Church leaders call on Northern Ireland politicians to make 'courageous' decisions in 2020
A New Year message from the main church leaders has called for "courageous decision-making" in order to make political progress in 2020.
They called for "leadership across all sections of society" in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government "that will be sustainable in the context of significant social, economic and political challenges".
The leaders added the new round of political talks "gave renewed hope that the profoundly-damaging political vacuum might be brought to an end".
"A sense of collective responsibility will be required to enable a new Executive and Assembly to take difficult decisions in the interests of the common good," they said.
"Our political context north and south demands courageous decision-making which moves beyond self-interest and takes account of the whole of society.
"Our call is also to all people of goodwill to commit to building relationships across the political and cultural divisions so that in this New Year, and in the years to come, we build communities where all can flourish."
The joint message is signed by Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, Presbyterian Moderator the Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Methodist President Rev Sam McGuffin and Irish Council of Churches President Rev Brian Anderson.
They said: "In the past few years we have faced difficult and divisive referenda and elections across the island.
"The effects of these events do not cease to be felt once the polls have closed.
"In our conversations with friends, family and those with whom we interact day to day, we feel the weight of these cultural and political divisions."
In his first New Year message as the recently-appointed Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Rt Rev Andrew Forster, said he was on an "emotional roller-coaster". He said: "As the New Year approaches, I am filled with excitement at the possibilities of what lies ahead, but unsettled at the same time by the awesomeness of it all.
"The New Year chimes will scarcely have subsided when we find ourselves confronted by harsh reality.
"Brexit looms in all its complexity.
"There will be renewed efforts to cut the Gordian knot at Stormont and to restore political institutions.
"Also in Northern Ireland the less well-off are threatened by impending changes to the welfare system, while in the Republic various crises - homelessness, a shortage of social housing and rent costs - defy solution.
"Globally the damage we are doing to our planet is becoming more obvious and more frightening.
"In the face of such challenges it would be easy, indeed entirely understandable, to become dispirited. But as Christians we are people of faith and hope."