Theme Talk – Building Trust, Building Peace
Adapted from Bruce Zanin’s copious notes by Matt Gilsenan.
Minister and Peace-builder Chris Hudson addressed the assembled EUU for two and a half hours on Saturday morning during the Fall 2018 EUU Retreat in Cologne.
Hudson opened by providing us with some context. After describing the geographical particulars, he helped us understand the question: “How does the ‘Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church’ relate to our Unitarian tradition?” Simply put, the Church of England, for political reasons, asked churches in Scotland to subscribe to the “Westminster Confession of Faith.” The Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church is rooted in their refusal to subscribe to this Anglican theology. Now a non-credal Christian Church, they have an emphasis on individual conscience in matters of the Christian faith. Chris explains “Not every non-subscribing Presbyterian is a Unitarian, but every Unitarian is a non-subscribing Presbyterian.” He continued with his church’s activities: “Right now at All Souls, we’re preparing for Christmas,” he shared. “Services specific to the Trans and LGBT community are being planned. We are also working with immigrants from Zimbabwe and with the Jewish community. Interfaith in Belfast is strong.” A proponent for religious leaders getting out in the street in support of liberal causes, Chris insists they wear religious garb to identify themselves for the television cameras. Recently he has been active marching in the Pride Parade and supporting asylum seekers.
Accompanied by slides of the main characters, Hudson talked us through decades of relationships that brought him to the place where he was able to play a role in bringing an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, a conflict that ended in an unconventional way.
“I have a friend, Michael Semple with Queens University Belfast, an expert in conflict resolution. He spent much of his life in Afghanistan and says you always work with those people in the opposing organizations who want conflict to end.” Chris tells us that his experience was different. Here the protagonists in the conflict, those who were most active in promoting the conflict previously, were the ones who used their power to bring it to an end.
“Peacemakers are masters of constructive ambiguity,” Chris says. He didn’t offer us a magic formula for peace on that day, but rather a narrative in which the protagonists decided to trust one another. The allowing for ambiguity element is how past sins were overlooked, blame and judgment of past wrongs were set aside, and key figures in Northern Ireland decided it was time to move forward.
Today Belfast is buzzing, and Chris has photos to illustrate it. A city center with new hotels, restaurants and coffee bars has replaced the closed down army patrolled streets that existed before the cease-fire.
After his talk, an audience member asked whether or not Brexit has the potential to revive the conflict. The answer was a flat NO. He has no time for those who play politics with the peace process. Those with whom he had been in communication in the weeks leading up to our retreat had no intention of resuming the conflict. A “remainer” himself, he acknowledged that unfortunately some bad actors could not be ruled out, “Someone might want to set fire to a customs post, but such people are everywhere.” He said, “Brexit will be difficult, but won’t make worse the situation in Northern Ireland.”