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Service of Reflection & Hope in Armagh

An early view of St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, this morning.
An early view of St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, this morning.

At a unique gathering to mark a deeply significant time in the history of these islands, a young high school student, accompanied by three primary school children from schools across County Armagh, will carry a lantern through St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in the City of Armagh today (21 October), symbolising ‘The Light of Hope’. The simple symbolic act takes place during a Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland, which has been organised and hosted by the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland).

The hour–long service, which began at 11 o’clock in Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital, is being attended by representatives of both governments and the Northern Ireland Executive and other elected representatives. They include, the UK’s Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Boris Johnston MP, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Paul Givan MLA. While guests at the Service have had to be limited to enable appropriate social distancing, due to various Covid–19 mitigations, the service also brings together civic dignitaries, children and young people, and over 100 community leaders working in peace–building, community development, health, youth work, and various different aspects of church life, in an act of worship that is underpinned by a Christian vision of reconciliation.

The P7 children from local maintained, controlled and integrated schools will accompany Billy Smith, from Armagh High School, who will carry the lantern, which has a living flame burning within, through the Cathedral to the Sanctuary, where they will present it to the Church Leaders. Throughout the service, children and young people will have key roles to play.

With local schoolchildren forming a welcoming reception for the guests as they enter the Cathedral grounds, a choir of children from different backgrounds from the local area – in brightly coloured T–shirts to represent diversity and hope across the island – will sing a ‘Song of Hope’ entitled, ‘We’re the future of tomorrow’.

In a part of the service, called ‘Voices of Hope’, three young people, Lucy Addis from the Royal School Armagh, Seán McCourt Kelly from St Patrick’s High School in Keady, and Andrea Andrews, from Le Chéile Secondary School in Tyrrelstown in Dublin, will each share their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next generation.

Two of the three scripture readings (Isaiah 40:28b–31 and Matthew 5:1–14) will be read by Rebecca Morris, from Belfast’s Methodist College, and Oisín Walsh, who works in the Catholic Communications Office in Maynooth. An ‘Act of Commitment’ will be led by Rosa McCloskey from Lagan College in Belfast and James Chamberlain, from Markethill High School in County Armagh.

Broadcast live by the BBC and RTÉ, at the start of the Service of Reflection and Hope, the Dean of Armagh, the Very Rev Shane Forster, will welcome guests and lead the service in prayer. Having read 2 Corinthians 5:17–29, he will pray, “…Lord, we confess to you and to each other, that we have wounded each other and our communities in the past. We are sorry and ashamed and ask for your forgiveness, so that together we may move forward in faith, grow together in love, and faithfully serve you all our days…May Almighty God forgive us, heal us and help us and give us his peace now and in the days to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Prayer also forms an integral part of the service. Linda Ervine MBE and Seán Coll will lead the opening prayer in Irish. Professor May Hannon–Fletcher and Robert Barfoot, who were both injured in the conflict on this island, will offer Intercessions. The Sierra Leone–born President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, will give the sermon.

Before Dr Yambasu preaches, his four colleagues in the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland), the Most Rev John McDowell and the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland respectively, the Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches, will each share some personal reflections. In a moment entitled ‘The Journey’, these reflections include some of the significant themes that have touched them in relation to this centenary year.

Music also plays an important part in this Christian act of worship. Along with the children’s ‘Song of Hope’, soloist Helena Hendron and the Cathedral Choir, under Director of Music, Dr Stephen Timpany, will sing ‘The Deer’s Cry, during a ‘Time of Reflection’. Three hymns will also be sung, accompanied by Assistant Organist, the Rev Dr Peter Thompson, and musicians from the Education Authority Music Service. The Cathedral Choir will also sing an Irish Blessing.

Speaking in advance of the Service, the Church Leaders said, “We would like to extend our thanks to the Dean and Chapter of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, for the use of the Cathedral for our Service of Reflection and Hope, and everyone who has come today and will participate in it. We see this service as a moment in a much longer journey towards reconciliation, which will require the prayerful support and engagement of Christians across these islands.”

The Church Leaders continued, “In our ‘Centenary Prayer’, which is printed in the Order of Service, we acknowledge before God, our failures, our divisions, and the hurt that we have caused Him and one another. For this, we ask for forgiveness. The prayer concludes, ‘As we travel onwards in our journey, may we learn from the experiences of the past and from those who trod these roads before us, so that the inheritance we pass on to the next generation is the gift of understanding, peace, and hope. In faith we pray, and humbly ask, in the name of Him who is the light of the world and giver of all hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ May all of us on this island have the courage to embrace and pass on these gifts.”

Please click here for the Order of Service, the Sermon and ‘The Journey’ – a series of reflections by the Church Leaders spoken during the service.

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.

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