‘In Muff we pray for the President ... in Culmore, the Queen’
Ministry straddling Border caters to more than 300 families across four parishes
Archdeacon Robert Miller at Muff Church of Ireland in Co Donegal. Photograph: Trevor McBride.
“When I’m in Muff we pray for the President, and when I’m in Culmore we pray for the Queen.”
For Archdeacon Robert Miller, that is the only difference between his parish in Donegal and his three in Derry.
The rector of Christ Church, St Peter’s and Culmore in Derry City, and Muff in Co Donegal, Archdeacon Miller laughs at the idea of having an “international ministry” given the cross-Border nature of his work.
With Brexit looming, he admits there is uncertainty among some in his parishes around what may come, but he says that for the church “the Border doesn’t really exist”.
“I have joked that I hope I won’t need my passport to go to Muff on a Sunday morning,” he says, “but the reality is that we’ve been here before with Border checkpoints and crossings and during that time Muff and Culmore related and worked together, so I would be hopeful that whatever happens, we’ll manage.”
Culmore is about 3km from Muff. The journey between the two takes less than five minutes and only the changing road signs and a poster erected by the Border Communities Against Brexit campaign group, marking the Border’s location, suggest that you have moved from Northern Ireland to the Republic.
There may be complications down the line if a political agreement on Brexit is not reached but Archdeacon Miller says the Church of Ireland existed long before there was any Border.
“We predate partition, and the reality then was that the Church of Ireland had to negotiate something that was imposed upon it and which put a Border between some of its dioceses,” says Archdeacon Miller.
“But the Church of Ireland is a church of the whole island, and whilst obviously we acknowledge the secular way in which the island is divided, the Church of Ireland operates as a whole-island church.
“If you talk to people they’ll say that the reality of the matter is that at partition a line was drawn on a map – and especially during the Troubles things were very, very difficult – but the relationships existed and persisted.”
Archdeacon Miller ministers to about 330 families across the four parishes. He says his responsibility is to provide pastoral support for his parishioners throughout the challenges posed by Brexit.
“I don’t do down the uncertainty, because certainly for people who are farming, or people whose business causes them to go back and forth across the Border, or even those who work in one or both of the currencies and then have to cross the Border, all of this causes uncertainty for them,” he says.
“Each generation will have its own challenge, and in some ways our challenge is Brexit.”
The archdeacon says that while it is not the church’s role to have an opinion on Brexit, its responsibility is to react to people’s concerns.
“In terms of peacebuilding, you’re always aware that a change in the status quo at the minute could be a difficult thing,” he says. “For people who have lived on the Border for 40-plus years of troubles, that would be a concern if there was an attempt to reimpose it, but it does seem that it will be a soft Border.”