NI centenary amid Covid challenges ‘opportunity to reflect’

Cross-community church leaders are reflecting on a difficult year for many, amid hopes for a brighter 2021. Credit: PA

Northern Ireland’s church leaders have united to deliver a New Year message that focuses on the “interconnectedness” of human beings, after a year like no other.

The joint statement comes from the Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; the Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; Rev Dr Thomas McKnight, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; and the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches.

It acknowledges the “grief, anxiety and uncertainty” faced in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus global pandemic and the sudden changes to everyday aspects of life previously taken for granted.

But in noting the hopes for a “brighter and safer future”, the church leaders focus on how people have still been united – even at safe distances.

“Together we stood and applauded frontline workers and discovered a new sense of community with our neighbours,” they said.

“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.”

In turning to further challenges to come in the year ahead, the church leaders stated that changes brought by Brexit would serve as “another powerful reminder of that interconnectedness”.

They said: “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.”

They also noted the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and of Partition.

“We recognise that people will approach the centenary from a variety of perspectives - for some, this is a cause for celebration, others will look upon the last century with a sense of loss and separation,” they said.

“For us, as church leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities.

“This centenary also provides the opportunity for us to reflect together 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.”

They added: “Mindful of our interconnectedness, we recognise our different perspectives on this centenary even among us as church leaders.

“Still we commit ourselves to building a future together in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past.”