“How did a respected GP and Christian get involved with the Progressive Unionist Party in Northern Ireland?” That was the first question posed to our Speaker Dr John Kyle at the Church Works In The Community, AGM and Conference, on Saturday October 21, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church, Bangor. The Church we gathered in is a superb example of a traditional Presbyterian meeting house. It’s situated in a lovely seaside resort on the southern side of Belfast Lough and within the Belfast Metropolitan Area in Northern Ireland. Congregants have been worshiping here since 1623 when at the invitation of Lord Clandeboye, Robert Blair came from Scotland to be the first minister.
Thanks to Trevor Magee, YMCA North Down Chairperson, I learned how the charity, Church Works North Down, https://www.churchworksnorthdown.com/ is facilitating Church engagement and developing a super connected supportive network. The charity is also a really great model for capturing the rhythm of church life in North Down via shared stories, humanitarian initiatives (Storehouse North Down, Storehouse Lunch Club, conferences, and a social inclusion group working primarily in the areas of learning disability and mental health).
My good friend John shared his fascinating personal testimony. I summarized 5 of the most meaningful key takeaways from both the meeting, and John’s testimony;
1. Justice is mentioned 200 times in the Old Testament. Jesus had a deep concern for the poor in the New Testament. (Luke 4:18-19).
2. Poverty and justice are inextricably linked and at the mainstream of God’s priorities. Jesus cared for and defended the immigrant, the fatherless, the poor, the ostracized, the vulnerable, and the widow. He challenged racism and befriended tax collectors.
3. Working class communities in Belfast and North Down can teach us a lot about poverty, deprivation and why we need to speak truth to power. (Job 29:14-16).
4. Poverty can be a trap. We can work together to change the atmosphere and create opportunities for kids growing up in the poverty trap. It’s not their fault. An attitude of grace is much more effective than harsh judgement and guilt. (Ephesians 2:8-10).
5. Protestants and Catholics probably get along better in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the world but sectarianism still exists and needs to be addressed. The politicians of Northern Ireland have failed to eradicate para militarism. There is a lack of political will and resources to complete the task. We still need a strategy, and exit process for those who truly want to leave paramilitary organizations. (Proverbs 28:5).