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In the 1980s, against the backdrop of community division and political violence in Northern Ireland, a group of evangelical Christians argued for a new response. Setting out ten biblical values they believed were core to an understanding of Christian witness in the context of conflict, they called the evangelical community to a change of attitude and actions.

Their conviction was that faithful evangelical witness must take seriously the biblical command to make peace and do justice. If evangelicals wanted the peace they prayed for, they should be prepared to work for it. Love of God had to go hand in hand with a credible response to sectarianism. Also, where loyalty to political and cultural identities had obscured loyalty to Jesus Christ, Christians needed to rediscover what it meant to live for God and his glory alone.

From this radical initiative emerged Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland – ECONI – an organisation committed to equipping Christians to address division and the causes and consequences of conflict.

Over the last 18 years we have encouraged the Christian community to think biblically about its peacebuilding vocation. We have sought to look honestly at our own community, leading us to ask tough questions and acknowledge sectarian attitudes and practices. We believe that in Christ, God is reconciling the world; therefore we must seek realistic ways to deal with historical divisions and heal the wounds of the past.

As our understanding of reconciliation and conflict transformation has grown we have used our skills and experience to support and resource the church as a peacebuilding community. Alongside this, we have engaged with the wider peace process and contributed to the political debate as Northern Ireland looks to a new future.

The character of Ireland today is virtually unrecognisable from that of 30 years ago. In what some observers have called ‘post-Troubles Northern Ireland’ and ‘post-Catholic Ireland’, the political, social, cultural and spiritual environment has changed significantly. While the challenges of building a peaceful and inclusive society remain, the bigger challenge now facing us is the reality of this change.

The secular culture that has shaped the public space of most of Europe is now radically redefining the values and ethics of our society. Increasingly, Christians of all traditions throughout Ireland are acknowledging that Christianity will come to occupy a very different place in this new society. Together we face the challenge of understanding what a faithful biblical witness to Jesus Christ will look like in this new era.

To be faithful to God and to biblically engage in this new context requires us to learn to serve all people whatever their culture or belief and, in so doing, follow the example of Jesus.

These massive shifts in our culture have formed the backdrop to our work for the past five years. Increasingly they have shaped the content and direction of our ministry with leaders and congregations. Through a process of careful consultation and prayerful discernment our response to change is to embrace change for ourselves.

As we seek to take up this challenge, from April 2005, our organisation will be known as Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland.

Change is unsettling, but it can also be an opportunity. Failure to engage with change will mean the church becoming increasingly marginalized and irrelevant to our society. Yet, change is the context in which we restore vision and vocation. It offers an opportunity for innovative and radical initiatives.

We desire to see the Christian community in Ireland nurture a deeply-rooted and radical biblical faith. Faith in a God, who in Jesus Christ reconciles the world, restores human relationships and is concerned for all of life and creation.
Over the next five years we are committed to establishing the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland as a respected and recognised resource for the church throughout Ireland and beyond. It will be a place where Christians can access biblical resources and practical support. A place to develop the knowledge and personal skills needed to serve their communities at points of contention, conflict and social change.

Central to our thinking is the question: what is a biblically informed response to the context in which we are now called to serve God and witness to Christ?

The new situation demands new beginnings and new acts of discernment, exploring:

  • new models of leadership
  • new approaches to church
  • new opportunities for co-operation
  • new conversations in the public space

Indeed, nothing less than a new commitment to biblical faith for a changing world.

It is this biblical faith that shapes and informs the evangelical ethos of the Centre for Contemporary Christianity. As evangelicals, we believe we are challenged to find new avenues of partnership and service across the Christian traditions. We will draw on biblical reflection and informed comment from all who share faith in Christ and a commitment to his teaching and example.

To engage creatively with the change in culture and values that shape our communities requires the best of resources, wisdom and skills. If the church is to nurture biblical faith through its worship and witness it cannot ignore the contemporary context. The task is to affirm a faith that not only gives us confidence to confront change, but to shape it.

In developing a new engagement with the changing cultural context, we will prioritise three areas of concern which build on our expertise from the past:

Conflict: Addressing conflict, both locally and globally, is integral to effective Christian witness in today's world. We will continue to develop appropriate theological and practical resources to address conflict transformation and reconciliation.

Community: The challenges which we face living in an increasingly diverse society are not to be underestimated. We will help churches, individuals and communities to understand this rapidly changing situation; to enable them to explore diversity in all its forms and take a leading role, as Christians, in contributing to an inclusive and respectful society.

Citizenship: The relationship between faith and politics, moral values and public policy, discipleship and national identity, are still key issues. Yet, both the ability and the right of the church to participate in the public square are increasingly being called into question. We will speak to the issues based on relevant research and analysis providing the church with a biblical perspective for debate and action.

Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland will seek to be a catalyst. In order to serve and resource the church we will put in place a range of events and initiatives. We will also develop our own engagement with change in the wider community.

At its core will be a team of skilled and experienced people committed to four key activities:

Research: We will provide informed, credible and practical comment and analysis on pertinent issues, rooted in biblical reflection and theological thought.

Equip: We will create and facilitate opportunities to learn, through courses, workshops and other events, and produce relevant, high-quality resources and materials.

Act: We will engage with wider society, modelling good practice, building relationships, developing co-operation, supporting and encouraging others to join us and working in partnership when appropriate.

Share: We will develop our national and international relationships with churches and other Christian organisations for mutual learning in areas of common concern.

We are excited by what we believe God has given us to do. Working alongside the churches and other faith based groups and organisations; we want to contribute to a serving community of Christians that will be good news for the people of Ireland - a community that is both radical and faithful in its life and witness.

For our part we are committed to take risks.

Asking hard questions not only of our society, but also of scripture and the church.

Stretching our faith knowing that there is nothing in our world outside the scope of God’s grace and love.

Stepping outside the box in which Christian faith is placed by both the church and society.

Discovering biblical faith not simply as a guard against a hostile world, but as a resource we offer for the needs of a changing world.

You can be part of this future.

We are here for you to use:
• Invite us to help resource your congregation, group or organisation as they face this growing task.
• Sign up to our mailing list and avail of our resources and events to develop your own contribution to change.

We invite you to join us on this quest:
• Share with us through your gifts and prayers for our work.
• Become part of one of our initiatives, bringing your skills and contribution to our team.

Howard House, 1 Brunswick Street, Belfast, BT2 7GE