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Leckpatrick MU celebrates 90th birthday

The Mothers’ Union was described, this week, as “the backbone” and “the heartbeat” of those parishes in which it has members. The tribute came from Bishop Andrew Forster during a sermon in St Patrick’s Church in Leckpatrick, on Monday 5th September, which marked the 90th anniversary of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong Mothers’ Union.

The extent of local members’ service to MU was highlighted by the presentation of long service awards by the organisation’s Diocesan President, Jacqui Armstrong. In total, the recipients had chalked up a combined total of 471 years’ membership. Among them was local stalwart Sylvia Downey who was honoured for her 45 years’ service.

This evening’s service was led by the Rector of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, Rev Canon Paul Whittaker, and the Derg Valley choir – for whom this was their first post-lockdown performance – provided music.

Bishop Andrew told the congregation that despite his late mother’s decades-long membership of MU, he had never fully appreciated its work until as an adult he visited Africa and saw at first-hand how contributions from Northern Ireland had helped to lift families from poverty. He praised the work done by branches to help grieving families in their own communities and congratulated them on their response to the cost-of-living crisis.

The told Bishop MU members in the congregation that they, like he, were followers of Christ who wanted to make a difference. “Today, we say ‘Thank you’ to those who 90 years ago and down through those decades have made a difference as the backbone and the heart of these parishes because of their membership of Mothers’ Union; who have made a difference in what it means to be in fellowship with Christian believers; who have made a difference to those struggling in the darkest times of life; who have made a difference across the world for women and for their families; and how you will continue to make a difference in the small things and in the big things because we follow the one who changes water into wine; we follow the one who makes life different because he is Jesus and he is our saviour.”

After the service, the congregation enjoyed supper in the church hall where Mrs Downey cut a magnificent cake baked for this evening’s occasion. Kaye Nesbitt, who is a Central Services Unit Coordinator with Mothers’ Union Ireland, shared greetings from the organisation’s All Ireland President, June Butler. “The life of this branch has endured with the Lord’s help for a wonderful 90 years,” Mrs Butler wrote, “and will continue to do so…Many congratulations and I wish you God’s richest blessings for the future.”

Sun comes out for Dungloe Group services

There was an unexpectedly glorious conclusion to Bishop Andrew Forster’s visit to the Dungloe group of parishes on Sunday 4th September after a day which had begun unpromisingly – with torrential wind and rain and a ‘Status Orange’ weather warning – ended in a sun-kissed outdoor service, including worship and hymns, at the ‘abandoned church’ beneath Mount Errigal.

On the way to Dungloe, the Bishop had been forced to take a detour after part of the road was flooded at Glenswilly, following heavy rainfall. Amazingly, blue skies greeted him on his arrival at St Crone’s Church in Dungloe where the Bishop’s Curate-in-Charge of the Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone group, Rev Liz Fitzgerald, was waiting with members of all three parishes.

The 11am service in Dungloe was one of two that the two clergy were to take part in, in the space of four and a half hours. Bishop Andrew blessed a new entranceway at St Crone’s Church which had been completed over a year ago but whose dedication was delayed by the Covid lockdown.

People’s Churchwarden Stephen Barrett explained that the project had involved the provision of an access-for-all walkway, steps, a landing and internal flooring. Members of the congregation joined the Bishop outside the church for the formal dedication , which took place beside an inscribed stone that had served for 75 years as the step at the church door.

When the congregation moved inside again, the Bishop also dedicated new communion cups and a set of new linens for the church (the latter had been donated on her family’s behalf by Dorothy Quinn ((née Hanlon)) in memory of her late father, Richard).

During the service, Rev Fitzgerald asked those present to pray for parts of the world that were war-torn or had been affected by floods.

A few hours later, at 3pm, some of the same parishioners joined members of the Dunlewey community at the old Dunlewey Church of Ireland building, between Errigal and the Poisoned Glen, where a new set of gates was dedicated in an outdoor service which took place in brilliant sunshine.

At both services – the dedication of a new entranceway in Dungloe and the dedication of new gates in Dunlewey – Bishop Andrew used the symbolism gates as a theme. In both locations, he prayed that the entranceways would be “broad enough to welcome everyone”, but narrow enough to “keep out envy, keep out sin, keep out all that can disrupt the family of God from serving God in the way that He calls us to.”

