Belfast Telegraph

Christmas is a time to heal relationships in Northern Ireland, say Church leaders

From left, Rev Sam McGuffin, Most Rev Eamon Martin, Rt Rev Dr William Henry and Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke
From left, Rev Sam McGuffin, Most Rev Eamon Martin, Rt Rev Dr William Henry and Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Church leaders have urged people in Northern Ireland to rekindle relationships, and to seek the joy, renewal and inspiration of the festive season.

The appeals come in a series of messages released ahead of Christmas.

In a joint statement, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke and his Catholic counterpart Dr Eamon Martin note that Christmas can be difficult and stressful for those who are estranged or friendless.

"Over Christmas and the New Year many people are able to kindle personal relationships that have somehow gone sour," they say.

"We are all capable of bringing light and love into another person's life.

"Our country north and south truly needs the rekindling of wholesome relationships, socially and politically, nationally and internationally.

"Our prayer this Christmas is that men and women of integrity will find the generosity and courage they need to lead and take the initiative in making these crucial relationships work."

Sign In

The Primates note that this is their last joint Christmas statement, as Archbishop Clarke will stand down as Primate in February.

They state: "We take this opportunity publicly to thank God for the warm friendship we have enjoyed together, and will continue to enjoy in a different mode."

Presbyterian Moderator Dr William Henry stated that the enjoyment of God is for everyone.

"The Bible suggests that what we all need is at the heart of the Christmas story," he said.

"The news of the coming of the Saviour was for everyone, not just a few, but for everyone who, regardless of their circumstances, recognises that they need a deliverer.

"This is news that speaks powerfully of hope in a world where pessimism and cynicism abound. In spite of my own failings and how I may feel, I can find acceptance and joy in God."

The Moderator said that, as he travelled around Ireland, he was struck by the energetic faith of so many believers.

"Recently several congregations hosted Christmas Cracker events, and I was pleased to take part. These were respite days for families of young people and adults who have a learning disability.

"It was a fun-filled time with craft activities, food and games, all set in the middle of a church family who are practically showing love and care.

"The true joy of Christmas is about giving of ourselves and enabling others to embrace what is good and at the heart of this time of the year, even when they may find it hard."

The Methodist President, the Rev Sam McGuffin, referred to the "scientifically proven" causes of stress at Christmas: the absence of a beloved one, family misunderstandings, economic difficulties, tiredness, loneliness and "seasonal emotional disturbance".

Rev McGuffin referred to "a stressful year", noting the failure to get Brexit done, the absence of the Stormont Executive and mounting political, social, civil and economic problems.

He added: "I believe if we were to view Christmas as God's Greatest Adventure, then we would begin to get some real spiritual sparkle back into Christmas and have a less stressful celebration of this wonderful season.

"I pray for you, and for us all, the most wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year."

In a joint statement the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher Dr John McDowell and the Catholic Bishop Dr Larry Duffy referred to "the many signs of darkness" in today's world.

However, they stressed that Christians have good news to tell "and we are called to proclaim it together by our actions".

"A very good example of this is to be found in the joint initiative of the Churches in Ireland on the question of housing insecurity and homelessness.

"Last September a series of practical resources around this question, for use in our Church communities, was launched by the Irish Inter-Church Meeting.

"May each of us this Christmas be a light to the world, most especially through our outreach to those in need, and those who are marginalized by economic and political circumstances."

Dr Noel Treanor, the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, referred to the current times of profound change "which can generate fear, anxiety, insecurity and despair".

He spoke of signs of "a growing polarisation in society, politics and even in the Church" which spawns intolerance, insecurity and indifference.

Dr Treanor added: "In contrast the luminous guidance of faith provides a source of constancy within the darkness of hopelessness.

"Across the world, the Christian message of hope continues to resource hope, even in places where historically there were no supportive structures for the practice of faith in society.

"Christmas invites us to bear prophetic witness to the ever-new vision of life revealed in the living Word of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph