I’m going to be off-line for an indeterminate period, laid up in the Mater Clinic in Dublin undergoing heart surgery (as one does!). So rather than leave the blog dormant, I thought I would trawl through the archives for some posts I like, or which got a particular reaction from my reader!
This one was posted originally on 17 January 2007.
David Ervine was sceptical about the church. I guess given his background and life experience that is probably understandable. He was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a paramilitary force in the Northern Ireland conflict dedicated to maintaining the link with Britain and opposing the IRA. On entering Long Kesh, loyalist icon Gusty Spence asked him, ‘Why are you here?’ and catalysed a thorough re-examination of his life and calling.
David remained sceptical right to his death, but it struck me, when responding to someone who was certain that Davy was now probably in hell, that if we can judge the fruit of a person’s life by the people who attend their funeral and the things they say of them of them there, then David’s life certainly had gospel fruit about it.
He had thoroughly ‘repented’ of his old life and was walking with his old comrades in leading them towards peace. His funeral service at the Mission was the occasion for some of the most incredible things I have ever experienced.
The news footage of Gerry Adams and Alec Maskey, leaders of Sinn Fein, arriving the Mission will not be forgotten. For those not familiar with the Northern Ireland conflict Irish Republicans (IRA) and British loyalists (like the UVF) have fought themselves to a standstill over territory and identity and religion for the last 40 years in the latest round of our terrible conflict. The Republican IRA leaders, former paramilitaries themselves now turned politicians, parked their cars in our charity shop car park, walked a hundred metres to the door of the Mission church through up to 4,000 mourners gathered on the street, but not a word was uttered. Indeed I stood with the leader of the UVF as he instructed his troops to maintain the dignity of the funeral by not uttering a word on their arrival, and making sure the crowd was silent.
Later they left the service to a similar respectful silence. Gerry Adams even embraced Janette, Davy’s widow. It sounds condescending I know, but I was so proud of the community in which I work. To extend such hospitality to such hated enemies was an extraordinary act of hospitality and grace. And I was proud and honoured to see the Mission play a central role in this community act of mourning.