A 100-year old 'bridge' between neighbouring Christian communities near Enniskillen from different Christian traditions was bridged last week when Fr Brian D'Arcy, CP, rector at The Graan accepted an invitation to preach in the Church of Ireland Rossorry Parish Church. It was the first time that a Rector from the Graan had preached in the church whose rector, Rt Rev Archdeacon Cecil Pringle had crossed the 'divide' last year when he gave the address at the Mission of Hope in the Graan.
Addressing the overflow 'mixed' congregation, Fr D'Arcy said he was, 'fearful and anxious' given the magnitude of the occasion: "It is in the full awareness of this momentous night that I can tell you with great conviction that this is the most significant day in my personal spiritual Journey, since the day of my Ordination 34 years ago.
"Two praying congregations who have lived apart for close' on 100 years come together this night. We come humbly because we are aware we are unworthy of the gifts we bring and receive this night but, unworthy or not, God has blessed each of us this night and I therefore begin by thanking you as a community, and especially your spiritual leader, Archdeacon Pringle, for the courage you have shown".
Fr D'Arcy then traced his childhood days growing up in Belnaleck and his early exposure to what he called, 'the countryman's basis for ecumenism'. "Neither my mother nor my father would have been able to pronounce 'ecumenism', never mind spell it but they had a more important ingredient: they lived it". He explained how the family's little tin roof house had an 'open door' policy, where Mrs Cutler was as welcome as Mrs Murphy, how his mother cared for the neighbours' children when they were sick and how, on his father's birthday (12th July) how the house was filled with those same children while their parents went off to march.
"Because of my background, I see our journey towards fulfilling the mandate given to us by Christ, 'That all be one' as, firstly, a very practical one. "The scandal to me is that we in our various churches don't nurture goodness as we should. We tend to emphiase our differences".
He proffered his audience a number of simple truths to appreciate, all based on the premise, 'the same God' ('it is the same God we meet when we leave this world') and expressed concern that 'all our churches are in daily danger of being relegated to relics of the past'.
"Soon, we will have an EU constitution ashamed to mention God, the excuse given that religion brings division. Isn't it arrogant that when we speak of, 'the two communities' we mean the Protestant-Catholic divide? "If we were really Christian, would we not think that 'two communities' would refer to rich or poor, believers or non-believers? Soon, it will be the situation where we will be grateful that people are Christians and what particular brand of Christianity we find ourselves associated with will the of little importance. "I look forward to that day because that is precisely the way it should be", he added.
Fr D'Arcy warned of treating 'a lovely night like this' as an end in-itself. There had to be a gradual progression, a daily crossing of the divides until they were no longer obvious and ordinary people' doing ordinary things: for and with one another. "On a very practical level, I think we can all work hard to overcome what I regard as the single greatest evil which kills the spirit of friendship: that is sectarianism. We should never allow ourselves to become prisoners of sectarianism".
He went on to suggest that ecumenism would be increasingly a lay movement: "I am bitterly disappointed when the leaders of our churches - and I include myself in that - fail to agree on a theology that would allow us to share the Lord's table. "I look forward to the day when at inter-faith weddings we can have a Eucharist as the centre of the service, not as a reminder of division but as a symbol of unity.
"We want to be together in simple decent ways, to overcome useless hatred, to transcend community boundaries, to be peacemakers, to be Christians praying - together. And, if churches and church leaders don't contribute and don't lead, how can they be taken seriously?". He said people must not and should not be asked to abandon their beliefs, but must learn to respect and cherish difference. "We must recognise that we can arrive at a situation where people can agree to agree and also agree to differ and be cherished equally".
Concluding, he asked his listeners to' pray and thank God for the gift of faith, to be also aware of the deep faith of others, to thank God both for differences and what they held in common, to encourage goodness wherever they recognised it, not least the goodness in one's neighbour. "Recognise that what we have in common is much greater than the small differences which divide us", he added.
Speaking afterwards, Archdeacon Pringle said the response was 'indescribable' and he had not received any negative reaction. "I have had so many commendations, people phoning, calling and writing. I have just been amazed completely about the whole thing and, frankly, neither of us, Brian or myself, believes it's other than the work of God. "I have never heard so many people on their way out of church speak so appreciatively of a service in the church and never in my time have we had to delay the start of a service to see if we can pack more people in".
Pringle said people had come from all over the county, from Newtownbutler
to Kesh and from across the border, as reflected in euros among the E1,000
raised to help the work of the Irish School of Ecumenics. And, he was
amazed at their durability. "There was a large number of people standing
throughout the entire service because we could not get any more chairs
in. They simply stood in place for the one and half hours it lasted. I
just don't know how some of them knew about it. All I can say is it's
the work of God".