Courage to Lament: An ecumenical reflection of Northern Ireland’s past and future

Courage to Lament: An ecumenical reflection of Northern Ireland’s past and future
by Hollie ENNIS
22 June 2022

“Using the biblical practice of lament, this service will offer a space to reflect on the conflict in and about Northern Ireland and the future that is before us. It will seek to create a space to acknowledge our deep hurt and pain, to reflect on what we might have done or might still do, and to commit ourselves to ensure such suffering and loss never happens again.” (Corrymeela)

Courage to Lament service (21 June 2022); source: YouTube

Within the global calendar, the 21st of June is synonymous with the summer solstice; however, in Northern Ireland the soliscate is overshadowed by the annual Day of Reflection. 

“Across the midday hour when the sun is at its highest so the shadows are reduced, let us have the courage to lament so that the shadows of this land’s troubles may itself be reduced,” said Stephen Forde, Dean of Belfast Cathedral, the cathedral church of St Anne.

An ecumenical service was held in St Annes’ Cathedral, organised by notable peace and reconciliation groups including Corrymeela and the Wave Trauma Centre. The Council for Community Relations and the Irish Department of Foregin Affairs also aided the service. 

In order to reflect its ecumenical nature, the service was led by leaders from the main Christain churches in Northern Ireland, including Dean Stephen Forde, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Reverend Dr David Bruce, and the Reverend Dr Alex Wimberly of Corrymeela. 

Two women, Toni and Emma, who have lost their fathers, also participated in the service. Their presence was a nod to the agency of victims and survivors — that their leadership should play an important role when reflecting and dealing with the past. As Rev. Wimberley noted, “The experience of those who suffer most should guide us.”  

The service was based on the act of lamenting — an expression of sorrow, regret or unhappiness. This process was undertaken in various forms throughout the service, mostly through liturgy and prayer. Secondly, it was expressed through music, with a performance from Na Leanaí. The solemn and emotive tones of the flute and fiddle creating a traditional Irish musical lament fitting for reflection. A piece, “Where the birds sing”, composed by Grace Evangekine Mason for the Commission of Victims and Survivors was also heard. Thirdly, and perhaps most effectively was the use of brief periods of silence which as stated by Rev. Wimberly, “could serve us better than more words might and be an act that honours our private emotions while reminding us we are never alone”. 

An overriding theme that emerged from the service was one of unity and togetherness in both suffering and reflection:

“We come together to lament the truth of our brokenness and the extent of our hurt.” 

However, the individuality of suffering, remembrance, and reflection was not overridden but also validated within the service. In the service’s closing moments following the service leaders, the congregation was invited to take part in a symbolic gesture of individually taking a piece of patchwork cloth and lamenting:

“I will take patch in the hope for justice for my daddy who was murdered but also in the hope for justice for everyone here who has suffered and is still suffering in Northern Ireland,” said Toni.

“I will remember the 12th October 1979 when my schoolpal John was murdered and I will be lamenting that his death happened and that his family never recovered,” said Rev. Bruce. 

Despite the focus to lament and remember the suffering and victims of the past, the service ended with hopeful thought and envisioning of the future. The whole congregation recited:

“Together we commit to a society of peace and justice showing the courage to reject violence by standing with and listening to victims and survivors and calling the church again to the power of love, grace, and forgiveness which alone can break our cycle of violence.” 

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