Sunday’s BBC Centenary ‘Service of Reflection’

30.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Prayer, Church leaders, Commemorations.

One hundred years ago on 3 May 1921, the Government of Ireland Act came into force, partitioning the island of Ireland and establishing Northern Ireland. To mark Monday’s centenary, members of the Church Leaders Group (Ireland), which includes the Moderator, have recorded a ‘Service of Reflection’ in an act of worship to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday.

The service (Radio 4 at 8.10am and Radio Ulster at 10.15am) will include a conversation between four of the Church Leaders. Facilitated by Rev Dr Tom McKnight, President of the Irish Methodist Church, the Moderator, Right Rev Dr David Bruce and the Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh, the Most Reverend Eamon Martin and the Most Rev John McDowell, offer their personal thoughts on the centenary.

With personal reflections on the past, the Church Leaders also look ahead in hope to the future, with the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches, preaching on the Good Samaritan. Music, which was pre-recorded, is by the New Irish Choir directed by Jonathan Rea.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s broadcast, Dr Bruce said, “In this service of worship we will reflect together on the centenary and what it means for us. As Christian leaders, we have sought to honour and acknowledge our own differences in these personal perspectives on the formation of Northern Ireland one hundred years ago, the border, which has defined its land boundary, and the often turbulent history of its life.

“Approaching this significant anniversary we have had a number of open and honest conversations together over the last few months about the events of 1921, its impact on families, and the course that history has taken. This led us in March to issue our joint St Patrick’s Day Message on the centenary. In it we lamented the fact that we had often been ‘captive churches; not captive to the Word of God, but to the idols of state and nation’.

Dr Bruce continued, “We also said that Jesus lived out this message of hope by repeatedly and intentionally crossing social boundaries to affirm the dignity of those who had been marginalised or excluded by His own people and by society. We made reference to the important fact that Christ does not seek to minimise differences, but rather to establish connection through gracious listening, replacing exclusion and shame with the hope of new beginnings.

“In advance of the service being broadcast, I would like to thank the BBC for making it possible and hope that all who listen will pause and think, as they reflect on this time in our history, and ultimately be uplifted and inspired by God’s word and His message of salvation and hope for us all,” he said.

The socially distanced recording took place on Tuesday, in Assembly Buildings, Belfast. The service will be introduced by Reverend Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist Conference, with prayers led by Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, Monsignor Joe McGuinness, Executive Secretary of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Reverend Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Very Reverend Shane Forster, Dean of Armagh. It will begin with a ‘Centenary Prayer’, which has been written by the Church Leaders.

Sovereign, wise, and gracious God, in whose hands lie the past, present and future, we acknowledge before you our failures, our divisions, and the hurt we have caused you and one another. Forgive, restore, and heal us. The events of partition and formation, which took place one hundred years ago on the island of Ireland, changed, shaped, and determined the outlook for the place which many of us call home.

As we reflect upon those times and bring to mind what happened then and in the years since, we acknowledge before you our different and often polarised interpretations of history.

As we travel onwards in our journey, may we learn from the experiences of the past and from those who trod these roads before us, so that the inheritance we pass on to the next generation is the gift of understanding, peace, and hope. In faith we pray, and humbly ask, in the name of him who is the light of the world and giver of all hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Church Leaders’ Centenary Prayer

Also on Sunday…

At 1.15pm on BBC One, Songs of Praise marks the centenary with a special programme. It also includes a visit to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Union Theological College, where prior to the building of Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Northern Ireland’s first Parliament from sat from September 1921 to July 1932.

On Monday…

After 7am on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme the Moderator will contribute to a special joint Thought for the Day with Bishop Donal McKeown.

Secretary of State’s new powers ‘destructive’

28.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has called Westminster’s confirmation of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s abortion powers ‘deeply regrettable’ and ‘a sad day not only for devolution’, which has been seriously undermined, ‘but also for the protection of unborn children…’ In light of Parliament’s approval, the Church has also called on the Secretary of State not use these new powers and reflect on how destructive they could be.

Speaking after today’s debate on the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 in the House of Lords, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce said, “When the Secretary of State introduced regulations last month seeking powers to implement abortion legislation over and above the heads of MLAs, we described the move as ‘unreasonable, unacceptable, ill-considered and irresponsible’.

“We deeply regret that Parliament has now given its approval for these radical and sweeping powers, which not only devalue Northern Ireland’s purposely unique system of negotiated government, but also give the Secretary of State the freedom to interfere directly, and at will, with every single department of devolved government.

