such an important word. It seems to embrace so much. He remembered talking about the early release of prisoners. Back when he was helping face this issue, he was a member of an organization which deals with prisoners during and following imprisonment. A group including Reverend Good was involved in a group concerned with the early release of prisoners as a result of the Good Friday agreement. The group that had maybe the most or at least among the most difficulty with the early release of prisoners were the churches.

He invited representatives of the churches to come together one evening. He asked Brian Currin, who had been involved in the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa, to address the people from the churches. When Mr. Currin finished speaking, the first question was, “That's all right Mr. Currin, but what about justice? Where does justice come into this?”

Mr. Currin said, “This isn't about justice. You cannot go to a widow and say, 'In the interest of justice we are going to release the person who killed your loved one.' No one could do that. It's not about justice. I'll tell you what it's about. It's about all parties to a conflict being extended an opportunity to share a new beginning whether you believe they deserve it or not.”

Reverend Good said, “Brian, will you repeat that?” Mr. Currin said, “Its about giving an opportunity to all parties to the conflict to share a new beginning whether you think they deserve it or not.”

Reverend Good said, “Brian, I don't know where you are in terms of faith, but you have given the most perfect definition of grace that I have ever heard in all my studies. You have just given the most clear definition of grace.”

Reverend Good keeps telling that story because he thinks isn't that what the Christian gospel is about? He believes God gives everyone opportunities to begin again and again and again.


The VIM team then presented Reverend Good with a prayer blanket that had been made and blessed in the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church in the United States.

This talk is the final blog posting in this speech by Reverend Good. Other aspects of the VIM trip will be posted in future blog postings. You can read the prior blog posting here.

Finishing the Reconciliation

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 tenth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, Reverend Goode explained how prayer affected the hearts of those involved in the decommissioning. Next, he related to us:

Decommissioning opened the way for a devolved or independent government formation on May 8, 2007.

Ian Paisley, the fundamentalist preacher who said, “Never!” and Martin McGuinness, former Chief of Staff of the IRA, going in together, First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The younger man with respect, leading the older man. Both of them, had rejected the mere idea. Martin McGuinness has said, “We will never enter Stormont! That's a British institution and we'll never put our foot in that place.” And Ian Paisley who said, “We will never, never, never sit down with the Republicans.”

Reverend Goode and some others sat there in the gallery, looking down, and they just can't believe what they were seeing. Their expressions showed the amazement. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister, Father Alec Reid, and Reverend Goode himself, as well as others, were looking down with amazement. He remembers coming into his mind one of Charles Wesley's hymns “Let Earth and Heaven Combine” with its line, “Widest extremes to join . . . that we the life of God might know.” He thought to himself, that's what Charles Wesley was writing about, this very moment of time!

And there it was.

The other song that came to his mind was “Amazing Grace.”

He said the agreement to move all policing into Northern Ireland was just signed, and this is the last transition contained in the Good Friday Agreement.

He said they've come a long way. The citizens of Northern Ireland have to take some further steps, to build confidence, to try and understand what it means to forgive each other, and to be reconciled to each other. Those are steps. That's the challenge for the people of Ireland.

He was asked by an audience member if he had experiences ministering to the direct victims of the violence. He said he absolutely has and in his experience, the people who have been affected have been mostly the ones who have shown everyone grace, and have challenged others to find a better way. Some of them are filled with bitterness and love retribution, but by in large it's the victims who have said, “Whatever it means, do whatever it takes to ensure no other family has to go through what we have gone through.”

He was involved in the whole question of the early release of prisoners. This was a difficult thing for people. Imagine if the people who had murdered your loved one were to be released from prison after three or four years as part of the Good Friday Agreement. And yet, some of the relatives of victims said, if that release of prisoners means an end to this violence, we can live with that.

People have helped like Gordon Wilson, one of the Methodist Laymen, who moved the world by his forgiveness. He and his daughter were buried under a building which had collapsed (in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day Bombing), and she died holding his hand. Her last words were, “I love you Daddy.” That was it, she was gone. Gordon Wilson, after he was rescued, went publicly saying this is not a time for bitterness, this is not a time for bad talk. His whole spirit moved the country's opinion.

Some people found it more difficult than others to come to that kind of place. Reverend Goode wouldn't want to stand in any kind of judgment over any one in these positions. He said he wouldn't know how he'd react in that situation.

But in a general way, victims have challenged them.

