Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Church as a Catalyst for Change in a Post Conflict Society (Methodist President Rev Dr Heather Morris)

The University of Ulster joint chaplaincy team hosted a lecture by the Methodist President Rev Dr Heather Morris last night in the Belfast campus. Her address is well worth a listen. Introduced by Pro-Vice Chancellor Prof Alastair Adair  and looked at the subject of:
The Church as a Catalyst for Change in a Post Conflict Society

Dr Morris reflected on the church's changing position in the public square ... echoing a little of Prof Donald Macleod's lecture at a Presbyterian event earlier this year.
"I long for the day we [church & Christians] work for the rights of others as much as we work for the rights of ourselves."

She added that churches needed "a desire for the common good ... for the good of all, and not just for the good of mine".

She reasoned that one of the reasons that churches and denominations hesitate to speak theologically in the public square was because theology had been misused to demean and inappropriately judge in the past.
"The public discourse will be impoverished if we do not speak theologically using words like forgiveness, love and justice."

There were references to last year's relaunch of For God and his Glory Alone by Contemporary Christianity/ECONI.

In her year as president, Dr Morris has found no shortage of individuals asking how they can become personally involved and contribute to changing society. An interdenominational group have been looking at principles for a better society and Dr Morris shared their high level thinking.

She went on to press for the need for the individuals and institutions to give concrete examples of how society can be different - being 21st century prophets - and cited the example of Glenn Jordan and the Skainos project's vision for the transformation of Inner East Belfast.

A practical theologian by trade, Dr Morris suggested that theological reflection must lead to action. Churches should make space to listen, including to those from whom they differ and disagree. While churches were involved in many community initiatives (including job clubs, toddler groups and food banks), the key question to be answered was:
"Would your community miss you if you shut your doors?"

It was a really interesting lecture and the Q&A afterwards touched on the role of chaplaincy - Dr Morris described it as partially "loitering with intent" - within the university as well as the wider community, with reference to their positive influence and action in the Holy Lands (South Belfast student housing area) during recent St Patrick's Day celebrations.

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