Church leaders call for action on cost-of-living crisis

With projections for the autumn pointing to a worsening situation for many households across the island of Ireland, as a result of the unfolding cost of living crisis particularly for those who are already vulnerable and living in poverty, the leaders of Ireland’s main churches have said that they are deeply concerned by what they are seeing on the ground.

The Church Leaders’ statement in full is as follows:

“The unfolding cost of living crisis is affecting many households, across the island of Ireland, but particularly those who were already vulnerable and living in poverty. Projections for the autumn point to the situation worsening while too many people are already struggling to afford essentials like food and fuel and are in real danger of losing their homes, health or lives.

“As leaders of Churches with a presence across the island we are deeply concerned by what we are seeing on the ground, with the increasing energy and food prices disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, often leaving people with impossible choices to make, missing meals, and falling into arrears on bills.

“We are also deeply concerned regarding the government response in both jurisdictions, in meeting immediate needs and also in relation to longer term strategy. In Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Belfast Agreement created a statutory requirement for the Northern Ireland Executive to produce an anti–poverty strategy on the basis of objective need. Almost 25 years later and this has never been agreed or produced. Likewise, in Ireland a cross–party anti–poverty strategy is badly needed to address issues in a comprehensive and effective manner.

“We want to join our voices with many others, calling for more practical support to be delivered urgently through direct government initiatives in both jurisdictions and also via grassroots charity and community partnerships. This must go hand in hand with a longer term refocusing of government policies to deliver real and meaningful social justice and eliminate poverty across this island.

“Followers of Christ have always been called to serve the poor, not just through acts of charity, though these continue every day in ways large and small, but through the pursuit of justice and mercy. It is our shared vocation to witness to Christ and to protect the dignity of those made in God’s image, and so we are compelled to speak up in this moment, out of concern and in hope, for the good and flourishing of everyone in our communities.”

The Rt Revd Andrew Forster
President of the Irish Council of Churches

The Rt Revd Dr John Kirkpatrick
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Most Revd John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

The Most Revd Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

The Revd David Nixon
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

(Note: the Church Leaders Group comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.)

St Lugadius’ Church celebrates 400th anniversary

“What a wonderful place,” the Archdeacon of Raphoe said, this afternoon, in St Lugadius’ Church in Lifford, “what a blessing that this house has stood for 400 years, and that people have found God’s heart here and been transformed by the word of God and by the Holy Spirit here.” 

Venerable David Huss was preaching at a special service celebrating the 400th anniversary of St Lugadius’ Church, which is named after one of the twelve who accompanied St Columba to the Scottish island of Iona, almost 1,500 years ago. “How enthusiastic we should be not only to preserve it,” Archdeacon Huss said, “but to enjoy it and to attend it.”

The present church was built in 1621, and, sadly, the coronavirus pandemic thwarted plans to mark the anniversary last year, 400 years after its construction. Today, though, parishioners and friends celebrated the achievement in style, with a service led by the Rural Dean, Rev Canon David Crooks, assisted by Canon John Deane and Archdeacon Huss, and refreshments – and a special cake – afterwards, in the nearby Old Courthouse Building.      

Archdeacon Huss chose two themes for his sermon: a wholesome heritage and a firm foundation. St Lugadius’ Church – which was funded through the generous bequest of Sir Richard Hansard and his wife – was begun around 1621 and is one of only a few churches in Ulster still standing from that period. “This evening,” the Archdeacon said, “we give thanks for that vision, 400 years ago, that a house of worship would be built, that the children of God would have a place to come and offer their prayers and praises to His holy name, to hear His word and to receive the sacraments.”

St Lugadius’ Church was a place of memories, the preacher said, a place of mission, a place that pointed to something greater. “Church buildings serve as signposts. They stand in a country area, or an urban area, as a pointer to greater realities. That is why it is so important that we work to maintain the structure itself as well as the life that takes place within it.” 

It was natural, on occasions such as today, Archdeacon Huss said, for people’s thoughts to turn to the future. “Perhaps we find it easier to celebrate the glories of the past than to be confident of what lies ahead,” he said, “because we’re at a time of change and [at] something of a turning point in society. If we even try to guess what the next 400 years hold it would be impossible; even the next 40 will almost certainly bring ongoing rapid change.”

The preacher suggested, though, that we could derive strength from Christ’s words in Matthew 7. “’Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like the wise man who built his house on the rock…Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.’ He’s talking about firm foundations.

