Now. Here. This. – Ideas for bringing the 4 Corners of Belfast together 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement

Now. Here. This. – Ideas for bringing the 4 Corners of Belfast together 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement

Two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement, true reconciliation still seems a distant prospect. Next month’s 4 Corners Festival features events to help ‘Bring Belfast Together’

AT the beginning of every new year, we look back and reflect on the year we have just had.

A year of political resignations, two snap elections and eventually the collapse of Stormont; a year of public inquiries into government schemes, royal visits and nearly being able to go to the World Cup – twice.

We also look ahead to what 2018 may bring us. Will we be able to put our political differences aside? How will the Brexit negotiations affect this island?

We are constantly shaped by our past and our future. But we often forget the most important aspect – the present.

How we deal with the present will affect how we view the past and shape the future.

The 4 Corners Festival in Belfast – now in its sixth year – has always sought to bring together people to live in our present.

This year marks 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Not only did political representatives of loyalist paramilitary groups take part in peace negotiations at the time, but their buy-in helped boost the ‘yes’ vote supporting the 1998 peace agreement.

Our first event on February 1, ’20 Years on: A Conflict Frozen in Time?’, will be a panel discussion reflecting on the experience of loyalist communities during the past two decades.

We also want to explore the role that churches can play in society to promote reconciliation, to heal division and to end sectarianism.

‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ (February 4) seeks to explore that very question. Contributors will include Rev Dr Heather Morris, secretary of home missions and former Methodist President, Rev Steve Stockman, minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian and co-founder of the 4 Corners Festival, Fr Brian Lennon SJ, one of the founders of Community Dialogue and Karen Sethuraman, pastor of the Down Community. It will be hosted by Dr Gladys Ganiel with musical performances from Caroline Orr.

‘Those You Pass on the Street’ (February 5) is a hard-hitting play that explores the legacy of the conflict; when Elizabeth, an RUC widow, walks into a Sinn Féin office seeking assistance with anti-social behaviour in her area, she strikes up a friendship with community officer Frank.

This friendship challenges their personal preconceptions and beliefs as well as their family and political loyalties.

The play contrasts political positioning with individual’s needs, challenging the view that any mechanism for dealing with the past is simply about ‘whose side gets what’.

The performance will be followed by a panel discussion with playwright Laurence McKeown, Debbie Watters of NI Alternatives, SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna and PUP spokesman Winston Irvine.

‘The Boy Who Gave his Heart Away’ (February 7) is a must-see event.

Award-winning author Cole Moreton will be reading from his book of the same name which tells the true story of two families who are drawn together when one son becomes the heart donor for the other son.

Moreton is also guest speaker at the 4 Corners Banquet for organ donors and those living with transplants.

Do consider coming along to support the festival, which is going to be our biggest yet.

There are musical contributions from Iain Archer, Ursula Burns, Joby Fox and Ricky Ross, discussions with authors including Tony McAuley and Philip Orr, incredible life stories from Alan McBride and Stephen Travers, as well as discussions with Monica McWilliams, Rev Dr Heather Morris and Fr Brian Lennon SJ.

 

This article was first published in the Irish News on 18 January, 2018 and can be found here.

This morning, about 100 people from Belfast and beyond gathered in the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill for a prayer breakfast in advance of next month’s 4 Corners Festival (1-11 February).

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Now. Here. This.’ You can find the full programme here. It’s appropriate that the prayers were situated within the annual worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January), traditionally celebrated during the octave of St Peter and St Paul.

The gathering was addressed by Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the convenor of the church’s Council for Public Affairs.

Hamilton’s remarks focused on the current political impasse, and the public role that the churches can play in contributing to civic reconciliation.

Hamilton welcomed next week’s talks about restoring the devolved institutions. He spoke of not simply restoring the institutions for their own sake, but of the need for building quality institutions that could deliver good governance.

Citing recent addresses by Bishop Noel Treanor and Prof John Brewer, Hamilton urged the churches to model good civic relationships. He said we should ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with one another’ to articulate a ‘new narrative for the future, which spells out the importance of forgiveness, generosity, compassion, and thoughtfulness.’

The breakfast concluded with a prayer by Dr Gladys Ganiel, which drew on the themes raised in Hamilton’s address, as well as Rev David Campton’s poem about the theme of this year’s festival.

We invite you to join us in the prayer:

Let us pray.

In the silence, let us hear what you have to say.

We know you are with us today and will move among us throughout the festival.

We need a new narrative, and a radically new future.

We need to show forgiveness, mercy, compassion, empathy, grace and justice.

Lord, hear our prayer, and empower us to move together into that radically new future.

 

Help us venture into new places and new spaces throughout the festival.

It is difficult to cross boundaries. It is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to show mercy.

But together, we ask for your help:

 

One thing at a time

This is enough for now

Not that or the other

But this

Now. Here. This.