“It is difficult to reconcile the fact that during the three years when Northern Ireland didn’t have a functioning Executive, his predecessors did not find it necessary to intervene in its governance, except on budgetary matters and other minor ways. Yet now, when Ministers are in office and seeking to govern together, this radical move is now deemed to be essential.”

Dr Bruce continued, “The Secretary of State, and those supportive of devolution, cannot claim to be upholding Northern Ireland’s fragile devolved settlement, while at the same time facilitating this ill-considered and irresponsible intervention which cherry-picks issues and undermines that very system. It should not be forgotten that nearly 80% of those who responded to the public consultation on the abortion regulations in 2019 were against the proposals.

“This is a sad day not only for devolution, but also for the protection of unborn children, leaving children with Down’s syndrome and other conditions unprotected and incredibly vulnerable, not to mention those perceived to be of the ‘wrong’ gender. We call on the Secretary of State not use these new powers and reflect on how destructive they could be.”

MLAs’ call for better end of life care ‘welcome’

27.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs, COVID-19 Emergency.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has welcomed the unanimous support given to the cross-party motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly today around end of life issues, which emphasised ‘a good end of life experience for people in Northern Ireland’ and greater investment in palliative care services.

Speaking after the debate, PCI’s Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce said, “While it can be all too easy to focus on what divides us politically, it is heartening to see MLA’s come together to call for better end of life outcomes to be included in the Executive’s forthcoming Programme for Government (PfG).

“The true measure of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable. Our submission to the PfG consultation noted that access to good, well-resourced palliative care affords dignity to those reaching the end of their lives and provides necessary support to their families. It is important to realise that many of the organisations, which provide this care outside of formal healthcare settings, rely on charitable donations to sustain their operations. We therefore echo the calls of others for a greater focus on palliative and end of life care within the Programme for Government, which needs to be adequately resourced. I trust that the Executive, and Health Minister take note of today’s debate.

“Our ministers and pastoral care teams, along with chaplains working in hospitals and hospices, count it a real privilege to support and journey with families who are caring for a loved one coming towards the end of their life. Our experience from sitting beside countless bedsides is that social, emotional, financial and spiritual factors are all important components which can contribute to a peaceful and dignified death.

Dr Bruce continued, “It goes without saying that restrictions placed on all of society over the past year to combat Covid-19 have been particularly difficult for clergy of all denominations to care for and support those experiencing bereavement. In these difficult times, it is our prayer that those who have lost loved ones know the peace of God that transcends all understanding, and the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is new every morning.”

The Queen’s 95th birthday

21.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

While acknowledging that this is a ‘time of deep personal sadness’ the Moderator, Right Rev Dr David Bruce, has written to Her Majesty The Queen to offer the Church’s congratulations on her 95th birthday, which takes place today, and to assure her of his, and the denomination’s, continued prayers.

In his letter, Dr Bruce wrote, “At this time of deep personal sadness, when you and the Royal Family have laid to rest a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, I continue to pray that you each may know the peace of God that transcends all understanding, and the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is new every morning.

“While you remain in our prayers I also wish to offer, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the greetings of the General Assembly as we acknowledge Your Majesty’s 95th birthday and offer, even in these sad times, our heartfelt congratulations to you.

“This is also an opportunity to acknowledge Your Majesty’s devoted public service and unstinting sense of duty to the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. The Apostle Paul’s words in Colossians come to mind when he wrote, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…’

“These words I believe, are exemplified in your remarkable life of service. Throughout Your Majesty’s long life of devotion to duty and discipleship, I give thanks for your godly example to us all.”

Last week the Moderator wrote on behalf of the denomination to offer Queen Elizabeth PCI’s ‘sincere and heartfelt condolences’ on the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Dr Bruce also sent a letter to the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins congratulating him on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Presidential 80th birthday greetings

18.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Public Affairs.

On behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, wrote to the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, last week to congratulate him on his 80th birthday, which takes place today.

In the letter, he offered Mr Higgins “the greetings of the General Assembly and our warmest congratulations on this significant personal anniversary.”

