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Speakers at St Ethelburga’s reflect on past violence

10 May 2013

Madeleine Davies visits a church in the City of London, as it marks 20 years since it was almost destroyed by an IRA bomb 

Out of the ruins:rSt Ethelburga's, after the bombing in 1993

Out of the ruins:rSt Ethelburga's, after the bombing in 1993

ON SATURDAY 24 April 1993, the IRA detonated a bomb on Bishopsgate, in the City of London. A photographer from The News of the World, Edward Henty, was killed and 44 people were injured in a blast that caused damage that cost £350 million to repair. On Wednesday of last week, the Canon Director of Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral, David Porter, marked the 20th anniversary of the blast with reflections on "violence as a language".

Mr Porter was speaking at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, which is housed in St Ethelburga-the-Virgin within Bishopsgate, the church that was half- destroyed in the bombing. The centre hosts more than 100 events a year, which explore the relationship between faith and conflict, as well as interfaith dialogue and training. Overlooked by a stained-glass window of St Ethelburga, created from the fragments that remained after the bombing, Mr Porter, who is from Northern Ireland, said that he felt "a certain measure of responsibility for the events that led us here today".

Violence, he said, "works - that is why people do it. . . Not that it brings about positive, constructive outcomes, but it changes the game, focuses minds, limits options, and makes people behave in ways they do not necessarily choose to do."

The conflict in Northern Ireland, a "deeply divided" place, was "far from over", he said. "There is still no agreement about the legitimacy of the state. That is not going to change much in my lifetime. All we have agreed to do is stop killing each other about that disagreement." There was still a "profound lack of conversation" in a "community in denial", where "we still do not have each other around for supper."

The director of the centre, Simon Keyes, described how the church had been rebuilt after the bomb, "against professional and ecclesiastical advice to sell the site", and had since been visited by about 90,000 people, including the Vice-President of Iran, and British and Burmese survivors of the Second World War.

"We have learned how to help people have difficult conversations, to enable people to tell their stories, how to help people disagree."

The evening ended with music by the Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, who improvised a piece in which the audience was divided into three groups, producing three different sounds that mimicked an argument.

"The idea was to create a chaos: a confusing, uncomfortable situation," he said, before leading a more harmonious song, and even persuading Mr Porter to dance. "In my country," Mr Adewale said, "you may not invite people around for supper, but when they come round; there will always be dancing."

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