“And so, with our lives as Christian individuals and as the Christian Church, as we seek to build into the future and as we seek to navigate all that lies ahead, we need solid ground on which to stand and on which to build. What exactly is the firm foundation which Our Lord speaks of here in Matthew 7? Well, he says, ‘Whoever hears these words of mine and does them will be building on a firm foundation.’ The foundation is the Lord and His word, and putting it into practice. It is so tempting, in a time of change, to take comfort in tradition or to go running after innovation; to trust old things just because they’re old, or to look for new things just because they’re new. It’s so tempting to say, ‘I was brought up with this so it must be right’; or to say, ‘Everyone today is saying this, so that must be right.’ But, no, we don’t try simply to be traditional, we don’t try simply to be trendy, we try to be true to Christ. We build on His words.”

There was still so much, Archdeacon Huss said, that the word of God had to say to today’s world. “So many of the things that people value today – even those who have turned away from the faith – they will value freedom, equality, progress and kindness. These are Christian ideas. And even when our friends want to enjoy those fruits of Christianity without the roots of Christianity, they give us an opportunity to point them back to the foundation.” A church that is going to be fit for the 21st century, the Archdeacon said, would be a church that taught like Jesus did: not clinging to tradition, not rushing to innovation, but taking the ancient ways and applying them to new problems.

African friendship rekindled in Donegal

The Donegal Parish Grouping’s friendship with a diocese in East Africa has been rekindled this week with a visit by the Bishop of Yei in South Sudan, the Rt Revd Levi Marandulu, and his wife Agnes.

The couple were in Laghey Parish Church on Tuesday evening to meet members of the Donegal, Killymard, Lough Eske and Laghey parishes. The visitors joined the local Rector, Venerable David Huss, for an evening of worship and hymn singing, and Bishop Levi gave a talk and slide presentation to update the congregation on the work being done by his clergy to spread God’s word in one of Africa’s newest sovereign states.

The Donegal parishes have had links with the Diocese of Yei since 2005 when a group travelled to Africa to visit churches and schools in the region. One of the people on that visit, Killymard parishioner Robert Ellis, shared his memories of the trip during Tuesday’s service.

Since then, the region they visited has gained independence (from Sudan) and experienced a brutal civil war, with ongoing violence by armed groups within its borders. Bishop Levi, who was ordained last year, said caring for displaced people was one of the many big challenges facing his diocese.

Despite the financial challenges which also confront them, Bishop Levi and his pastors have been busy spreading the Word, developing youth and family ministry, building churches and schools, and providing health care. He recalled one recent service at which he confirmed more than 600 young people, and praised the work being done by Mothers’ Union in Yei.   

The Marandulus’ visit is part of a post-Lambeth Conference visit to link churches which has been arranged with the help of Church Mission Society Ireland. The couple called in to the Mustard Seed Project in Donegal Town to see the outreach work being done there and also called to Glebe Primary School to meet its newly-appointed principal.Bishop Levi and Mama Agnes said they enjoyed meeting people during their walkabouts in the town with Archdeacon Huss and his wife, Bev. The Bishop said his two most immediate impressions of Ireland were of how green the country was and of how friendly its “smiling” people were. 

15th Lambeth Conference begins

Bishop Andrew Forster is one of the hundreds of bishops from across the 165 countries of the Anglican Communion who’ve gathered in Canterbury to pray, study scripture, discuss global challenges and seek God’s direction for the decade ahead.

The Lambeth Conference 2022, which runs until August 7, is only the 15th such global gathering of Anglican bishops in 155 years. The event was postponed from 2020 because of the Covid 19 pandemic and takes place against a backdrop of global uncertainty, including the climate emergency, war and poverty.

Taking as their theme “God’s Church for God’s World”, the bishops will spend time praying and studying the Bible together (focussing on the book of 1 Peter) as well as discussing major challenges faced by their global communities – ranging from climate change and scientific progress to Christian unity and inter-faith relations.

In a letter to delegates, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described the conference as an “historic occasion” and spoke of Jesus’ call for his followers to be united. The Archbishop wrote: “Two years ago, we could hardly have believed the course of world events that was about to unfold with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This, along with the ongoing challenges like the climate emergency, war and conflict in many countries and the huge inequalities of our world, continue to have a deep impact on us all.

“As we gather for the 15th Lambeth Conference, the privilege and responsibility of meeting feels even more significant.

“The business of this conference is to discern the Holy Spirit’s directing in what it means to be ‘God’s Church for God’s World’, as we seek to ‘walk, listen and witness together.’