Dr Bruce continued, “During this year in Ireland, we mark a number of significant national anniversaries. As recorded by The Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph last December you suggested, ‘… that we are all challenged to engage with our shared past in a manner that is honest, authentic and inclusive, and that if commemoration is understood in this way that it might assist in healing the wounds of conflicts, recognise different narratives as to their causes, and their repercussions, that cannot, and should not, be forgotten.’ You went on to say, ‘The complex events we recall from a century ago are integral to the story that has shaped our peoples in all their diversity, and how they are recalled and understood will continue to shape us and the decisions we make into the future. Amnesia will not help us…’”

Dr Bruce concluded his birthday greeting by adding, “You are right, ‘Amnesia will not help us’, and your words in ‘Take Care’, which you posted on Facebook recently, also struck a chord with me when you wrote in the opening, “In the journey to the light, the dark moments should not threaten.” Whether it is our distant past, or these current weeks in which we have experienced tension and disruption, I give thanks that we are seeing glimmers of hope that will take us out of those dark moments.

Violence: Unified response needed – Churches

13.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs, Church leaders

Following recent disturbances in Northern Ireland, Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, has joined the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Catholic Church, Methodist Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches, in writing an open letter to political leaders in Northern Ireland, the Governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the European Union. In their letter, the Church Leaders call for unified political response to address violence and community tensions.

The open letter has been sent to the Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive, Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Micheál Martin TD, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney TD, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Ireland, Dr Ursula van der Leyen, President of the European Commission and Charles Michel, President of the European Council.

In their letter, the Church Leaders:

  • Echo the appeal from local church and community leaders for political leaders to treat Northern Ireland’s fragile peace with care
  • Emphasise the importance of the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement and the consequent responsibility to respect all identities and foster good relations within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland
  • Call on the Northern Ireland Executive to make a joint approach to the UK Government and the European Union in relation to the challenges posed by the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol and
  • Express their support for the PSNI and underline the importance of ensuring that any concerns about policing are addressed in a way that supports and strengthens democratic institutions and processes.

The Church Leaders’ letter reads:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God”

As Christian Church Leaders from across the island of Ireland we appeal to our political leaders to come together in a unified response to the heartbreaking scenes witnessed on our streets last week and renew their commitment to peace, reconciliation and the protection of the most vulnerable.

The causes of this most recent outbreak of violence are complex and, in some respects, deep-rooted. Church representatives and other community leaders working on the ground in affected communities have spoken to us of their frustration at seeing another generation of young people risk their lives and their futures because repeated warnings about the need to treat our fragile peace with care went unheeded.

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement has rightly been held up as a beacon of hope for societies in conflict around the world. The significant reduction in violence since 1998 is a major achievement that serves to remind us that the problems we face at present are not insuperable. But that experience also teaches us that these challenges can only be addressed by political leaders coming together with a genuine desire to find solutions and accommodations which meet the legitimate concerns of others as well as their own. The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, and the subsequent agreements that built on its foundations, recognised our interdependence on these islands and the consequent responsibility to respect all identities and foster good relations within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.

We have previously advocated for the need to protect all these relationships in the context of Brexit. The Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol presents many challenges to the flow of trade and also the flow of goodwill across and between these islands. Some of the challenges were foreseeable and have been planned for and mitigated (at least in part). The political outcomes of the Protocol are more difficult to address because they are tied in with very big issues of world trade and sovereignty. The only way in which these will be constructively handled, from a Northern Ireland point of view, and with a good chance of a successful outcome, is if the European Union (including the Irish Government) and the Government of the United Kingdom are approached jointly by the entire Northern Ireland Executive advocating for the protection of the common good across the whole of Northern Ireland. Such a joint approach would be difficult to turn down, but to develop it will require a renewed generosity of spirit from political leaders on all sides of our community.

Leaders, organisations and communities make mistakes. As Christian leaders we are conscious of the need to acknowledge the failings of leadership from the churches in our ministry to divided communities. In such circumstances there is nothing ignoble in showing genuine sorrow. It is hardly surprising, given the complexities of our relationships at home and abroad, that politicians, political parties and others in leadership make miscalculations. Learning from the consequences of miscalculations is much better than an endless scramble to paper over the cracks.

We also have to face the difficult questions about who pays the price for our failings. In the past week we have seen people afraid to leave their homes, others at risk of violence as they go about their work and young people feeling that they have no stake in society or hope for the future. Much good work on the ground has been undermined as tension has risen and confidence has plummeted. It has been horrific to witness the intensity of the violence directed against the PSNI and the extent of the injuries sustained by officers. All of us in Northern Ireland have created a society in which even-handed policing requires the wisdom of Solomon combined with the patience of Job. The PSNI is relentlessly scrutinised by the Policing Board, and other organs of accountability. In that sense the PSNI has a political legitimacy across this community which is enjoyed by few other institutions. It is vital that we address concerns in a way that strengthens our democratic processes rather than undermining them.

