Rector’s Letter – April 2017
Moving to be rector of a small country parish in Co Down in 1989, one of my first and most urgent tasks was to try to support a family threatened by the IRA. The woman’s first husband had been a policeman who had been murdered by the IRA and her second husband, another policeman, realized his life was in danger when he was advised that a stranger had been seen photographing their house and car. It was a stark and immediate reminder of the daily reality of life for many people at the time.
There was hardly a family in that farming community of ninety Church of Ireland families that had not been touched by the Troubles, whatever claims the IRA made about their campaign being against “British rule,” it was ordinary Protestant people who felt the brunt of it. Many of the people who suffered most during the Troubles were those who had also been disadvantaged by the decades of Unionist rule; in the city of Belfast, the lot of working class Protestants had been little better that of their Roman Catholic counterparts.
The news of the death of Martin McGuinness brought memories of visiting families whose loved ones were remembered in photographs on the sideboard, those whose attendance at church took them past the graves of those who had been shot or bombed. Yet I read a piece by the Revd Trevor Morrow, a former moderator of the Presbyterian church, who recalled the McGuinness of recent times and how he had welcomed the opportunity to share in prayer. I recalled a recent interview with Ian Paisley Junior and how he spoke of how his father and Martin McGuinness had prayed together.
The Good Friday story tells us a story of forgiveness of the dying thief; it tells us the story of God’s forgiveness of each one of us, the story of Jesus standing in our place so that we do not receive the punishment we deserve. A man in the North once said to me, “”Ian, there are two sorts of people in the world: there are sinners saved by grace, and there are sinners.” Of course, only God can judge us, but if the Revd Trevor Morrow and Dr Ian Paisley believed McGuinness to be a sinner searching for grace, then who are we to question?
Perhaps Martin McGuinness is a reminder to us that we all need God’s grace, that we all need to turn from our own ways. The Good Friday story reminds us that death is not the end, that the way is opened to a life beyond this one – a life where our old divisions are forever set aside.
I don’t normally comment when you are speaking to your congregation as distinct from more generally. But here I think I can, and should.
Too some extent I comment on this in order to be inclusive. It’s my small way to agree/disagree with someone who’s opinion a very few short years ago I wouldn’t hear/read.
Now don’t get me wrong. If your writings were boring or of a slant so rightwing I wouldn’t read them. Equally I’m amazed at your output for when I was writing hard for my blog I wasn’t even close to your output.
Anyway. I’m sorry he has gone. He seemed to be the one that kept the Institutions going after the removal of Paisley. And I’m hoping against hope that he’s been there long enough that he’s created, by outlasting his cohort on both sides that politics has become embedded.
Oh, and for what it’s worth. The inherited institutions in both States after the various Government of Ireland Acts in the early 1920’s were what we’d call today institutionally racist. And I can easily argue that of the two today, the North is by far the less racist. The difference is we in the South seem to accept it until people like Wallace TD for Wexford and Daly in Dublin expose it, for that is what’s underpinning the Penalty Points erasure for some people.
I have a sister living in a Loyalist area of Belfast who held him in the highest regard.
I think in ten years time, when the last of the military men have gone, Sinn Fein will become more widely acceptable