As 2021 begins, many people will be hopeful for a brighter and safer future. The pandemic of 2020 brought grief, anxiety and uncertainty, as well as economic loss and disruption of livelihoods. Many aspects of life that we had taken for granted, like visiting loved ones in nursing homes, or popping in to a see a friend, suddenly changed.
The events of 2020 have served to remind us of our interconnectedness as human beings. Together we stood and applauded frontline workers and discovered a new sense of community with our neighbours. We wash our hands, wear face coverings, refrain from embracing and maintain distance, mindful that the actions of each of us as individuals have the potential to protect or endanger others. The actions of frontline workers who have sacrificially gone about their business, or those who have delivered groceries for neighbours who are self-isolating, sewn scrubs or kept in touch with others by phone have been a reminder that everyone has the potential to benefit others.
Churches too have been part of that collective response and in seeking to act in the interests of those who are most vulnerable have sought to live out faith in the context of the spread of Coronavirus. Faith has been a source of strength and support to many throughout this difficult time. Clergy, ministers, priests and lay people of faith have responded with compassion and imagination to the challenges of the pandemic, with online services, pastoral support and provision of opportunities for prayer.
Political leaders in both jurisdictions have faced huge challenges. We continue to pray for them and encourage them to work together towards the building of political stability in which the whole community can prosper.
As 2021 begins, we will face new challenges and opportunities.
The changes which Brexit will bring are another powerful reminder of that interconnectedness. As Church Leaders, we continue to encourage the building of relationships across and between these islands. The new context that Brexit brings demands a commitment to working together in constructive ways.
This coming year marks the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and of Partition. We recognise that people will approach the centenary from a variety of perspectives - for some this is a cause for celebration, others will look upon the last century with a sense of loss and separation. For us, as Church Leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities. This centenary also provides the opportunity for us to reflect together on the failings of relationships and use of violence across the whole island which have marred our past and which in some ways continue to cast a shadow on the present. Mindful of our interconnectedness we recognise our different perspectives on this centenary even among us as Church Leaders. Still we commit ourselves to building a future together in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past.
Our interconnectedness extends beyond our own communities to the global community. Covid-19 has made the daily challenges faced by those who live with poverty even greater than they were. We have corporate and individual responsibility to use resources not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others around the world.
Jesus’ reminder to love our neighbour is particularly relevant in this context. Jesus shows us what that love looks like in His care for others even in the context of historic differences, His concern for those whom many thought unimportant and His willingness to put the needs of others before His own. He came to serve not to be served. In our united commitment to be good neighbours we play our part as servants of the Gospel in building communities and a society in which all know that they are significant and in which all can prosper.
So, as we begin this new year we point to the hope that is made real as we recognise that we are interconnected and work together to build a better future. And as Christian leaders we point to, and stand within, the hope which has been made known in Jesus, who has promised His presence in every situation and who is the light of the world.
God bless you.
Rt Rev Dr David Bruce
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Most Rev John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland
Rev Dr Thomas McKnight
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
Most Rev Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland
Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson
President of the Irish Council of Churches