“We are living at a time where there is much to fragment and divide the world – but Christ calls his Church to be one in witness and in worship so that Jesus is presented to the world.”

Archbishop Welby went on to describe how 1 Peter sets out how the early Christian Church faced “suffering, despair, joy, exile and alienation”, adding: “As we embark upon our journey together in 2022, we pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide us, as we seek God’s will for the global witness of the Anglican Communion in the decade ahead.”

In his foreword to the Conference guide, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, wrote: “The drumbeat to our conference is ‘walking, listening and witnessing together’.

“These words reflect perhaps Christ’s greatest challenge to the Church: to be one; to live as a united body, in service to Christ and to one another.

“As we gather in 2022, may we commit ourselves to this significant moment as an opportunity to listen to one another, learn from the diversity of our communities and church experiences and seek to serve one another.”

The postponement in 2020 enabled the Conference plans to be reimagined as a three-phase process, designed to create lasting outcomes pboth for the churches of the Communion and for the communities they serve.

The period since 2020 has been a time of “walking together” when bishops have been meeting together for online conversations about themes relevant to the Conference.

The phase of “listening together” is the full event in Canterbury which began yesterday. For the first time there will also be a further phase of “witnessing together” – when outcomes from the bishop’s conversations are shared, and further action taken around the Anglican Communion.

‘It’s Madness out there’

The torrential rain relented in Portglenone, early this afternoon, and the heavy clouds above Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey parted just in time for the Derry and Raphoe BBQ to proceed as planned at this year’s Summer Madness festival in County Antrim.

Bishop Andrew Forster was ‘mine host’ for the occasion, which brought back happy memories for him and his wife, Heather, of past Summer Madness festivals they’d visited with their children years before they came to Derry and Raphoe.

Summer Madness is described by its organisers as Ireland’s “premier Christian youth festival”. Around two dozen young people from the diocese made their way to this year’s event to celebrate, connect and explore the significance of faith in their culture and community. They were accompanied by a raft of adult leaders who were there to ensure that their charges remained safe and got the maximum possible enjoyment from the experience.

The Diocesan Youth Officer, Claire Hinchliff, was on barbecue duty with Bishop Andrew, along with Pauline Beadle, whose husband was recently appointed as the new Rector of Donagheady. Pauline said after the appointment that she loved cooking and that her happy place could be any kitchen. Today she had to make do with a tent and a grill.

For the Bishop, it was a chance to show off the culinary skills he’d first revealed at the ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ event in Macosquin a couple of months earlier. He was assisted by Claire, who looked after the technical side of the barbecue; the chairman of Derry and Raphoe Youth, Rev Peter Ferguson; and the Diocesan Children’s Officer, Kirsty McCartney, who brought her niece in tow.  

The smoke from the grills wafted above nearby tents drawing the hungry Derry and Raphoe contingent, and assorted visitors from other dioceses, to the Derry and Raphoe tents in short order. There were no complaints as the young people feasted on burgers, chicken kebabs and sausages – even Simon Henry, the Church of Ireland’s National Youth Officer, fetched up to sample the fare and pronounce the barbecue a big success.  

Local parishes to pilot new course tackling domestic abuse

Three parishes from the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe will be among the first in Ireland to take part in a new course which Mothers’ Union has helped develop to counteract domestic abuse and gender-based violence.

The five-part programme was developed in conjunction with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund. The Diocesan President of MU, Jacqui Armstrong – who was heavily involved in its preparation – says the new course will be rolled out in September, with volunteers from five parishes (including three from this diocese) taking part in the pilot.

Ms Armstrong says participants will attend five sessions which will offer a global view of gender-based violence, an analysis of the problem in Ireland (north and south), a look at the support available in local communities for tackling the problem, the role of advocacy in addressing domestic abuse and provide advice on tackling cultural attitudes.

The Rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare, who was involved in the first pilot for the course, last January, said the experience had shown him how he had underestimated the scale and prevalence of domestic violence. He urged fellow clergy to “open their eyes and open their hearts” to the issue. “What is the church,” he asked, “if it’s not a refuge?”

Bishop Andrew Forster has commended the new course to parishes throughout Derry and Raphoe, urging rectors to begin delivering it. “Let’s really go for this,” he said, “so that we in this diocese take the lead in tackling, educating, supporting and advocating on this issue.”

