Pitching Peace Like a Tent in Belfast
by Mary Beth Coudal
The East Belfast Mission is pitching its tent. The community center, Skainos, an ancient Greek word meaning tent, is being built by missionaries, staff, volunteers, and community members of Ballymacarrett in Northern Ireland. All people will be welcome in this East Belfast building which will offer space for outreach groups and individuals seeking healing and transformation.
The Skainos project is under construction; and this is an apt image for a community under construction--seeking shelter from decades of war and more recently, economic decline. The community is warily building solidarity, one conversation at a time. In one of the most impoverished and previously religiously-divided communities in Northern Ireland, the need is great. For example, one in four youth under age 16 are functionally illiterate.
Gary Mason, the mission superintendent, visited the New York City offices of Global Ministries with Mark Houston, mission director, to build momentum for the construction of the community center, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2012.
"They don't teach peacemaking in seminary," Houston said. With "The (Irish) economy in disarray, it's always those lower on the food chain who suffer."
"It's grace, not theology, that saves us," Rev. Mason said. The key elements to the conflict resolution necessary to heal the community are, "compromise, flexibility, understanding" and "real, hard, meaningful conversations."
In the East Belfast center, 80 staff and 150 volunteers are employed, in disparate services, including vintage clothing stores, daycare for children, eldercare for seniors, arts programs, and a café. Global Ministries missionaries, Allison and Britt Gilmore, are facilitating communion through Bible studies at the East Belfast Mission church.
When asked why do all of this work to overcome deep-seated distrust and fear and make peace? Houston replied, "There's a gospel imperative to do this."
East Belfast Mission was founded in 1985 to engage in community development in Belfast. It grew out of the work of Newtownards Road Methodist Church, which has a history of community service stretching back to 1826. The East Belfast Mission is the oldest and one of the largest community organizations in the area.
Mason said he is motivated to peace-building work because he "buried too many men who died as a result of the conflict." The work of the mission is to minister to the survivors, including the women and children who suffered passive trauma, during the years of conflict.
Mason's advice? "Be careful the stories you tell in your living room." There is transformative power in turning the stories of distrust into stories of community-building by pitching a tent together.
Date posted: Nov 04, 2011