Relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday and in the Claudy bombings have joined politicians, clergy, aid workers and campaigners for a special cross-community church service in Derry.
Those gathered for the special Sunday morning worship at First Derry Presbyterian Church were told that a route to strengthening peace here was possible for people of different faith backgrounds “standing together, praying together, singing together and then living together”.
Reverend David Latimer said the invitation by BBC Radio Ulster to broadcast the service “was embraced as an opportunity to instil into the hearts and minds of people, not only in Derry/Londonderry but across the country that despite our many differences we are only ever as strong as we are united”.
Among those who took part were Mayor of Derry & Strabane Maolíosa McHugh, who read the Old Testament lesson, and Gary Middleton DUP MLA who read the New Testament lesson, as well as UUP Alderman Mary Hamilton, SDLP Councillor and Deputy Mayor John Boyle and Sinn Fein National Chairperson Declan Kearney MLA.
The Pink Ladies were in attendance alongside representatives from the Council for the Homeless, the House in the Wells, Bogside History Tours and Martin McCrossan Tours. Members of the Ambulance, Fire and Police Service also attended the service in uniform.
Rev. Latimer, who conducted the broadcast service and preached on the subject, ‘Going a Little Further,’ said that the absence of a devolved government at Stormont, a fraught political landscape and uncertainty generated by Brexit were combining to subtly “suck us back into the dark valley of despair”.
“Retreating into the safety of our tribal silos is not, however, the way to save our peace, strengthen our peace or build our peace,” he said.
“If we can only remember that those whom we live with and from whom we can’t get away are our brothers and sisters who share with us the same short life then surely, in the words of Senator Robert Kennedy, ‘we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us.’
“One way to help bring this about is for people with opposing political aspirations and different faith backgrounds standing together, praying together, singing together and then living together.”
One way, he suggested, for people to go a little further involved praying for all politicians and not just those from their own communities, and for ministers and priests to go even further by publicly naming the leaders of political parties in prayers at services. Engaging in this practice, he said, would serve to slowly reinforce that we are, after all, one people, one family, much more alike than different.
Reverend Latimer believed now was “as good a time as any for all of us to examine our achievements for peace and prosperity and, where necessary give ourselves permission to break new ground by going that little bit further by intentionally reaching out to friend and foe alike”.
In a nutshell, he concluded, it is time to extend to others, whatever their creed or culture, the same grace God has extended to us. After the service ended everyone was invited to mingle at the nearby Maldron Hotel.