A Belfast Summer

For those of us living in Northern Ireland this is a strange time of the year. Those with a bit of cash about them, and the flexibility to take off to foreign climes will do so, and in the coming week there will be a massive exodus to all sorts of places that are distinguished only for not being Northern Ireland. The rest will stay around and play witness to some bizarre activity.

Today is a case in point. The day began with meeting some community representatives for breakfast prior to a meeting with the local police on tactics for policing stressful, potentially violent, community events. Then a couple of hours later into another community meeting where we discussed ways of alleviating the pressure at community interfaces where trouble frequently erupts, as it has for each of the last six nights. Hence not much blogging!

It’s always the same this time of the year. I end up working two jobs; that which I’m paid to do by my organisation, and that which I do because I am in this particular community, with a interest in its future. I do it with a heart and a half I should say, and with a strong sense of Christian vocation. I am here by conviction that the gospel has something significant to say in conflicted communities. I am here because of a commitment to social justice. And I suppose, though I guess I wouldn’t voice it consciously like this, I believe in some sort of eternal reward, however that manifests itself.

What I am truly humbled by though are those friends and colleagues who have given decades to the task of renewing this community, not out of any sense of faith call, but from no less a sense of vocation. Some who do it voluntarily. Some who, though they have been involved in paramilitary violence for 30+ years, are now looking for something more for their neighbourhood. It is a privilege to work alongside them in our common task.

So in this morning’s meeting with the police, or this afternoon, stuck in a stifling wee room with eight others, in a community centre that many of the people on my side of the peace line view as enemy HQ, we sought ways out of violence for the sake of both communities.

Common grace is on view all around me, and it is beautiful, even in the midst of some awfulness.

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