Presbyterian Church marks centenary of NI with series of seminars

The centenary of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland is being marked by they Presbyterian Church (PCI) with a series of four seminars designed to “promote a thoughtful and open dialogue”.

By Mark Rainey
Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 4:09 pm
Union Theological College in Belfast

The seminars follow the PCI’s principal centenary event which took place at the Union Theological College in Belfast in September.

Entitled ‘Beyond these steps – reflecting on challenges and opportunities for the next 100 years’, the seminars are primarily aimed at the Presbyterian community in Ireland, however, the first seminar – which was held at Ballykeel Presbyterian in Ballymena – heard the views of political representatives from across the UK and Ireland.

Rev Dr Tony Davidson, convener of PCI’s Peace and Reconciliation Panel, said he was looking forward to the remaining seminars which are due to take place early in 2022.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

He said: “From 1921, for 11 years, PCI’s Union Theological College was home to the Parliament of Northern Ireland before it moved to Stormont. A century on, we wanted to acknowledge the role that the College played in the momentous events of 100 years ago with a special event there.”

The seminars will “focus on different audiences from young adults and border communities to urban, working class, loyalist communities”.

The final event will involve key decision makers within PCI. Learning from each of the previous three seminars will feed into this final session, with discussion centred on what challenges the Church’s reflections on the centenary might have for it and how they might be addressed in light of changing relationships on the island of Ireland, and between the rest of the UK and the island of Ireland.

The first seminar involved a dialogue with a panel of three ministers working in urban, working class, loyalist communities across Northern Ireland and Debbie Watters of the restorative justice programme, Alternatives NI.

Rev Dr Martin McNeely, minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church, welcomed just over 30 key listeners within the denomination and other interested parties to his church to reflect on how the events of 100 years ago still play out in regard to political and community expression.

He was also joined by Rev Dave Clawson, minister of West Kirk Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road in Belfast and Rev Dr John Coulter of Ballysally Presbyterian in Coleraine.

The panellists also looked at current opportunities and challenges faced by Protestant unionist loyalist communities.

Dr Davidson said: “As we begin to go beyond the steps of Union College with these events, I was very encouraged by our first one in Ballykeel. During our time together, I read from Isaiah 61, which is often read during this Advent season. In verse four it says,‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.’

“Throughout this process, we want to listen and reflect on what that may mean in the different contexts we will be exploring together, in the streets, houses, schools and estates like Ballykeel. As we reflect together, we seek to remember truthfully, therapeutically and helpfully in an attempt to use this anniversary constructively, so that in Jesus’ name, we may see the outline of a better future.”