CHURCH leaders in Ireland have used this year’s centenary of the partition of their island in 1921 to remind people how interconnected they are.
In a joint New Year message, the heads of the country’s main Christian denominations — Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Irish Council of Churches — talk of how that interconnection has been exemplified by the struggle against the coronavirus.
“Together we stood and applauded frontline workers and discovered a new sense of community with our neighbours,” they write. “We wash our hands, wear face coverings, refrain from embracing and maintain distance, mindful that the actions of each of us as individuals have the potential to protect or endanger others.
“The actions of frontline workers who have sacrificially gone about their business, or those who have delivered groceries for neighbours who are self-isolating, sewn scrubs, or kept in touch with others by phone have been a reminder that everyone has the potential to benefit others.
“Churches, too, have been part of that collective response, and, in seeking to act in the interests of those who are most vulnerable, have sought to live out faith in the context of the spread of the coronavirus. Faith has been a source of strength and support to many throughout this difficult time. Clergy, ministers, priests, and lay people of faith have responded with compassion and imagination to the challenges of the pandemic, with online services, pastoral support, and provision of opportunities for prayer.”
The message is signed by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr David Bruce; the Anglican and Roman Catholic Primates, the Archbishops of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell and the Most Revd Eamon Martin respectively; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Thomas McKnight; and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Very Revd Dr Ivan Patterson.
They recognise that people will approach the anniversary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic from different perspectives. “For some, this is a cause for celebration; others will look upon the last century with a sense of loss and separation. For us, as Church leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities.”
They note their different views on the anniversary, but commit to building a future together “in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past”. They ask people to reflect on the “failings of relationships and use of violence across the whole island which have marred our past and which, in some ways, continue to cast a shadow on the present”.
Brexit is another reminder of people’s interconnectedness, they write. “We continue to encourage the building of relationships across and between these islands. The new context that Brexit brings demands a commitment to working together in constructive ways.”
That “interconnectedness” extends to the global community, they continue. “Covid-19 has made the daily challenges faced by those who live with poverty even greater than they were. We have corporate and individual responsibility to use resources not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others around the world.”