Peace on earth?

For many months, and especially in the last few weeks, we have been seeing the war in the Middle East and its horrible effects being reported almost daily on our TV screens and in our newspapers. I can barely watch the news now. I feel helpless, angry and even guilty at times, since those images of acute suffering are followed so often and so easily by twenty minutes of politics and sport. And even as I write this piece in mid December, the Ministry of Defence is saying that 'RAF jet pilots are the busiest they have been for 25 years, dropping 11 times more bombs than at the height of the Afghanistan conflict'. It was therefore a huge privilege to be able to be offer a structured response to the evening lecture (sponsored by Contemporary Christianity) on the futility of war which was given by Alan and Elaine Storkey in memory of Sir Fred Catherwood towards the end of November. Their address is available on the Contemporary Christianity's website, and may I encourage you to listen and reflect carefully on their passionate plea for Christian people to be much more pacifist in our thinking and much more active in seeking to bring an end to war. They argued eloquently that Christ deconstructs the fear of those who can kill the body, which is the ultimate threat of the militarists, and on the cross faces that threat in reality. The Apostle Paul replaces the Roman armour, the military kit, with the Christian armour of spiritual attitudes and with our feet shod with the Gospel of Peace. Continue reading

Ain’t gonna study war no more …

The 2016 Catherwood lecture was given by Alan and Elaine Storkey on 24 November 2016.

The accumulation of power by arms companies and the influence of militarism have continued for over a century. The time has come for people of faith to address these issues and to take seriously Jesus' words, "those who take the sword will perish by the sword. Dr Alan Storkey is an economist, sociologist and artist. He the author of War or Peace: The Long Failure of Western Arms. Elaine Storkey is a theologian, philosopher, social scientist and broadcaster. Norman Hamilton (OBE) is convenor for Public Affairs for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and was previously the minister of Ballysillan Presbyterian Church.  

An Open Letter to Northern Ireland’s Political Leaders

(This open letter first appeared in Steve Stockman's blog and is reproduced by permission)

Dear Political Leaders

As you go into intensive talks this week to save the political institutions and our unraveling peace process I want to assure you of my prayers. I will not lie to you. I feel disappointed and a little let down by the current crisis. I have invested a little bit of my time on the peace process and this was not what I had hoped for. I am aware that not all of you have time for Christianity, the Church or clergy. I also know that some of you do. Whether you do or not I want to ask you to ponder some wisdom from an ancient text. Whatever your view of the Scriptures please reflect on this wisdom, an alternative view of life that might just bring some needed imagination into our current inertia. You might think it naive. I believe it to be prophetically profound and a formula that would guarantee success in the coming talks. Continue reading

Facing our Fears- A Gospel Imperative?

Last year I was involved in facilitating an introductory peacebuilding course in a Protestant church in Belfast. We invited members from other churches to come to a meeting that did not involve worship and share their experiences in building peace. I later found out that not everyone was comfortable with members of a Roman Catholic Church speaking in ‘their’ church. This surprised me and I discussed it with the minister. He explained that many people in his congregation like to ‘feel safe’ when they attend church; having people from a different faith tradition was uncomfortable for some as the perceived ‘safety’ in being with your own was challenged by different views and experiences. Continue reading

Wolves and lambs stories

Each Sunday Renata Hughes sings in the choir in First Armagh. She is 83 years old. On the surface Renata appears as the typical Presbyterian choir member. However Renata grew up in Germany before the second world war. She was a member of Hitler Youth. Her father served as a doctor in the German army.  It is difficult to imagine the loyal church choir member in a uniform attending indoctrinating mass rallies in the Olympic stadium in Berlin. The last funeral I conducted was that of Jack Parks. He grew up in Markethill, Co Armagh. During the second world war Jack joined the RAF Bomber command. He was a rear gunner, surviving 37 daylight sorties over France, Holland and Germany. Continue reading

Justice, Mercy and Walking with God: The mission of the church and the future of reconciliation in Northern Ireland (David Porter)

On Thursday 10 October David Porter gave the 2013 Catherwood Lecture

Justice, Mercy and Walking with God: The mission of the church and the future of reconciliation in Northern Ireland

David Porter is well known as a co-founder and then Directorof ECONI (Evangelical Contribution on N Ireland). He has served on the N Ireland Community Relations Council, the N Ireland Civic Forum and the independent Consultative Group on the Past (Eames/Bradley). He represented N Ireland on the Evangelical Alliance UK Board, for three years as its chair. Since 2008, David has been the Canon Director for Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral and in February 2013 was appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation. In Lambeth he is one of three advisors supporting Archbishop Justin Welby. A response to the lecture was given by Rev Dr Heather Morris, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. Below you can download the text of the lecture and the response, or listen to a recording. 2013 Catherwood Lecture Catherwood 2013 - Response Rev Dr Heather Morris

To Cope With Hope

In Northern Ireland, there has been a big increase in suicides since the early-nineties, before the first ceasefire in 1994, rising particularly throughout the period after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Many are concerned about the trend, which is often seen when peace comes to a country - whatever side people are on, the cohesiveness that being involved in conflict brings to communities is weakened post conflict. And the situation may actually be worse than people think. Continue reading

A Story Worth Living For

In a recent book, War and the American Difference*, Stanley Hauerwas explores why it is that Americans have a distinct lack of unease with war. War, he says, 'is America's central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations.' In other words, the war on terror means that Americans have a common enemy that unites them nationally. War is a moral good. It is the pursuit and defence of 'freedom'. Continue reading

Ploughshares and pruning hooks – a relevant prophecy?

‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’   Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3 Recently I heard it stated that ‘…creatives, artists, have responsibility to define the vision of the future (of what peace might look like in N Ireland), and that ‘…only creatives can see the way’.  Given that God’s people have His ear and He has ours, we are also in a very privileged position to define what peace looks like and how it might be achieved.  This is where Isaiah’s (and Micah’s) prophecy comes in with its powerful counterpointing of destruction caused by swords and spears and abundance resulting from ploughing and pruning. Continue reading