Words and Actions

Beki Hemingway and Randy Kerkman
Well it is now nearly 48 hours since the proverbial curtain came down on the 2018 Four Corners Festival, and I have just about recovered enough to crawl out of my cave and put fingers to keyboard for a final blog on what has been an amazing 11 days... More events, more participants, more media interest, a wider demographic range engaged... All in all it has been great... All the events went relatively smoothly, with good attendances at them all, despite programme typos and ratbags who claimed free tickets for some events on eventbrite and then didn't come, depriving others of the opportunity! It doesn't mean that we don't have things to learn. For example, next year we DEFINITELY need more volunteers to help at the various events... I can't keep up this pace at my time of life!

The wheels nearly came off the wagon coming round the final bend though, when the snow closed the Glenshane Pass and robbed us of our keynote speakers Fr. Pal Farren and Archdeacon Robert Miller from Derry/Londonderry, who were coming to speak around the theme of their recently published book "Forgiveness Remembers." 

This led to a lot of frantic texts, messages and emails rearranging the running order, with Jim Deeds
The 3 Amigos reflecting on 4 Corners 2018
stepping up to the mark sharing a series of his poems, and Martin Magill and myself offering our reflections on the festival as a whole, with Beki Hemingway, accompanied by Randy Kerkman, punctuating everything with her soulful singing. Given the intended theme of the evening she began with Steve Taylor's "I forgive" and ended encouraging the congregation to sing along with the chorus of Jonathan Rundman's "Forgiveness Waltz", an earworm that is echoing in my brain and soul days later, and which, I suspect will live with me for some time...

And whilst our keynote speakers were not there to offer us their insights into forgiveness, that theme ran through everything, as it had through the festival as a whole, and given that Sunday was, as the last Sunday before Lent, observed as "Forgiveness Sunday" in the Orthodox tradition, that was an appropriate way to end. The concept of "Forgiveness Sunday" comes from the face that immediately Jesus instructions on fasting in Matthew 6 come the words of the Lord's Prayer and the following warnings regarding being unwilling to forgive. So for that reason the Sunday before Lent is observed both as Cheesefare Sunday, when all tempting foods, like cheese, are consumed before Lent begins, and people both ask for and offer forgiveness, cleaning out their spiritual cupboards!

Rev. Dr. Harold Good and his "Coventry Cross of Nails"
A poignant symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation
And in a way we did that on Sunday night too... Last year, at the West Belfast  FĂ©ile an Phobail,  in a retrospective in his 80th year, and in the run up to 20 years from the Good Friday Agreement, Rev. Dr. Harold Good called for a Day of Acknowledgement where we all admit our complicity, great or small, in the antipathy, tensions and conflict of the past. We were in no position to do that, but after a few words of introduction Harold led those gathered in a brief Act of Acknowledgement, asking God's forgiveness for our sins of commission and omission that have contributed to a broken world in general and our fractured Northern Ireland in particular. The prayer is an adaptation of part of a service I wrote for Contemporary Christianity on the centenary of the 1912 Ulster Covenant, and is in turn based upon the prayers of confession in the traditional annual Covenant service. Steve Stockman has already posted it on his site, and a number of people have asked permission to use it... Use it freely...

In the run up to the event we had a bit of a debate as to what to call it... Could it really be an act without us "doing" something rather than just saying a form of words? Various "actions" were considered, and then we simply settled on this simple liturgy... But if it is only a form of words making some nod to the past then it is a waste of breath... The key is the commitment to living differently, turning the last prayer into action. Then, although the festival may be over for another year, an we keep our self-denying ordinance of not doing 4 Corners events outside the bounds of the festival, the principles on which the festival in founded will ripple out, inspiring people from across the city of Belfast to transform it for the peace and prosperity of all. 

Act of Acknowledgement
 Gracious God, in your mercy hear us as we acknowledge our failings before you: 
For those times when we elevated earthly loyalties and personal ambition over the purposes of your Kingdom  
Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have dressed personal prejudices and worldly agendas in pious language and self-righteous indignation 
Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have been tolerant of injustice, quick to condemn those who sin differently from us, and unwilling to overcome evil with good 
Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have preferred conquest to service, conflict to peace, revenge to reconciliation, and material wellbeing to spiritual satisfaction 
Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have been quick to divide people into us and them, and seek the welfare of and ours above them and theirs  
 Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have sought the elevation of our rights over the rights of others, and to ignore our responsibilities to others and to you  
 Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have misused your gracious gifts, failing to be good stewards of all the good things that have been entrusted to us by previous generations and to leave a healthy legacy for generations to come 
 Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have been selective in learning from your word, reluctant in following Christ, fearful in bearing the cross and slow to share your love with others 
 Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
For those times when we have divided your church, brought shame on your name, and hampered the proclamation of your good news  [PAUSE]
Lord, have mercy. Lord, forgive. 
In scripture we are told that if we confess our sins and failings, 
God is faithful and just, and will forgive us and make us clean, 
Therefore where we truly repent we can know that we are forgiven.
So in repentance we turn away from our failings in the past  
Act of Commitment to Reconciliation 
Now through the power of Christ’s Spirit we commit ourselves to do what God desires, 
to love as sacrificially as Christ has loved us;
to forgive as we have been forgiven;
to engage in the ministry of reconciliation;
to seek and make peace;
to speak the truth, in love; 
to hope unswervingly and proclaim that hope consistently
to serve rather than be served,
to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.
to act justly and practice mercy, and walk humbly with our God
 through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
There follows a time of silence in which everyone present is invited to consider what practical action s/he will commit to take on in the course of the year ahead: 
Loving God as we leave this church tonight, give us your grace.  Help us to remain faithful to this commitment of peace making so as to transform this wounded and wonderful city of Belfast in the here and now for the peace and prosperity of all.  We ask this guided by your Spirit, through Christ our Lord, Amen.  

Shalom

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