A question from the audience was asked regarding that the audience had been told by two earlier speakers, that a lot of the young Irish people today don't know much about this history. They might participate in recreational riots. They might hurl insults at one another, but they don't know what an H-block is, they don't know the sequence of events. How do we pass the lesson the families that have reconciled know to the next generation, without passing along the prejuidice?”

Reverend Goode said it is a huge problem. There are many working on this. He was away about a month ago on an overnight, at an event which was called, “From Prison to Peace”. Former Republican prisoners and former Loyalist prisoners, who together are trying to find ways of helping young people in their communities to realize there is no romance in war.

He found it an incredibly moving experience to be with these men for 36 hours where they were talking about an interface (a wall between the two traditions in the City of Belfast). He said they resolved that instead of us working on this side and you working on the other side, let's see how we all can work together to help these young people. He said they want to protect the young from going through what they themselves went through. He said they realize there was no one there years ago to help they themselves to see how futile the violence was.

He said this is so powerful because they are the best people to do this, because they lived it, they've been there, done that, come through it.

They are trying to get access to the churches and the schools and are finding these very difficult. They are often treated with suspicion in both these places.

An audience member said when she heard such people speak, they said what led them was the idea of forgiveness. Reverend Goode said forgiveness is very powerful.

Editor's Note: William Ury recounted in his 1999 book “The Third Side”:

In an interview with the BBC, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers: "She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, 'Daddy, I love you very much.' Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say." To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, "But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She's dead. She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night." As historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, "No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact."

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation".

But you can see the prior blog about how prayer had a delayed effect on those involved in the decommissioning here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prayer at IRA Weapon Decommissioning

On a Monday, May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the ninth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, Reverend Good explained how the decommissioning was super secret and incredibly moving. Next, he related to us :

Before the process of weapons being turned in was over, Reverend Good pulled out the cards with the prayer of Saint Francis. He went around quietly and one by one, he approached some of the folks around and said, “I hope you won't think I'm one of those Protty preachers going around handing out tracts. That is not my way. But this is a prayer I pray often. I think we all need to pray it from now on.”

He remembered one guy who looked at the card someone else had been handed and said, “Are those tickets to the All Ireland Final?”

Of course, the All Ireland Final was a BIG thing, and it was about to take place in week or so in Croke Park. Reverend Good said, “No. No, it's not that. But when the All Ireland Finals have been forgotten, we'll still be praying this prayer.”

Reverend Good had forgotten about those cards, but a few months ago when he was speaking about something at a site in Ireland, a man came up to him and said, “I am glad of this opportunity to tell you, I recently met a man to whom you gave a card with a prayer. He asked me if I ever met you, to tell you how much that meant to him and how important that was to him. It's the prayer he now prays regularly. He had to be in the top brass of the IRA, though there's no way of knowing which of them it was.

The prior posting of Reverend Good's talk is here.

Prayer of Saint Francis (English version):

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


This talk continues at the blog posting entitled Finishing the Reconciliation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the eighth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, Reverend Good disclosed he and Father Alec Reid, a Roman Catholic Priest, were the two witnesses invited to the decommissioning of weapons. Next, he related to us :

For Reverend Good, it was an amazing experience, to be there, to share in that journey with the leadership of the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, and to witness and to physically take part in the decommissioning of the weapons of the IRA.

Remember that in Republicanism, in the constitution of the Irish Republican Army, there are two things which are punishable by death:

1. One of them is a member to betray a colleague or comrade. Many people have died in this conflict because they were agents or double agents.

2. Another is for a member to surrender his weapon.

A formula had to be found that was agreed to by the British government, the Irish government, and by the IRA for the decommissioning of the IRA weapons that was not surrender yet was clearly an end to access to the weapons. So the definition of decommissioning is the putting of all weapons and munitions beyond reach and beyond use. For the IRA to engage in that in a way that was seen as not to be surrender, was really quite remarkable. The whole process was designed to remove any possible stigma of surrender. It was a very important step in the peace process.

Reverend Good couldn't tell the group, or anyone for that matter, a lot of details. He remembers the very first night. They didn't know where they were during the week long exercise. He's actually glad he and Father Reid didn't know where they were because he wouldn't want someone to be able to force that out of either of them. He remembers the first night he brought his devotions. He said, “What was the reading the very first night? It was of the whole armor of God”

{Ephesians 6:11 - Put on God's whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil.12For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.13Therefore put on God's complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place]. Source: Amplified Bible}

He was struck by how when they were setting off to accomplish the decommissioning of these physical weapons, he thought they really must equip themselves with the whole armor of God. That to him was an extraordinary coincidence, although he doesn't use the word coincidence any longer. It was an extraordinary happening.