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

 

‘Now. Here. This. – 4 Corners Festival 2019 aims to challenge and inspire’

‘Now. Here. This. – 4 Corners Festival 2019 aims to challenge and inspire’

Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, next month’s 4 Corners Festival wants to ask questions about where we are now, how can we deal with the past here – and what God calls us to do about this, explains Steve Stockman

IT is only three weeks until the start of this year’s 4 Corners Festival.

The last planning meeting took place last Friday afternoon. We have a wonderful creative menagerie of people on the planning committee – Fr Martin Magill, David Campton, Jim Deeds, Gladys Ganiel, Ed Peterson, Elizabeth Hanna, Megan Boyd, Michael Sloan, Neville Cobbe and myself – and we literally belly laugh our way through the year.

By this stage of the year – somehow against the run of play, we would say by the grace of God – we have an amazing festival of events to look forward to.

The 2018 4 Corners Festival is our biggest and most exciting yet: 4CF18 is full and wide and deep and we hope it will make a mark in Belfast and across Northern Ireland.

Highlights include rock music legend Ricky Ross, a Concert Of Choirs, three theatre companies, author Cole Moreton, Church leaders including Rev Dr Heather Morris, Rev Dr Ken Newell and Fr Brian Lennon, rock journalist Stuart Bailie, walks across the city, prayer rooms, a BBC Radio church service and a very special banquet for organ donors.

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘NOW. HERE. THIS.’

It comes from a phrase that Jim Deeds used at one of our events last year. Jim discovered it through the work Fr Greg Boyle.

It is a kind of mantra that Fr Greg uses in his work with gang violence in Los Angeles.

Fr Greg would remind himself that he cannot fix everything, but he can focus on the one task ahead of him, on the one person in front of him: the ‘now’, the ‘here’, the ‘this’.

So, 20 years after our Good Friday Agreement, 4 Corners 2018 wants to ask where we are ‘now’ and how can we deal with the past ‘here’ and what the ‘this’ might be that God calls us to.

One of our committee, the Rev David Campton, minister of Belfast South Methodist Church, put it this way:

Now. Here. This.

Now
The past is important
It shapes the present
But it doesn’t imprison us
Or limit our futures
The question is what we will do with it now?
Now is the time

Here
This place
This wounded and wonderful city
We can learn from elsewhere
And elsewhere can learn from us
But let’s not seek to escape
Into the there and then
Avoiding the here and now

This
One thing at a time
This is enough for now
Not that or the other
But this

Now. Here. This.

 

  • The 2018 4 Corners Festival runs from February 1-11. The programme of events can be found at 4cornersfestival.com. The festival can also be followed on Twitter and on Facebook
  • The Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in south Belfast and, with Fr Martin Magill, a founder of the 4 Corners Festival.

 

This article was first published in the Irish News on 11 January 2018 and can be found here.

Giving thanks for people like Alan McBride & Stephen Travers

Giving thanks for people like Alan McBride & Stephen Travers

Today is known as the winter solstice or the ‘shortest day of the year’, that with the least amount of daylight hours.

This is in contrast to the ‘longest day’ of the year, or the summer solstice which was on Thursday June 21 this year.

For us on the island of Ireland we also refer to the summer solstice as a day of reflection when we remember all those who were killed, injured or who suffered in our Troubles.

It is a day, I believe, that deserves to be better known.

I had the privilege on that day this year to spend time with some amazing people.

I met Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the Shankill bombing, and Stephen Travers, who was one of the survivors of the Miami Showband massacre.

Alan had invited Stephen to Belfast to share his story at an event organised by the Wave Trauma Centre.

It was a beautiful evening as we gathered on the grass outside the Wave offices in north Belfast.

It was a moving event, introduced by Alan in his capacity as the manager of Wave in Belfast.

Tommy Sands provided some poignant and haunting songs and tunes which helped contribute to the evening’s reflection.

Stephen’s contribution was the centrepiece of the evening. He started by giving us the at times humorous background of how his musical talent led him to a place with the Miami Showband.

What I recall from Stephen Travers’s presentation is both his desire to find out the truth of the Miami Showband massacre and at the same time his freedom from bitterness 

Then he described the fateful events of July 31 1975. It was difficult to listen as he shared about the massacre of his friends and brought to the fore the issue of collusion. Stirring stuff.

Yet it was his final words that really made an impression on me: “I never go to bed at night without asking for mercy for those who wounded me and murdered my friends.”

Those words stunned me then. They still stun me now.

What I recall from Stephen’s presentation is both his desire to find out the truth of the Miami Showband massacre and at the same time his freedom from bitterness.

He is what Professor John Brewer describes as a “moral beacon”.

In the darkness of the legacy of the Troubles, people like Stephen Travers and Alan McBride are indeed shining lights.

What I also recall from meeting him earlier in the day, along with my friend Rev Steve Stockman, in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church was Stephen’s lightness of being.

Part of my reason for attending that evening on the summer solstice was to hear Stephen.

I am delighted to announce that Stephen will be taking part in next year’s 4 Corners Festival on Thursday February 8, when both he and Alan McBride will share their stories of hope.

