Faith Matters

The journey to reconciliation, one coffee at a time

The Rev Dr Laurence Graham, the outgoing Methodist President, spoke to Sinn Féin's ard fheis in Belfast on Saturday about reconciliation and healing

The road to reconciliation can start with having a coffee with someone you disagree with

RECONCILIATION would be really easy if we were beginning with a blank sheet of paper.

Wouldn't it be so much easier to be reconciled if we all didn't have a past? But of course, there is no blank sheet of paper, we all have a past which we can't forget but the key issue for reconciliation is what do we do with the memory now and how do we unlock the future.

I want to offer three challenges. The first is a personal challenge to every single citizen while the second two are more corporate challenges to Sinn Féin and indeed all political parties in this land.

But first the personal one. I would challenge every single person to make a point of going looking for somebody who you know you will disagree with and have a coffee with them. In other words, take time to get to know them.

The aim of meeting isn't necessarily to come to agreement but just to get to know the person who you disagree with.

It's still too easy in this land to spend our whole lives amongst people with whom we agree and a segregated community where we only know people with whom we agree will never be reconciled.

Only as people from 'the other side' become people we know personally can the fear of difference be removed - that's a challenge to every individual.

There are two more corporate challenges. I have said already that, of course, we can't forget our past but if healing and reconciliation are to come then we need to find ways of remembering without celebrating, of commemorating without glorifying.

People have many different ways of describing the 'the Troubles' but one thing I think everyone can agree on is that there was no military victory for anybody.

Clearly many were killed and injured on every side and clearly every side will want to commemorate and remember but when that is done in a glorifying, celebratory, victorious way then it hinders reconciliation and increases pain instead of fostering healing.

I would challenge every single person to make a point of going looking for somebody who you know you will disagree with and have a coffee with them. In other words, take time to get to know them 

Furthermore, as we remember we must also examine ourselves as to whether we need to apologise for wrong things we have done even if we continue to believe they were done for right reasons.

If we regret any of the means we have used in the past then we should express that regret because words of apology and regret can play an important part in opening the door to reconciliation and healing.

And, the other challenge that I would offer to Sinn Féin - and indeed to all the political parties in Northern Ireland - is this: during my year as President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, as I have spoken with political leaders of all persuasions, I have heard them all say that they want the same thing - namely the betterment of life for all people in this society.

Of course, they all have different understandings of how to achieve the betterment of life for all people but nevertheless they are united in their desire for exactly that.

So, I would urge you and all other parties to unite around what you agree on which is that you want the best for all people.

Get on with doing that, start working together on issues that matter to people and let all the issues of sovereignty and so on which divide us follow on in due course.

I want to finish by referring to a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman who he met at a well, as recorded in chapter 4 of St John's Gospel.

When they first met they were separated by gender, by culture, by religion, by politics and by history, because he was a Jewish man and she was a Samaritan woman.

Yet the encounter which they had changed her life and indeed transformed the whole village and surrounding area.

But it all began when Jesus asked the woman to help him get a drink from the well. In other words, uniting around working for the essentials of life was the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation.

I pray that the political parties here can unite around their common desire for the betterment of life for all people and start working together on these issues even as disagreements on issues of sovereignty and history persist.

People reconcile as they work together.

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