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.