PCI Moderator thanks Department of Foreign Affairs for its Reconciliation Fund support
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, has thanked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for its support through its Reconciliation Fund in the publication of the all-Ireland denomination’s book, Considering Grace: Presbyterians and the Troubles. Dr Kirkpatrick was speaking at an event with the DFA at Iveagh House, Dublin, (23 March 2023) to mark and acknowledge a unique publication, which explores how Presbyterians responded to the Troubles. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin TD described the book as “an important contribution to our understanding of a dark period in our collective past.”
Published by Merrion Press in late 2019, and now in its second print, the book is an account of around 120 Presbyterian people who tell their stories of how they coped with unimaginable trauma and tests of faith and how their faith shaped their response to violence and its aftermath.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin TD welcomed the event and said, “I am very pleased that my Department is co-hosting this event with the Presbyterian Church. Churches and religious communities across the island are key partners on our shared journey of peace and reconciliation.”
Mr Martin continued, “Considering Grace is an important contribution to our understanding of a dark period in our collective past. My Department, through the Reconciliation Fund, is proud to support the Presbyterian Church’s important work advancing understanding and reconciliation on this island, including the complex but vitally important question of how we address the legacy of the past.”
Written by Dr Gladys Ganiel and Dr Jamie Yohanis, the 264-page paperback takes its title from a comment made by Rev Terry Laverty of Portstewart Presbyterian Church when talking in the book about the murder of his brother by the IRA. Other Presbyterian ministers, victims, members of the security forces, emergency responders, healthcare workers and ‘critical friends’ of the Presbyterian tradition also provide insights on wider human experiences of anger, pain, healing, and forgiveness.
Thanking the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Director General, Ruairí de Búrca, for the DFA’s support, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “Considering Grace has its genesis in a resolution of our General Assembly in 2016. That June the Church decided to embark upon what it described at the time as a ‘research project’ that would uncover a wider story about Presbyterian responses to the Troubles and offer what emerged for the benefit of the Church and wider society.
“For many ordinary courageous people, who told us their compelling, poignant and often painful stories, that personal journey began years before in some of the darkest days ever visited upon this island. As it says on the back cover, it is our hope that ‘Considering Grace contributes to the process of ‘dealing with the past’ by pointing towards the need for a ‘gracious remembering’ that acknowledges suffering, is self-critical about the past, and creates space for lament, but also for the future.’ It is imperative that we find an agreed and appropriate way forward to dealing with the legacy of the past, for the sake of all who still mourn and seek justice, and for the generations to come, north and south.“
Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “Without the support of the DFA’s Reconciliation Fund, uncovering that wider Presbyterian story and offering what emerged for the benefit of wider Irish society, would have been so much more difficult. That support also led to two connected initiatives, ‘On These Steps’ and ‘Beyond These Steps’ also supported by the Reconciliation Fund. These events further provided opportunities to listen, and reflect more broadly on the changing landscape of the island of Ireland. On behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, I would like to put on record our deep appreciation and thanks to the Department for their support and to everyone who made Considering Grace possible.”
Following the initial launch in November 2019, the support of the DFA’s Reconciliation Fund also enabled PCI to hold an online conference to unpack the themes emerging from the book along with ‘On These Steps’. This special event, which was held at PCI’s Union Theological College in September 2021, marked the creation of Northern Ireland and partition on the island of Ireland by acknowledging the role that the denomination played in hosting the first Northern Ireland Parliament at the College. It was notable as one of the only events during the centenary year which saw participation from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom. A related series of seminars entitled ‘Beyond These Steps’ facilitated a listening exercise involving various groups of people. It concluded with the final seminar in June 2022.
During the evening two extracts were read from Considering Grace, the first were the recollections of Very Rev Dr Russell Birney, a former Presbyterian Moderator, who was called to Downshire Road Presbyterian Church in Newry as its minister in September 1973. For a time he also looked after two rural congregations in County Armagh and in 1975 he was involved in the aftermath of the Tullyvallen Massacre, which took the lives of five people, including one of his members. The second was the story of Judy whose husband lost his parents and another relative in a single terrorist incident and the effect on him, his family and the support they received from their local minister.
Speaking about the book at the reception, co-author Dr Jamie Yohanis, said, “Considering Grace tells the untold stories of ordinary people of faith during the Troubles, stories of anger, pain, healing, and forgiveness that all of us on this island need to hear.
“On the surface Considering Grace is a book about the past, reminding us that we should lament the suffering endured during the Troubles. But for me it is better understood as book about the future, serving as a starting point for wider conversations about how we move forward together in light of our tragic history,” Dr Yohanis concluded.
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