Ms Armstrong presented Bishop Andrew with a copy of the manual for the new course, “hot off the press”. She told clergy: “It sounds like a difficult subject – and it is a difficult subject.” MU hopes to deliver two more courses in the autumn, in addition to September’s pilot. Ms Armstrong suggested that parishes which sign up should be represented by their rector and at least two or three lay people.

‘Landmark moment’ for Parish of Donegal, says Bishop Andrew

Bishop Andrew Forster described the 300th anniversary of Donegal Parish as “a landmark moment” in the local congregation’s history. He was speaking in Donegal Parish Church during the second of two services, this morning, which marked the tercentenary.

Half an hour earlier, the Bishop had joined the local Rector, Archdeacon David Huss, members of the church and friends of the parish at a short service of prayer and worship on the site of the original parish church, which was built in 1722 and now lies in ruins beside the ancient abbey in Donegal Town. Among those gathered were the Mayor of Donegal Town, Pauric Kennedy, Sinn Féin County Councillor, Noel Jordan, and Fr Pearse Mullen.

Archdeacon Huss said, during the first service, that the old church was “a very special place” for the community. The adjoining cemetery had been used to bury people of various denominations, including some of the most famous people in the town’s history. Among those buried there, he said, were Rev Samuel Reid – the longest-serving Rector of Donegal – and his son-in-law, Alfred Banks, a doctor who had lost his life to typhus. “So, although a lot has changed,” Archdeacon Huss said, “a lot of things are the same, aren’t they? Pandemic, war and tragedy still are with us. And yet, as we read, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. So, as we come to these stones, which could tell many stories if they could speak, we also come to that living stone who is unchanging and it’s in that we trust.”

In his sermon, in the second service – during which he baptised baby Zoe Alcorn – Bishop Andrew invited the congregation to give thanks for a parish which, in its three centuries of history, had witnessed the 1798 rebellion, “when French ships came right up the bay here, in Donegal, to invade and then turned back to make their way home; we think of our more recent history of civil war, independence, partition. And you look and see how God has led us through times of difficulty, times that were uncertain, to where we are today. So, we look back in thankfulness, we remember people of faith who have built a legacy, but as we look back, we are reminded that we are the labourers of a new generation to build for the future.”

Bishop Andrew reminded those present of the importance of family, not just their own kin but their ‘spiritual family’. The church building in which they gathered this morning – and which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in six years’ time – was much more to its congregation than bricks and mortar, much more to them than sand and stone and cement. “It’s the place where you come to celebrate new birth and to dedicate new birth into the hands of God, just as we did this morning with Zoe; it’s the place where you come in the high days of life – some of you celebrated your marriage right here; it’s the place where you come when heartache seems overwhelming – the saddest times of life are funerals; and it’s the place where you come, Sunday by Sunday, to praise God, to worship God, and that’s why a building like this becomes a hallowed space: it’s not just bricks and mortar, it’s much more than that, it’s history, it’s your tradition, it’s your family, and what happens within a space like this blesses your family and helps your family. For me, yes, of course, the church is a building that we love; it just becomes part of us, doesn’t it? It becomes part of the people who we are because it’s the place where your family and the family of God gather.”

Landmark moments were great in life, the Bishop suggested, and great in a parish’s history. “They help us to assess things, to be thankful for what’s happened in the past and to look ahead to the future – to dream dreams.” Bishop Andrew paid tribute to the group of men and women who, 300 years ago, dreamt a dream of having their own parish in Donegal Town, and to their successors who, 100 years later, dreamt the dream of building a new house of God.

“What are your dreams for your church family,” the Bishop asked, “what are your dreams of what this church family can look like?”

The Bishop compared the parish family to a ring of people holding hands and supporting one another. “What if we turned the circle around, still holding hands and supporting each other but looking out? Looking out to our society, looking out to our world in need, looking out to our world that is crying out for meaning? What if we looked forward by looking out – looking out with the good news of Christ – to share with those around us. Dream dreams of what that would mean for this parish. Dream dreams also for what that would mean for yourselves.”

Bishop Andrew reminded the congregation of what Saint Paul said in the New Testament reading (Galatians 5: 13-25): ‘…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’”

Today’s worship was led by Archdeacon Huss, who told those present and watching online that it was the first time in three years that the four parishes in the Group had gathered together for a service. The Rector was assisted by Diocesan Reader Nuala Dudley. The Old and New Testament readings were delivered by children from the parish. Young people also led the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for the church and the world. Music was provided by the parish choir and by harpist Valerie Frewen-Perri, who performed two pieces composed 300 years ago by JS Bach. After the service, the congregation were invited to enjoy refreshments and fellowship in the adjoining hall.