He remembered before he set off, he went into a religious bookshop. He was browsing around and there he saw a rack in which there were a whole lot of prayer cards with the prayer of Saint Francis: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. He bought a bundle of them and put them in his pocket to bring on their journey.

And when we came to the very end of the decommissioning, he could remember the last moment when General de Chastelain thought they'd dealt with the last weapon.

Way out from the corner came a man with a gun over his shoulder. They'd seen him all week and who he was protecting them from, they never knew. What he could have done with his one weapon had anybody come with ill intent, he didn't know, but symbolically he was kind of standing guard over them. He was clearly a member of the IRA.

Nobody knew what was happening. The security forces did not know. The politicians did not know. The media did not know. They'd have found them if they'd known. They would have rented every helicopter in the country. Nobody knew where they were or that this was happening. The only person close to Reverend Good who would know anything was his wife, because they were on a tour of China leading a group of 40 people when the summons came. He had to leave the tour half way through China, and come home to Ireland. Everyone except the tour thought Reverend Good was in China that week, but actually he was in Ireland, witnessing the decommissioning of the IRA weapons.

But the lone guard with the gun walked over and when he handed it over, Reverend Good could still recall the look on the General's face, because the General had forgotten about this weapon. The lone guard handed the General himself the gun. He didn't salute. But he took it off his shoulder, and handed it over with military formality.

Reverend Good remembered Father Reid turned to him and said, “There goes the last gun out from Irish politics.”

This talk continues at the blog posting entitled: Prayer at IRA Weapon Decommissioning.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the seventh in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of how reality itself was a stepping stone that forced both sides to turn toward peace. Next, he relates to us the pivotal Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 and the role of US leaders in it:

After the initial meetings of the IRA leaders with the British state, there were a whole series of political meetings: Sunnydale being one of the main ones. People said all these meetings failed.

But did these agreements fail? There is no question they did not succeed in bringing peace, but they did help to lead on to the next step. Each one showed why something would not work and caused people to change their perception. Taken together, these failed attempts brought the process forward.

Most important they brought about international facilitation, and this lead to the involvement of the United States. The United States made an immense contribution to the peace process. There were some Irish-Americans who reached out to young people. President Clinton, for one, took an amazingly personal interest in Ireland. President Clinton wasn't really an Irish-American. Someone claimed on his behalf a connection to someone from County Armagh, but it was very tenuous.

Clinton gave the Irish the gift of Senator George Mitchell, who is now better known for his work in the middle east. George Mitchell sat all the parties down except Mr. Paisley's party, as Mr. Paisley's party would not come into it.

After slogging through days, and literally through nights, George Mitchell said to them on the Thursday before Good Friday 1998, if you all are not ready to agree tomorrow, I'm off. They worked through that night and on Good Friday, April, 1998, the parties involved, of course except for Mr. Paisley's party, had agreed. Some of the points of the agreement were aspirational, and some were to be realized more quickly than others.

The agreement was put to the people in a referendum. The vote was 73 percent in Northern Ireland in favor of the agreement. That was hugely important. Reverend Good asked what politician could ever get 73 percent agreement on something.

Across the entire island, something like 90 percent were in favor. People were saying there's got to be a way forward and this is the way forward. A commitment to exclusively peaceful means is the way.

Two parts of the agreement took longer than the rest. One was decommissioning of the weapons. That meant the weapons had to go. The other was devolution of policing and justice.

The parties said, they couldn't sit at a table where there were weapons under the table.

On the 26th of September, the International Commission on Decommissioning led by General John de Chastelain, former head of the Canadian Army, and his two colleagues, were responsible for bringing this accord forward. People were saying, “How do we believe this will be done?” There had been one or two attempts to complete this decommissioning that hadn't worked. So people were not ready to believe it would be done.

Then two clergymen were selected, one from each tradition to witness the decommissioning and to come back and tell their people, “I've seen it with my own eyes.”

Father Alec Reid, a Redemptorist Priest from Clonard Monastery, nearby to the Forthspring Community Center, and Reverend Good, himself were asked to be those two witnesses.

Reverend Good said he could talk to us a bit about that, without violating the confidentiality aspect, and trust to which he was sworn.

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons".