Seminarians, young clergy and graduate students gathered for lunch today at Queen’s University to discuss issues raised by the first event in the 4 Corners Festival, last night’s public event about political loyalism, ‘A Conflict Frozen in Time?’

This invitation-only lunch event was designed to provide space for seminarians and young clergy from the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations; and Queen’s graduate students from the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, and Theology, to talk about the relevance of what they learned the previous evening for their future vocations as clergy or as engaged citizens.

At ‘A Conflict Frozen in Time?’, several panellists spoke about how both Protestant and Catholic clergy engaged with loyalism during the key period 1994-1998. Those attending the lunch broke into small groups for informal discussion, and were prompted to ponder one or more of these examples from the previous evening. They were asked: ‘Put yourself in the shoes of the clergy – what do you think made them act like they did? Was what they did right or wrong? Would they have faced opposition from people in their own churches?’

Participants also were asked: ‘For seminarians and young clergy, did you learn anything that can help you in your ministry in what is still a divided, post-conflict society? For theology and conflict transformation students, did you learn anything that can help you live more constructively in a divided, post-conflict society? How can clergy, laypeople and/or theologians work together to contribute to conflict transformation and social justice in an unreconciled, divided society?’

Among the insights and perspectives that emerged from the conversations were:

  • Even today, clergy may face opposition if they try to engage with loyalism or republicanism, and/or promote reconciliation more generally;
  • Clergy, lay Christians and other concerned citizens need to support each other in peacebuilding work – you cannot do it on your own;
  • The Gospels and the examples from the past like Fr Alec Reid, Fr Gerry Reynolds, Rev Ken Newell, Rev Roy Magee, Archbishop Robin Eames, and Rev Chris Hudson teach us that peacebuilding is not an optional extra in Northern Ireland – it is an essential part of the vocations of all Christians.

Participants also observed that much of the discussion at ‘A Conflict Frozen in Time?’ had focused on the past – and they were hungry to think more about the future. The 4 Corners Festival is providing another opportunity to do just that, with a free, public event this Sunday, 4 February at the Skainos Centre, 239 Newtownards Road, ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers.’ This event will explore the part the Churches can play in society to promote reconciliation, to heal division and to end sectarianism. The contributors for this event include Rev Dr Heather Morris, Rev Steve Stockman, Fr Brian Lennon SJ and Rev Karen Sethuraman. The event will be hosted by Dr Gladys Ganiel and include musical performances. There will be a Q&A afterwards. Refreshments will be served from 7 pm with the proceedings at 7.30 sharp.

The lunchtime event was supported by the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University.