The Rev. David Range is a United Methodist missionary, serving as a pastor in Ireland. His ministry, and that of his wife the Rev. C. J. Walter at Christ Church Limerick are based on reconciliation and hope - two concepts desperately needed on an island where terrorist attacks are too often a part of the landscape. In a special report for the Kaleidoscope Interactive Network, Range reflects on their ministry.It is fall here in Limerick and we are hearing rumblings on this morning's news that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may call another cease-fire. The IRA is one of the most violent of a number of paramilitary groups on the nationalist side of the political divide, that is, those who want the six counties of northern Ireland to become part of the 26 county nation of the Republic of Ireland.
Nationalism is often identified with the Roman Catholic Church and Loyalists are most often said to be Protestants, but there are many who disagree with this terminology and who find it unhelpful to associate particular political beliefs with certain Christian denominations.
Although there is a religious dimension to this conflict the good news is that in many places, and amongst many Irish people of all persuasions, there has been a change in attitude with regard to the age old conflict on this island. There has arisen a new Christian response to living with terrorism.
For many years there was relative calm on this island until the late 1960's when the current conflict arose. Since that time over 3,000 people have been killed, many thousands more have been injured or forced to leave their chosen home. The suicide rate has become greater than the deaths from the direct conflict.
Political opinion has become fragmented and communities have become deeply divided and distinctly polarized. Since the July 1996 marches and conflict, centered around Drumcree in Northern Ireland, many have advocated a boycott of "the other side's" simple business transactions is a stepping stone to deeper relations and more cooperation across the community.
One of the great problems of both the countries on this island is a very high rate of unemployment. In the Republic, at least, it is over 20%. In some of the areas of our inner cities it can be as high as 80%. The poverty and frustration of people in this predicament and the need to "do something" has made recruiting for the paramilitary groups easier. Sympathizers are also found amongst the general community because they believe "their side" has to be protected from "the other side".
An analysis of the conflict in these few short paragraphs does not do the "Irish problem" justice for it is much more complicated than what might be communicated in a short article such as this. But what people want to know is, how do we live with the terrorism and division in the community of Limerick, in the "deep South?"
You see, here in Limerick we do not live in Northern Ireland, it takes us about four hours driving time to reach the border. Do we live with terrorism too? The answer is "yes, but in a different way."
One of the problems that we have encountered as pastors of a small Methodist and Presbyterian Church congregation is that we are often misunderstood by the majority Roman Catholic population, and even by those generally called Protestants. Our church in Limerick is associated with two of the major Christian denominations in this island that, although they span the border, are too often associated with certain political opinion north of the border. This would be true for our neighboring congregations of the Church of Ireland, who are Anglicans.
Together with the Church of Ireland, and a segment of the Roman Catholic Church we have made a response to terrorism in that we have shown that we can work together on projects that bring people of different traditions together and dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings that so plague our land.
Every year for some time now, the mainline churches in Limerick have observed the Week of prayer for Christian Unity in January. Until this year the program had three worship services in that one week, each in a different church.
This year, while starting with the traditional service in the Roman Catholic St. John's Cathedral in January we broke with tradition and had a lay person from each of our traditions give a short word, or "message". Opportunities for lay people to address a church congregation are rather limited in Ireland and so this was seen as a step forward in the process of allowing the "person in the pew" to have their say.
The next event was planned for May when in the Church of Ireland's St. Michael's Church building the whole community was welcome (but all choirs were especially invited) to join in a night entitled"Songs of Praise." We were given an introduction to each song that was sung by the Church of Ireland Bishop, Edward Darling, but the songs came from all the traditions and the ability of this praise time to draw us together was greatly appreciated.
Before this "Songs of Praise" however, the youth of the city put on worship workshops one Saturday in April and concluded with a "Youth for Peace" praise service. The desire of Christians of all traditions to pray and sing together for the peace process to continue has been the major theme in Limerick since the cease-fire broke down in February, and this was but one response all the more exciting because it came from the young people.
The destruction of the peace process by the IRA came home to Limerick in a very real way when this outlawed paramilitary group (which unfortunately gets some support from friends in the USA) decided to stage a bank holdup in the neighboring village of Adare during the summer. One police officer was wounded but another, a very popular man, Jerry McCabe, from the north side of Limerick, was killed.
In response to the death of McCabe a "Service of Peace" was quickly organized for the ancient St. Mary's Cathedral which was packed for prayer with people from across our community.
The most recent event on the calendar for our "year-long Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" was the Service of Healing and Reconciliation held Oct. 13 in our own Christ Church, United Presbyterian and Methodist congregation. At this service we prayed not just for physical ailments, but to make a very intentional effort to bring together the different strands of Christian tradition for an act of reconciliation.
We recognize that a healing of hatred, distrust and prejudice in the hearts of believers is very necessary before a person can add his or her contribution to the peace process, not to mention reaching out to the many who have become unbelievers.
To try for peace in our land before there is peace in our hearts and peace with almighty God is futile. Therefore the service highlighted a "Week of Hope" when the church was open in a particular way to the rest of the community - both to bless them, and to engage them in dialogue about the issues of peace and hope.
Although we live with fear and mistrust in our communities in the Republic of Ireland and we mourn that this is not the way God intends His children to live we are also making a response to this fear and mistrust. Instead of this death which has so plagued this island we are proclaiming life. Instead of singing our old rebel songs we are singing new songs of hope in new ways never tried before - and people are warming up to God's love.
One thing that will be a long time in coming, if it will ever come, is the agreement between the different groups on this island, but if the hatred and anger can be defused then perhaps the bombs can be defused and we can co-exist on a new footing, and see the birth of a new community more closely aligned with the Kingdom of God.
Related Sites on the Internet
- To better understand global terrorism and unrest: - Office of International Criminal Justice
- Institute for Global Communications Nonviolence and Nonviolent Action Resources
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