As Christians we are in the business of building bridges not barriers, or so I informed the Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in bringing greetings on behalf of the United Reformed Church. And there was much in the business of that church that supported the assertion. Northern Ireland has a difficult path to navigate as it listens to those affected by ‘The Troubles’ and begins the delicate work of reconciliation. Assembly heard from both victim and perpetrator and I was left in no doubt as to how deep wounds from that recent conflict still exist.
The headline will no doubt be given to the decision not to send representatives to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2017. This follows on from the decision of the Church of Scotland to allow a ‘departure’ which permits ministers in civil partnerships or married to a person of the same sex to be called into a pastorate. The surprise might be that the decision not to allow the Moderator to travel to Edinburgh was carried by only five votes. An indication that there are those in the PCI who still regard ties to the wider Presbyterian family as an important part of their witness.
Building bridges with those with whom we have profound disagreement is never an easy task. For communication to happen we have to leave the safety of our seclusion and risk being changed. The more violent we struggle the more the whole enterprise seems risky and liable to throw us into the chasm below. And yet if we are prepared to listen carefully and reflect deeply we open up new places to explore and be at home in. Fear is a powerful emotion that inhibits and diminishes us as human beings. Overcoming fear and taking the risky choice of engagement lies at the heart of the Christian Gospel.
Some thoughts inspired by crossing the Rope Bridge at Carrick-A-Rede. I wondered about the Giant’s Causeway to bring the PCI and Church of Scotland back together but according to the legend of Finn MacCool that didn’t work out too well either!