We are conscious too that churches are only a small part of the wider civic leadership in our society, and that all civic leaders have a responsibility to support our elected representatives as they seek to negotiate difficult compromises and find new accommodations for the common good. At the same time, we have a responsibility to hold them to account, and the persistent levels of socio-economic inequality in the areas worst impacted by violence, over two decades after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, demand more sustained attention and meaningful intervention by political leaders. The Agreement provided for regular and transparent engagement of civic leaders in policy development, but in practice this has been implemented only in a very limited way, and all too often as an emergency response rather than a preventative measure. Churches, together with other civic leaders, are keen to play our part in addressing the root causes of violence and working to ensure all communities here can enjoy the benefits of peace into the future.

Please be assured of our continued prayerful support for your leadership at this critical time.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Rev Dr David Bruce

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Most Rev John McDowell

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

Rev Dr Thomas McKnight

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

Most Rev Eamon Martin

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland

Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson

President of the Irish Council of Churches

Death of The Duke of Edinburgh

9.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, has written to Her Majesty The Queen to offer the Church’s sincere and heartfelt condolences on the death of her husband and consort, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away this morning at Windsor Castle, aged 99.

In paying tribute to Prince Philip, Dr Bruce said, “It is with sadness that I learnt of the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. On behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen, and the Royal Family, on the loss of someone who was not only so central to their lives, but a figure who played his part, for over 70 years, in the national life of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.”

Reflecting on his long life, most of which has been at Queen Elizabeth’s side, Dr Bruce continued, “Given his service to so many charities and organisations across these islands and farther afield, I am sure that people of all generations, will have been encouraged, helped or inspired by him, not least through his famous award scheme for young people, which bears his name.”

Dr Bruce continued, “Perhaps the greatest and most personal tribute to Prince Philip has, however, already been paid – in 1997, at a lunch to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary. On that occasion the Queen said of her husband, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”

“At this time of bereavement, I pray that Her Majesty The Queen, her family and all who mourn, may know the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, and our ultimate comforter in times of sadness.”

Moderator: Ongoing civil unrest must stop

8.4.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, has joined in condemnation of the ongoing violence which has escalated in parts of Northern Ireland in recent days, saying, “there is no place for the street violence, rioting and other unlawful behaviour such as has been witnessed, and I call on those involved and those orchestrating it to stop immediately, before more people are injured or someone is killed.”

In his statement, Dr Bruce said, “As Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland I want to join with many others across society in the clear condemnation of the violence which has escalated in recent days. There is no place for the street violence, rioting and other unlawful behaviour such as has been witnessed, and I call on those involved and those orchestrating it to stop immediately, before more people are injured or someone is killed.

“On behalf of the Presbyterian Church, I offer our unequivocal support to the PSNI in these difficult days. Police officers are themselves not separate from us, but part of our local communities. Those who are serving on the ground, and may find themselves on the front line, along with the senior leadership of the PSNI, deserve our clear support at this time. In particular my prayers are with those who have been injured in the course of their duties with the hope that they recover quickly.”

Dr Bruce continued, “It is important that we recognise that there are significant underlying issues in communities across Northern Ireland, and particularly amongst those who feel that their identity has been threatened and undermined as a result of Brexit and the Protocol. This is compounded by a growing sense of hopelessness manifested in a lack of economic progress, reduced opportunities for employment, and educational disadvantage.

“In seeking to build a peaceful and reconciled society, these issues can, and will, only be solved through political will and leadership across that society. Whilst our elected representatives at Stormont have the primary responsibility for these matters of policy, the UK and Irish governments, along with the EU itself, must all be actively involved in finding ways to rebuild confidence amongst those who feel marginalised and that their identity has been undermined. Their voices need to be heard and their genuine concerns addressed.”

The Moderator concluded by saying, “Violence on the streets is not a legitimate response to these concerns, especially when over the past year these very communities have stepped up to support one another during the Covid-19 pandemic. The events of recent nights have brought fear and foreboding back onto the streets and have the potential to undo much of this positive and quiet work. This must not happen.”