“How should the church speak?”

The following article by Archbishop John McDowell is published in today’s Belfast Telegraph in relation to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and the current political situation.

I can’t remember a more difficult or more polarised moment in Northern Ireland or in the relationships between the UK and Ireland over the past 20 years. The friction and the drama have many causes, but events have come together to create a moment of real jeopardy.

The issue which is acting as a symbol for wider community and international tension at the moment is the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The origins of the Protocol are relatively straightforward, but it has become fantastically complex in its development and the range of ills now being attributed to it, or threatened in consequence of it.

Very few people will have the time or the expert knowledge to master the detail of the Protocol. But it is, by its very objectives, tied to the 1998 Agreement. As such, it is a great pity that it has provoked a degree of partisanship which now seems to militate against a consensual outcome. But the debates around Brexit and the Protocol do not stray far from questions of peace, political stability or constitutional futures.

My own instinct is that it might be wiser at this time to reflect for a moment on how, as a society that has to live in this small space, we might approach the current challenges together, rather than choosing between what have become a rather rigid set of narratives and fixes.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ who also happens to be a Church Leader, the principal questions which I need to ask myself at this time are “how will what I do or say express my discipleship of Jesus Christ?” and “how will it contribute to the common good?”

Church Leaders are not party political figures nor are we the accredited representatives of any political community. I would guess that the majority of Church of Ireland people in Northern Ireland are unionists of one sort or another and most Church of Ireland people in the Republic of Ireland are broadly nationalist. Probably there is also a substantial minority (particularly) of under–40s in both jurisdictions who would class themselves as “neither” or

“other”. Fortunately there are a large number of elected representatives from political parties or political communities who are able and willing to speak for all these groups.

So as a Church Leader I do not speak for, with, or to the Church, or to broader society in that way. It is not for me as a Church Leader to parade the political affiliation of Church of Ireland people in those terms. In many ways, their political or constitutional affiliation is none of my business. This alignment of denominational and political affiliation has been a feature of our history and has only succeeded in making many in society suspicious of where the Church’s conclusive loyalty really lies. In doing so, it has impeded the Church’s usefulness in the world and has at times also cheapened the Gospel and its implications.

The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a Unionist or a Nationalist,

or a ‘Neither’. He is the Sovereign Lord of all peoples, a God of justice and generosity, who desires the good of all. For those of us whose churches are organised on an all–island basis, this is especially important to remember.

Brexit, the issue which created the need for a Protocol, has been undoubtedly divisive throughout the UK. Yet there is only one place where those divisions are seen as threatening violent disruption and social disintegration.

This is particularly so because shadowy groups who once had some electoral credibility, but who have now re–transitioned to their core competencies of drug dealing, extortion and oppressing their own communities, are trying to exert political pressure via their proxies. Perhaps it is important that opinion from the shadows is brought into the open; perhaps not. In any case, there will always be something of the night about it.

In contrast, in a functioning democratic society, the views expressed by trade bodies, academics,

businesspeople, and even church people, are necessarily heard – those whose purpose is simply to inform from a base of knowledge or evidence, rather than to campaign. It is vital that their freedom to speak is respected and protected.

Of course, nothing can stop the poisoned imaginations behind anonymous Twitter accounts, but there should be no place for sneering asides from public figures towards those whose evidence doesn’t align with a particular narrative. That leads only to a nervous discussion and a shrivelled public space.

Northern Ireland has always had an electoral democracy, but it has not always had a democratic culture. Democracy in its fullest sense, is not like parenthood, automatically passed on to the next generation. The fundamentals are easy to forget, not least around what other generations called

“civility”; fairness and transparency in public debate. It is an insidious form of barbarism to say that

“politics is a rough old game” and therefore “anything goes”. The web of relationships and internalised decencies which make good societies work is much easier to unravel than to knit.

Brexit and the Protocol will continue to affect different parts of these islands in different ways and to provoke different fears from different quarters. We need to be very careful about what we say and what we listen to in these matters. Above all, we need to focus on what is our common interest in the here and now so that we might avoid what would divide us even more painfully in the future.

The Most Revd John McDowell is the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.