Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Padre, the Pastor, the Political quagmire

This weekend, apart from the wedding, one thing has been burning on my blogging sensitivities that I have to blog. It is my thoughts on the former army chaplin, now minister in my late father's home congregation and his decision to attend the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on Friday. Everywhere I ahve turned over hte last week  there has been mention of him, in the newspapers, on the television, on radio on Sunday Sequence and then on Monday on The Nolan Show guest hosted by Sunday Sequences William Crawley.

First Derry Presbyterian Church
On Friday the Rev Dr David Latimer TD, BSc (Econ), DipTh, MA, minister of First Derry Presbyterian (pictured) appeared before Sinn Féin delegates at their Ard Fheis in the Waterfront Hall. As the minister for a markedly divided city this was a very symbolic gesture. For those of you who don't know the geography of the Walled City just across the road in front of the church are the city walls. From a postion there you look straight down over the Bogside, the scenes of Bloody Sunday and Free Derry Corner. As a church goes First Derry, and St Augustine's just up the road, know the history of Northern Ireland's divisions as well as any.

However, the recent re-opening and redidication of First Derry a process in which the Deputy First Minister played an important role means that they also know the progress that has been being made, especially cross community.

It was the weekend of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and on Sunday morning back in his day job Dr. Latimer was hosting the RAF Association Londonderry Branch thanksgiving service to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. In his sermon that day he touched upon the juxtoposition that the commemoration of that event opened up old wounds just as his attending the Ard Fheis would do as well. But he said that the only people who could know if there was true repentance was between man and God, whether than man was Martin McGuinness or David Latimer because we all have a past. All he could go on was the outward outworkings of what was happening. It was something he re-emphasised at the end of his Nolan Show spot.
Dr Latimer addressing the Ard Fheis

The bitterness from some of the callers was still there on Monday morning. In one case a Presbyterian Minister from the Shankhill and a Sinn Féin delegate who was in the Waterfornt Hall had a debate heated discussion on Monday's Nolan Show. Although all the heat seemed to come from Dr Latimer's clerical colleague, the Sinn Féin representative quite rightly pointed out to him that the escalation of some of the language he was using would keep us rooted forever in the past. It was only by moving on and extending the hand of friendship as Christ would have done that we can create a peace.

There is still a lot of rancour across the communities here in Northern Ireland. There are still probably many people who would not walk down the hill from First Derry Church and through Butcher Gate and down the hill to Free Derry Corner. Just as there are people in Belfast who may not walk on the 'wrong side' of a peace line. But until more of us do, until we embrace all of us in our Britishness, Irishness, Ulsterness, Northern Irishness or whatever we wish to respresent ourselves and others as, we can only stallingly move on. What David Latimer did on Friday was merely a public act which many people in Northern Ireland, the North or whatever have been doing privately for some time.

Dr Latimer, as he admits himself, is not a politician but they have acted especially Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley when they agreed to work together in the best interests of all (though sometimes others need to remember that first step). Many people are crossing those divides forging new friendships, especially in the younger generations. Sometimes it is merely those that complain, and complain the loudest that assuage others that their internalised sectarianism is alright and they don't need to step over that threshold.

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