Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop John McDowell has described the controversial service at Armagh's Church of Ireland St Patrick's Cathedral on October 21st next as "an honest attempt to respect differences. And 'respect' is the key."
It would "allow a very wide range of people from north and south, young and old, and from different ethnic backgrounds to come together to reflect on the differing narratives of our shared history but multiple experiences of the partition of Ireland and the founding of the state of Northern Ireland, " he said.
The Archbishop was speaking in a presidential address to the Church of Ireland General Synod, which is taking place online over the next three days.
Preacher at the service will be president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Dr Sahr Yambasu, "originally from Sierra Leone, and who will bring the fresh insights of 'the new Ireland' to us," the Archbishop said.
Referring to the five church leaders involved he said "although each of us undoubtedly has some sort of political leanings, we tried to consider these important historical events simply as disciples of Jesus Christ, who have been called to a particular form of leadership in the service of the Kingdom: our first and ultimate allegiance".
Expressing his concern about “currents and developments in diplomacy and politics in and between these islands which had the potential to eat away at many of the gains, particularly in Northern Ireland”, he said “they will continue to do so as long as Northern Ireland is governed by policies which primarily respond to the needs of places other than Northern Ireland.”
He felt "the whole of Ireland is beginning to be redolent of how it was in the 17th century, with the warring superpowers of Europe slugging it out for supremacy, but leaving behind social and political divisions which will be found difficult to heal".
The Archbishop was critical of how authorities in the Republic dealt with churches during the pandemic. He felt that “the partnership and liaison which was established between the Northern Ireland Executive, the public health agencies and the churches was a little more systematic and regular, and helped iron out the inevitable supplementary issues which inevitably arise”.
This “may simply be a difference in polity and culture but I think it is worth raising the question if another look at how this sort of liaison is handled [this will not be the last public health crisis) in the Republic of Ireland might be helpful all round?,” he said.
Archbishop McDowell paid tribute to the late Pat Hume, who died recently, and "her quiet, utterly unseen, steely, consistent and life-long work for peace and good relationships on this island and between these islands".
During his address the Archbishop pointed to the "much parodied and derided" speech about frugal comfort by then-Taoiseach Éamon de Valera in 1943 as an answer to the question "what way do we want to live?" .
Quoting from the speech, in which Mr de Valera spoke of an Ireland dreamed of as “home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit”, Archbishop McDowell asked “as a Church, would we not move heaven and earth to play our part in achieving these things?”
He asked, “in a more modern version, what is wrong with returning to a much simpler way of life?”
He acknowledged that his answer to the “what way...?” question came “from an unusual source, at least for a Northern Prod”.