29th January 2016, Clonard Monastery

After a poignant prayer breakfast earlier on Friday, folk travelled from the four corners of Northern Ireland last night to gather in a very spectacular place indeed – and with good reason, too.

The second night of the 4 Corners Festival featured the launch of NUA (Irish for “new”) with our friends Summer Madness, 24/7 Prayer Ireland and Evangelical Alliance NI, which was held in the very beautiful, very majestic Clonard Monastery. Leaving a few minutes’ grace for those tackling the Belfast traffic to make their way to the event, those early birds among us sat on our pews bedazzled by our surroundings. The gilded walls and twinkling candles set the scene as the band picked up their instruments and began to bounce acoustics around the building.

Alain Emerson of 24-7 Prayer Ireland was on hand to open the evening and quick to introduce Ed Peterson, who works at Clonard Monastery and has been heavily involved with peace and reconciliation projects here. Ed took the opportunity to pay tribute to the late, great Father Gerry Reynolds whose heart of hope for Northern Ireland was pivotal in the peace process: “He knew about this evening – I know he would have been delighted to share in it.”

Reading an extract of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20-24), Ed ended with the words, “And they began to celebrate” – and, as if on cue, that is precisely what this collection of Northern Irish souls began to do. “We want to celebrate the good that God is doing,” shared Alain and, with that, the band began to play.

We sang songs of awakening and prayed prayers of hope for the future of this little island. As Ed explained, Clonard Monastery is a place of great significance in Northern Ireland’s history, having been a venue for reconciliation on more than one occasion over the past century. During the Blitz of WWII, Catholics and Protestants alike had taken shelter in the Monastery – sharing scripture and prayers together – and it had been the site of many talks during the peace process, too.

Every Sunday since 1994, a little group of Catholics have gone from Clonard Monastery to gather in other churches across Belfast – including Fitzroy,” shared Ed, reiterating the extraordinary legacy that was established here by Father Gerry Reynolds.

Jasper Rutherford echoed the spirit of togetherness, beckoning us to make movements in this city:

“What would it look like if we came together in each other’s four corners of Belfast to worship God? What would that say to our city?”

With those words, we were made to make movements imminently as we were directed to the four corners of the Monastery – representing North, South, East and West Belfast – to pray for the nation. Moving around the corners of this masterpiece room, more and more folk turned to one another, welcoming each other with outstretched hands, arms and smiles; inquiring about their origins and what had brought them here. As we carefully laid our prayers for the island out on oversized maps of Ireland, we four corners saw what it might look like if we were to move forward as one collective with our collective cause.

There was a genuine warmth in the Clonard air, with guests encouraged to interact throughout, and persuaded to embrace their new neighbours. Whilst folk turned up both as part of large church groups and as individuals, I daresay each person left the Monastery in the knowledge that they were part of something much, much bigger.

Zara Porter (@zaraporter) | Photos by Rev Arlene Moore & Peter Lynas

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