Today we are launching our newly refurbished premises. The premises sit straddling one of Belfast’s so-called peace lines and represent all that has been ‘caught in the middle’ during the conflict. They also represent all the bridges that people have courageously and often quietly built. Building bridges can be a thankless task, not least because of the serious commitment it takes and the drain on time and energy which can never be matched by the gratitude of those who, not so close up to things, wonder why it takes such a long time. So bridge-building can be a thankless task but it is also work that teaches us to see the small things as being of great significance. Those small things are built together, constructed into something new and sustainable precisely because each little bit is in its place.
In the early autumn of last year we had just kicked off our winter programme. A new full-time worker was on board and two new volunteers for the year were ready to get to work. It was a time of excitement and planning and hope and the programme for the winter was beginning to take shape when the premises were broken into. The thieves who wanted the copper piping didn’t take very much but they left the pipes running water all over the place so the floor that had been laid just a couple of months earlier after flooding from the cold snap at the beginning of the year was destroyed – and so much more. Looking back I thank God for it:
– For the new relationship with builders who have been helpful, accommodating and a pleasure to work with
– For the building of a strong team of leaders who pulled together to get things decided and done
For the workers on the ground who shared premises and groups with us and allowed us the privilege of developing stronger community relationships on both sides of the ‘divide’.
So today we have a far better building but more importantly we have far better good relationships. It may all have been intended for self-interested benefit but it has come out good in the end.
The dreams we have are for so much more. At present there are two doors into the building – one part of the community gets to access through the front door and the other section of the community gets to access through the back door. Hardly ideal for a partnership approach, for shared space and for developing reconciling relationships at the very edge of divided community. There has to be serious thought given to a shared entrance and financing it or we are not matching the integrity we claim locally and theologically. So there remains a vision, a dream, a hope. Truthfully at this point in time we have reached a good place and we are grateful for it but the other truth is that there will be a double reaction to the way ahead. Some will say – what more do you want and there isn’t the money anyway. Others will want to push on and make the bigger dream a reality. If North Belfast is to be transformed then lots of individuals and groups are going to need to keep on pushing forward, building stronger cross-community relationships and building up a store of social capital that so connects us with our former enemies that there is no danger of taking up arms against one another ever again. For the churches the question remains – do you want to makers and builders of peace or not? God in Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation and Jesus himself said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. If the churches aren’t interested in the blessing of peacemaking then I am sure God will find others who are.
There are tough choices ahead. We haven’t got much in the way of resources but we will have to consider risking what we do have to and for this work believing that the blessing is a matter for God. Or we can go to the funders and maybe they will help us but on the other hand if we aren’t prepared to risk why should they be prepared to? Accountants tell us one things. The economy of the gospel tells us another. So there are tough choices ahead but hopefully it will all turn out for good.