Northern Ireland news

Four Corners Festival 20202 begins January 31

Rev Steve Stockman (left) minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and Fr Martin Magill PP of St John's Church Falls Road discussing the upcoming 4 Corners Festival. Picture by Bernie Brown

BREXIT, back stops, toxic election campaigns, industrial action in health and education and no local administration for almost three full years – it would be easy to be a little gloomy.

There was some of that gloom in the room in March when we set out to plan the 8th annual 4 Corners Festival in 2020. Then an American intern on our committee perked up, “Every day Belfast shows me a new face. I love this city!” We all looked at one another, agreed and were sent off excitedly in a more positive mood, coming up with this year's theme: “Building a City of Grace.”

Belfast is a wonderful if wounded city. Oh we have many problems, tears, and not so much scars as open wounds but in 2019 we have a vibrant city with great night life, top class restaurants, excellent schools and universities as well as an arts scene that has produced the likes of Snow Patrol, Colin Davidson and Anna Burns and many more.

Since the festival was conceived in 2012, over a cup of coffee in the Presbytery in Lenadoon, we have both been inspired by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah's call for the people of God to pray for the city that they had been forced to live in, having been taken into exile. Jeremiah preaches, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Over that coffee we came up with an audacious idea to create a festival that would bring Belfast together, encourage people out of their distinct corners and discover not only parts of the city that they did not know but also meet people that our deep divisions had prevented them getting to know.

Eight years later we have watched a dream come to fruition. Most years we find ourselves looking across a venue to catch each other's eye and share a look that says, “This is wonderful. How did it all happen?”We were even recently nominated for an Aisling Award for Positive Belfast!

Festival 2020 comprising almost 20 events begins January 31. The first evening will see a conversation with Gary Lightbody, who has given himself to so many good causes across our city.

We end on February 9 with Fr Peter McVerry inspiring us with his work among the homeless in Dublin and Ruth Koch from Tear Fund encouraging us to build on our contribution to development and justice across the world.

There will be much in between including The Belfast Songbook with Ken Haddock; an evening with directors of Belfast's 4 big soccer clubs; a look at how Presbyterians dealt with the Troubles with a response from Seamus Mallon; Miami Showband massacre survivor Stephen Travers telling his story in song; a walk tracing the life and work of poet John Hewitt and Bishop Alan Abernethy recalling how as a teenager he witnessed an attack on a Catholic church that profoundly changed his life.

Through the theme “Building A City of Grace” we hope to encourage us all to act towards our fellow citizens with grace and generosity.

A speedy restoration of power-sharing at Stormont in the New Year, that we both urge and pray for, will require our politicians to show that grace and generosity which is so greatly needed.

We hope that at a time of some gloom we might reveal new faces of the city that would make us smile, our souls shine and inspire us all to put a shoulder to the task of healing our city.

It is not lost on us that the day the festival begins might just be “Brexit Day.” Whether you are a Leaver or a Remainer we are all too aware of the uncertainty of Brexit.

As lovers of the ancient text of the Scriptures we know that most of the books of the Bible were written in that uncertainty, with treaties and governments and world powers constantly in flux. Our prayer is that “Building a City of Grace” would inspire and invigorate us as we traverse the unsteadiness, galvanizing us with love and peace and hope.

• Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of St John the Evangelist parish, both in Belfast. They are co-founders and co-chairs of the 4 Corners Festival which runs from January 31-February 9. This article is also appearing in today's News Letter. For further details see 4cornersfestival.com

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