On a surprisingly dry 17 March, pilgrims gathered for Holy Communion at Saul Church as our annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations got underway. The Very Revd Henry Hull, Dean of Down, gave the address at the service and Bishop David was the celebrant.
Our diocesan celebrations have always been both cross–community and international, but ‘Reconciliation’ was the particular focus for 2023. The theme ran through the Prayer Pilgrimage to Down Cathedral which was led by representatives of the three major denominations and the independent churches.
Revd David Turtle, President Designate of the Methodist Church in Ireland, led prayers on the topic of memories and experiences; Dominic Breen, a retired senior teacher and leading Catholic layman, guided our prayers on politics; Priscilla Reid, Pastor Emeritus of Christian Fellowship Church, Belfast and a leader of ARC (Associated Churches Ireland), led us in prayer around reconciliation in the Church; and Revd John Dickinson, who recently retired as the minister of the biggest of Presbyterian Church in Ireland (Carnmoney), guided us in prayer for education.
In keeping with the Celtic flavour of the occasion, pilgrims arriving in the Cathedral Narthex for the Festival Service were greeted with traditional music played by the Maginn Family and Irish dancers from the McCartney School of Dance took part in the service.
Our guest speaker was the Archbishop of Rwanda, The Rt Revd Dr Lauren Mbanda. Archbishop Laurent is an experienced practitioner in the area of reconciliation. He has written and spoken widely about his experience during decades of violence in Rwanda and worked extensively in peacebuilding and trauma support in the aftermath of the genocide.
“Rwanda is a country that has risen out of the ashes of the genocide,” he said. “We still have a good way to go, but we are in a good place today.”
Getting to that place required finding a new identity and over the years doing the work of understanding, confession and forgiveness. Archbishop Laurent reminded us that our fundamental identity is as new creations in Christ who have put off the old and are now transformed (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“New means new creatures, new people, new hearts, new mindset, new thinking. I have been reconciled with God and that puts me in a new environment. Reconciliation means to exchange hostility, not only with God but with your fellow men.”
Archbishop Laurent urged us to be Christ’s ambassadors. “God’s people, his Church, need to seek him, and in seeking him, you and I will bring a blessing to the people around us – to our family, to our village, to our society and to our nation.”
We are indebted to Mrs Myrtle Kerr for leading the intercessions, some of which were written by her husband, the late Revd Cecil Kerr. Against the backdrop of the ‘Troubles’, Cecil and Myrtle founded the Christian Renewal Centre at Rostrevor and left a profound legacy of renewal and reconciliation. Myrtle also led the congregation in singing, ‘Lead me Lord’ in both English and Irish.
Thank you to Down Cathedral’s Director of Music, Mr Michael McCracken, for leading the worship and to soloist Ruth Thompson who sang What grace is mine and Make me a channel of your peace.
Following the service, Archbishop Laurent laid a wreath on Patrick’s grave and many people stayed on in the cathedral for a complimentary ‘Picnic in the Pews’.