On this, the shortest day, as we near the end of a political year which has offered little by way of light and hope, I am grateful for people like Stephen Travers and Alan McBride.

The Miami Showband Massacre: A Survivor’s Search for the Truth by Stephen Travers and Neil Fetherstonhaugh is published by Hodder Headline.

This article originally appeared in The Irish News on 21 December 2017, you can find it here.

Steve Stockman – seeking the deeper meaning in U2’s Songs of Experience – Irish News

Steve Stockman – seeking the deeper meaning in U2’s Songs of Experience – Irish News

U2’s new album is more than a collection of good tunes, says Steve Stockman – it’s also sound advice for soul and society

 

U2’s new record dropped last Friday and for me that is always religious news. I devour the lyrics like I’m at a Bible study. I am all over them, seeking out its deeper meaning.

To be truthful I am usually more interested in the theology and spiritual wisdom than I am with the tunes.

Let me tell you, though, that the tunes on Songs Of Experience are brilliant; it is a melody-fest of maybe the very best collection of crafted songs in the U2 catalogue.

Making a relevant sounding record has never been enough for U2. It has to be relevant to the world it lands into.

Songs of Experience are sung into a world of darkness and fear where death is all around, “democracy is on its back”, “Aleppo is in rubble” and bullies, the filthy rich and the arrogant are being blessed.

We are told in the poetic liner notes, written by Bono, that he had a close brush with death which changed everything about Songs Of Experience

As well as companions for how we travel the terrain thrown up by Brexit, Trump and a refugee crisis, these songs are resources to help us deal with the fragility of our lives and our too fleeting existence.

Being U2, though, these are songs full of hope. Joy here is an act of defiance, of resistance and resilience.

The record is top-and-tailed with songs of love and light. Love, we are told throughout, is the only thing, the strongest thing, the lasting thing. Where there is light, the darkness gathers; but wherever we find that light we should hold on to it.

Where is the substance, though? It is all very well a rock band throwing out words like light and love and hope on top of great choruses that we can sing along to. But is there anything robust underneath the anthem bluster?

For me the key to what Bono means by all the positives is captured in a couplet in the first song: “Love is all that we have left/a baby cries on the doorstep.”

Advent is the clue to the baby. This is a baby born with no room in the inn. Bono has talked a lot about the poetry of the Christmas story and here he uses it as his symbol to the God shape at the heart of the thesis of Songs Of Experience.

As I’ve been listening I have been thinking about our own unique little conundrum here on the island of Ireland.

Brexit has us in “a state o’ chassis”. The inertia at Stormont has paralysed the fulfilling of future peace.

Into this U2 suggest we hold on to our dreams, that there is a light, that we should get outside our safety zone and risk everything for our families, beyond even beaches where the red flag is flying.

These songs tell us to Get Out of Your Own Way – good advice for all of us – and that Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.

In another songs they sing:

“It’s a call to action, not to fantasy

The end of a dream, the start of what’s real

Let it be unity, let it be community.”

Songs of Experience is not just a good record – it’s good advice for our souls, and our society.

  • The U2 album Songs of Experience is out now, on the Interscope Records label.
  • The Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast and, with Fr Martin Magill, is a founder of the 4 Corners Festival, which aims to promote unity and reconciliation in the midst of Belfast’s – and Ireland’s – troubled past.
  • The 2018 4 Corners Festival will run from Friday February 2 to Sunday February 11.

 

This was article was taken from the Irish News on 07 December 2017. It can be found here: http://www.irishnews.com/lifestyle/faithmatters/2017/12/07/news/a-thought-from-the-4-corners-steve-stockman—seeking-the-deeper-meaning-in-u2-s-songs-of-experience-1203909/

We Are Recruiting

The 4 Corners Festival is seeking to appoint a part-time Publicity and PR Officer. This role will act in support of the festival, by overseeing all publicity, public relations and networking with press, Churches and public from December 2017 – February 2018.

The role is funded by the 2017/18 Central Good Relations Funding Programme.

View further details on the role and how to apply here.

Faith Matters 26 Oct 17

In his latest contribution to Faith Matters, Fr Martin Magill advocates learning more about Martin Luther as we seek to work towards peace and reconciliation. Read the full article here.

4 Corners Festival Is Recruiting…

The 4 Corners Festival is seeking to appoint a part-time Publicity and PR Officer. This role will act in support of the festival, by overseeing all publicity, public relations and networking with press, Churches and public from November 2017 – February 2018.

The role is funded by the 2017/18 Central Good Relations Funding Programme.

View further details on the role and how to apply here.

Now Hear This

Young people aged 18-30 are invited to work with Christian drama company Play It By Ear to develop and deliver sketches exploring stories of faith and Belfast as part of the 2018 4 Corners Festival.

Register interest by emailing info@4cornersfestival.com

This project is funded by the Executive Office’s 2017/18 Central Good Relations Programme.