A unique book that explores how Presbyterians responded to the Troubles has been launched yesterday (Tuesday, 5 November) in Assembly Buildings, Belfast.
Considering Grace is the result of a 3-year project by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI). This sensitive undertaking has involved interviews with 120 people, including 50 women and 77 people from the border counties, who tell their stories of how they coped with unimaginable trauma and tests of faith.
The 264-page paperback takes its title from a comment that Rev Terry Laverty of Portstewart Presbyterian Church made when talking about the murder of his brother. It includes the stories of other Presbyterian ministers, victims, members of the security forces, those affected by loyalist paramilitarism, ex-combatants, emergency responders and health-care workers, peacemakers, politicians, people who left Presbyterianism and ‘critical friends’ of the Presbyterian tradition.
Rev Tony Davidson, minister of First Armagh Presbyterian Church, leads the PCI’s Dealing with the Past Task Group that commissioned the book: “Our aim has been to tell a wider story than has been available to date, to acknowledge both what is good, but also to reflect upon the times when Presbyterians failed to be faithful peacemakers. This collection of personal accounts will assist the denomination to consider the effect of the conflict, its role in it, and the call by Jesus to be peacemakers.
“In examining our history pastorally and offering what emerges for the benefit of PCI, the wider Church and the common good, Considering Grace is just one contribution to our response to dealing with the past.”
Mr Davidson concluded, “The book provides an opportunity for the church to reflect on its pastoral response to its members and we hope it will encourage other people to tell their stories in a safe supportive environment.”
Co-author of the book, Dr Gladys Ganiel, is a sociologist of religion at Queen’s University Belfast:
“Most studies of religion in Northern Ireland have focused on clergy and leaders – Considering Grace explores how ordinary people responded to the Troubles. There are stories of faith and doubt, fear and courage, suffering and forgiveness, and division and reconciliation. But while the book contributes to the historical record of people’s experiences during the Troubles, it is foremost a book about the future. My hope is that the book will prompt people both inside and outside the Presbyterian Church to ponder how to go forward together in light of the suffering and tragedy of the past.”
Speaking at the launch, the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr William Henry said, “I would like to personally thank the co-authors Dr Gladys Ganiel and Dr Jamie Yohanis, for this important piece of work, and all who made this book possible, not least those who provided moving personal testimony and often poignant insights in to this particularly tragic period in our history.
“Considering Grace is for reflection, remembrance and, at times lament; these are hard stories to read. But it is also a book to prompt us to consider gracious engagement, modelling the grace of Jesus.”
Nicola Brady, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches also spoke at the launch, “Peacemaking takes time and requires consensus. When we think of the future we want to create, we need to be proactively speaking about reconciliation, that takes courage and part of the process is asking difficult questions then listening respectfully to the answers in all their painful complexity. The book is an invitation to us all to make space to understand each other better.”
Regional launches of the book are being held later this month in Londonderry, Ballymena, Armagh and Enniskillen.
Considering Grace: Presbyterians and the Troubles by Gladys Ganiel and Jamie Yohanis is published by Merrion Press and is available in bookstores, via www.presbyterianireland.org/consideringgrace and other online suppliers.