Bushmills Peace Group celebrates 10 years

On 27th January 2012 a lunch attended by over 100 guests was held in The Royal Court Hotel, Portrush, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Bushmills Peace Group.

Carol Anderson, the chairperson and founder member, welcomed the Mayor of Ballymoney, Ian Stevenson, the Coleraine Churches’ Forum, St Malachy’s Bridge Builders, St Patrick’s Bridge Builders, 1st Coleraine Peace Makers, Coleraine Methodist Peace Makers, Portstewart Peace Group, Ballycastle Churches’Action, the Rasharkin Group, the local clergy, Alex Blair, members and friends.

Carol recalled how, ten years ago, when she had just been appointed Peace Agent for Bushmills Presbyterian Church, a chance meeting in Bushmills with the Peace Agent from Dunluce Presbyterian Church, Ian Binnie, led to the formation of a small Peace Group. She then recruited members from Dunluce Church of Ireland and St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Portrush. Subsequently, the group has steadily grown to over 70 members drawn from all along the north coast which has led to a change of name from Bushmills to Causeway Coast Peace Group.

Carol then shared her personal vision of a Province where Protestants and Catholics, who worship the same God of love, will, in harmony, attend the same schools, live in the same housing estates and attend church services together. She warned, however, of the need for perseverance in peace-making to combat the deep rooted sectarianism which is still there.

She then recalled that Bushmills Peace Group had, some years ago, made a memorable visit to Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road when they had an inspirational meeting with Very Rev. Dr. Ken Newell, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Senior Minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Fr. Gerry Reynolds from Clonard Monastery. Carol felt it was very fitting that they, as guest speakers, share their wisdom and experience in the field of peace and reconciliation with the Causeway Coast Peace Group on this celebratory occasion.

Addressing Carol as “Carol Mandela” Dr. Newell praised her work for peace, describing it as “turning up the heat in a cold room”. He revealed that as a Presbyterian growing up in Belfast he had had no contact with Catholics until he went to Queen’s and had not attended a Catholic service until he was 23. Having served as a missionary in Indonesia, on his return as minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church he felt the need to address sectarianism at home by establishing links with fellow Catholic clergy and this led, eventually, in 1984 to his meeting with Fr. Gerry Reynolds and the founding of the Fitzroy/Clonard fellowship.

Then Fr. Gerry introduced himself and expressed his appreciation of all Carol and the Peace group had achieved. From rural Limerick where Catholic and Protestant farmers frequently worked together his desire was to come to troubled Belfast and he was eventually appointed to Clonard in 1983 where to him at first the Protestant Shankill, just over the monastery wall, was “as distant as Beijing.” Fr. Gerry explained how he, like Ken, was moved by God to cross the religious divide when he visited a Protestant family from the Shankill after a family member had been murdered by the I.R.A.

Like Carol, both men emphasised their oneness in Jesus Christ.. Out of the Clonard/Fitzroy fellowhip there has developed a growing understanding of and respect for each other’s traditions, shared services, inter-church marriage services and baptisms and the formation of a Eucharistic Fellowship with the Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic Churches. Their achievement was acknowledged in 1999 when they were awarded the Pax Christi Prize for Peace.

This was a truly enjoyable, memorable and inspiring occasion for Causeway Coast Peace Group. It was an honour to hear two such outstanding men tell of their walk with God and each other towards peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The Group wish, also, to thank The Royal Court Hotel for providing such a lovely meal, all the guests for contributing towards such a happy, positive occasion and Carol and the committee for making it all possible.

The annual Lenten breakfast will be in Dunluce Parish Centre at 9.00a.m on Saturday, 18th February, and the next meeting of Causeway Coast Peace Group is on March 20th in St Patrick’s Hall, Portrush, where the guest speaker will be Fr Brian D’Arcy.