Later this month the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) will hold a special conference to explore the themes emerging from its book ‘Considering Grace – Presbyterians and the Troubles’, and consider the impact for PCI and wider society.
Now in its third reprint, Considering Grace captures a range of experiences from the Troubles of people from a Presbyterian background including ministers, victims, members of the security forces, emergency responders, healthcare works and ‘critical friends’ of the Presbyterian tradition.
‘Considering Grace – unpacking the impact’ Conference
The conference, which is free to attend, takes place on Friday, 20th March in Assembly Buildings, Belfast. Entitled ‘Considering Grace – unpacking the impact’, it will continue to explore the key aims of the book, promote healing and forgiveness within PCI congregations and contribute to wider discussion on dealing with the past.
The conference will also welcome back to Belfast Canon David Porter, Chief of Staff to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his address, he will unpack the impact of the book for wider society. Originally from the city, Canon Porter was the Director of Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland, an organisation which sought to equip Christians to address division and conflict, while challenging churches to think biblically about peacebuilding. He has been the archbishop’s chief of staff since 2016.
Considering Grace also raises a number of challenges for ministry and witness in PCI itself. The Very Rev Professor Stafford Carson, Principal of Union Theological College, will unpack the impact of the book in this context.
Looking forward to the event, Rev Tony Davidson, minister of First Armagh Presbyterian Church, and convener of PCI’s Dealing with the Past Task Group, which has led the Considering Grace project, said, “When we began this initiative nearly four years ago, our aim was to tell a wider story than had been available to date. We wanted to acknowledge both what is good, but also to reflect upon the times when Presbyterians failed to be faithful peacemakers.
“With the UK Government’s proposals on legacy due to be published after Easter, it is our hope that the book and this conference will contribute, over the longer term, to an important wider discussion on dealing with the past, reconciliation and forgiveness. If we are to move on as a society, this is essential.”
Mr Davidson said that the conference has huge implications for Presbyterians. It will also have wider relevance for other denominations and those working on initiatives that help to address the legacy of the past.
“We are very much looking forward to welcoming our principal speakers and hearing their insights. There will also be roundtable discussions and a panel, which will include Dr Gladys Ganiel, the book’s co-author, and Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, as well as the principal speakers. The launch of a resource for congregations, and a resource for trainee ministers, will ensure that the conversations continue long after the conference has ended,” Mr Davidson concluded.
Co-author of the 264-page paperback, Dr Gladys Ganiel, a sociologist at Queen’s University, Belfast and Research Fellow at the Mitchell Institute encouraged people to attend.
“It has been a real privilege to be a part of this project. Considering Grace contributes to the historical record of people’s experiences during the Troubles, but it is foremost a book about the future and so is this month’s conference.
“Two decades on from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, a generation has grown up without the day-to-day lived experience of the conflict, and for that we are all thankful. But they have grown up in a society that is still affected by its past and has yet to find a way of addressing it.
“In our research for the book we found an eagerness, of so-called ‘ordinary’ people, to talk about forgiveness, although the views expressed were complex and varied. However, I think this signals that there is a societal need to open a conversation about forgiveness, and its related virtues such as mercy, grace and hope. I hope both the book and the conference can contribute to that dialogue,” Dr Ganiel said.
To encourage that dialogue within congregations a small group study resource called ‘Considering Grace: A study guide for all’ will also be launched at the conference. A resource for trainee ministers has also been developed
The conference will take place on Friday 20th March 2020 from 10am – 1:30pm in Assembly Buildings, Belfast. Click this link to the PCI website to book your place at the ‘Considering Grace – unpacking the impact’ Conference.