Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

What we can teach the United States about race relations

Singer Anna Owens from South Carolina

The churches in Northern Ireland could teach something to the churches back home in South Carolina where I live,'' says Anna Owens a young adult volunteer with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

For the past year she has been based in Whitehouse Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey and she has also been teaching music at Whitehouse Primary School.

As a trained opera singer and a committed Christian, Anna has been bringing her much appreciated gifts to both the church and the school. "It has been wonderful to be here and I am overwhelmed by the warmth and the kindness of the people I have met," she says.

Anna, whose home is in Sumter, South Carolina studied at Converse College where she graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Music and Vocal Performance. She has already performed the role of 'The First Lady' in an Operafestival di Roma production of Mozart's The Magic Flute in Italy. She has a good working knowledge of French, German and Italian and this was important when performing in the Mozart opera which was sung in German, with the spoken dialogue in Italian.

Anna, who is 25, says: "An opera singer's vocal cords do not mature fully until the age of 30, so I have a few years to decide what I want to do. I am not sure yet, but I think that I will always have something to do with music." She chose to come to Northern Ireland because of her interest in conflict and post-conflict situations. "I have read a lot about Northern Ireland, so I did not come here expecting bombs. What I did not expect to find, however, is how 'normal' Northern Ireland really is.

"That , of course, is not always the image of this place back home. After the recent trouble in Belfast, people rang me to ask 'Are you alright?' I replied 'Of course I am. I wasn't out rioting! I have lots of good friends over here, and I'm fine."

Anna has also been working with the Vine Community in the Crumlin Road area, and she has gained valuable experience of life in Belfast.

"It is one thing to read about what is happening in Northern Ireland when you are far away, but when you come here, you quickly realise that people are people everywhere you go."

Anna believes that she can apply her experience of Northern Ireland back home where there are tensions of a different kind. She says: "The civil rights legislation in the USA did not totally solve the problem and in South Carolina we still have racial tensions.

"The conflict over there is not so obvious as it is in Northern Ireland sometimes, but on occasions I have been shocked by the parallels in the two different places. I have been impressed by the cross-community work that is being done by the churches in Northern Ireland, and in that respect they could teach something to a number of churches of the deep South in the USA."

Anna is returning to America in the next few days where she will study for a Masters in Theology and Christian Ethics. No doubt her mother Becky and her father Joel, a former Major in the US Air Force, will be glad to see her.

However, she will be missed by the people of Whitehouse with whom she has shared her Christian faith and service, and her remarkable musical talent.

She says: "This is a bitter-sweet time for me. I'm gutted at leaving but I also know this is the right time to move on. However, I'll never forget the beauty of Northern Ireland and the kindness and Christian faith of so many of its people."

President is under African skies

The new Methodist President Dr Heather Morris has lost no time in spreading her influence beyond Ireland, and she is currently visiting Ghana.

She is visiting Christian Aid projects there, and meeting with local church leaders and staff at the Methodist headquarters in Accra. In Ghana there are currently well over 600,000 members.

Joyous day with a tinge of regret

By George, it's been quite a week for the Royal family and for those of us who have an eye for history.

Some people reckon that it takes around 30 years to wait for the birth of a new infant who will be the monarch one day.

George Alexander Louis will have a long wait. But what a tragedy that Diana is not here to greet her first grand-child into the world.

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