Our politicians should exhibit more grace to one another and also receive grace from the rest of us, writes Fr Martin Magill
Grace is perhaps one of the greatest of God’s gifts. It is truly “amazing” as exemplified in John Newton’s famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, so loved in all Christian traditions and beyond.
Grace is the love and mercy of God himself which none of us really deserve or have merited but which is offered freely to each of us to help us towards salvation and the eternal happiness promised by Our Lord. In other words, grace is that divine gift that, although undeserved by us, helps us to live out our calling to be children of God, to love him and to love our neighbour by among other things showing kindness and generosity of spirt – particularly when it is difficult to do so.
By accepting the gift of grace, we are realising God’s will for us in our daily lives and helping to build his kingdom of love and justice and peace.
At the end of March when our organising committee sat down in the Methodist Belfast Central Mission to consider a theme for this year’s annual 4 Corners Festival – a cross-community inter-Church arts festival in Belfast – we took the greater part of an afternoon to work out what it should be.
As we do every year, we thought, we prayed, we discerned, and after careful deliberation came up with ‘Building a City of Grace.’
So, we had concluded that a transfusion of grace was what this divided, wounded, yet beautiful city needed against a background of the collapse of the Good Friday institutions, intermittent acts of violence, sectarianism and of course the unresolved tension over Brexit and its potentially drastic consequences.
Little did I know that less than a month later, not far away, also in our city, l would be preaching in St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral at the funeral of Lyra McKee, the murdered journalist, and noting that many of us were praying that her death in its own way may not have been in vain and might in some way contribute to building the peace.
There is, thank God, increasing evidence that the political leaders, perhaps encouraged, in part, by the positive response to the solidarity they displayed after the tragedy of Lyra’s death, are addressing the political crisis with renewed vigour and determination.
Apart from its theological meaning, grace means being pleasing and gracious to other human beings. The hope and prayer of our festival is that we can make a contribution to the spread of grace and that can percolate into the wider community, including our politicians in the North who should exhibit more grace to one another and also receive grace from the rest of us.
The idea for the 4 Corners Festival emerged in 2012 out of a now famous cup of coffee I had with my friend and festival co-founder Rev. Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian minister, in my presbytery in Lenadoon, in west Belfast, where I was parish priest.
The first festival took place in 2013 so this is our eighth production.
I suppose the inspiration for it came from Jesus’ own words: “May they all be one, as you Father are in me and I am in you. May they be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17.21)
As we do every year, we thought, we prayed, we discerned, and after careful deliberation came up with ‘Building a City of Grace’”
We felt that the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January, in Belfast at any rate, had become a bit jaded and was attracting predominantly older attendees.
It needed, we thought, to be augmented by something, (it turned out to be a festival) that would entice people of different Christian backgrounds out of their own ‘corner’ of the city, whether they were in the north, south, east of west of Belfast, to meet and befriend people they would never otherwise have met.
And to do this in the context of being entertained, challenged and enriched by talks, drama, poetry, music and indeed prayer in a welcoming comfortable setting.
It is no coincidence that during every event there is a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits so that people of all traditions can meet, and friendships are forged.
Indeed, it can be said that by 2020, 4 Corners, with its motto ‘Bringing Belfast Together’ has become something of a movement, with the festival being the catalyst for the creation of friendships and enhanced social contact that to some extent permeate the community.
This year’s festival has almost 20 events and it runs from January 31 until February 9.
We are breaking new ground by launching Festival 2020 in a prison, Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison, on January 17 (by invitation only) trying to live up to Christ’s words: “I was in prison, and you came to see me,” (Matthew 25.36). I think Pope Francis, who has regularly visited prisoners would approve.
Every event in our programme is a highlight but I will mention a few that are likely to book out quickly. In my own church, former deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon will respond to an evening of reflections on how Presbyterians were impacted by the Troubles.
Elsewhere, Miami Showband survivor Stephen Travers will talk and sing about his journey since the massacre. Church of Ireland retired bishop of Connor, Alan Abernethy will revisit a Catholic Church where as a teen he witnessed a sectarian attack that changed his life.
Belfast soccer club chairmen will examine how the sport can promote healing and champion of the homeless. Fr Peter McVerry SJ will bring our festival to a close.
Come and join us.
Fr Martin Magill is co-founder and co-director of the 4 Corners Festival and parish priest of St John the Evangelist parish, Falls Road, Belfast. For further details see 4cornersfestival.com