Opening a new chapter
On Wednesday evening, I took up a generous, longstanding invitation from Jennifer McMaster to speak to the Methodist Women’s Institute in Cairnshill Methodist Church in Carryduff, South Belfast, and was bowled over by the warmth of their welcome. The evening started with a moving, old Irish hymn Is Tú Mo Shúile (Be Thou My Vision) and ended with the translation of a traditional Irish blessing.
I left heartened by the willingness of Rev Louise and her colleagues to reach out across barriers and remain convinced that the community is ahead of the politicians when it comes to peacemaking. Similarly, those who would protest the use of the Irish language do not represent the vast majority of the ordinary unionist people who are keen to learn more about our shared heritage. I took great heart from the presence of so many positive people of faith. As our talks at Stormont push on, I hope the faith leaders of Belfast take the opportunity to pray for a breakthrough on the hill. I often found that a peace mantra from Hindu Chaplain to the Lord Mayor Ashok Sharma could move mountains — and hearts.
Earlier today, I was at the marvellous Skainos centre on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast — a hub of community ingenuity and innovation as well as a vibrant Irish language learning centre — for a special service by the Rev Margaret Ferguson to mark Homeless week.Kainos is home to Hosford, a housing shelter for 26 homeless people, and it was great to hear about the life-changing work going on there. The focus of the service was on “the least of these”; the need to help those in need. In that spirit, I’ll be backing The Funding Network evening in City Hall on 10 December when we’ll try to raise £20,000 for four worthy causes in a dragons’ den style session.Among those good causes is a homework club for the children of refugees and asylum seekers, the NOW project which runs catering businesses which lift up those with learning difficulties, and the gay arts festival Outburst. In their own way, each of those projects celebrate community and salute difference. They also reach out and include — which is the message ringing loud and clear from An Chultúrlann, from Cairnshill and from Skainos.