Remembrance Day

Although the Royal British Legion Remembrance Service held in All Saints’ church on Sunday 14 November was an historic occasion, the headlines focussed on a small protest by one individual. In response to this I wrote the Antrim Guardian to redress the balance as I hoped the historic nature of the day would not be lost among the ‘protest’ of one individual. What happened in All Saints hasn’t happened in any other community and yet it wasn’t out of the ordinary for our community as we have several events where clergy meet together. This is a great reflection on the people of Antrim.

On Sunday 9 November the Very Rev Anthony Devlin, Parish Priest of St Comgall’s, Antrim was the preacher at Antrim’s Royal British Legion remembrance service which was held in All Saints’ Parish Church. This was a momentous occasion and yet it was simply another step on the road away from the sectarian problems which have blighted Antrim’s past.

The response following the service in All Saints was very favourable. “Our only disappointment was that the young people of our youth organisations were unable to join with us in the service,” commented Archdeacon McBride, vicar of All Saints’ Parish and chaplain to the Antrim Branch of the Royal British Legion. “Due to the unexpected extra number of people on parade, All Saints’ church which can accommodate nearly 400 worshippers, was packed to the doors. Many people who had attended the service were delighted that at long last, Father Devlin had been able to take part.”

The Churches throughout this island have been part of the problem over the past years of violence, but they have also had a positive role which should not be overlooked. In the late 1990s, Father Devlin’s predecessor, Father Bobby Butler, at a meeting of the town’s clergy fellowship commented on the number of his parishioners who had been intimidated out of their homes. Due to the concern of the clergy, a meeting was set up with councillors from Antrim Borough Council, representatives from the RUC, N I Housing Executive, members of community associations and clergy. Northern Ireland’s first Community Safety Group developed from these initial talks.

Some of the members of the clergy fellowship were of the opinion that the town needed more visible expressions of the work which had been going on quietly behind the scenes. Although clergy regularly took part in interdenominational baptisms, weddings and funerals and as chaplains conducted services together in Antrim’s three hospitals, there was a need for a more public display of their togetherness. After Father Devlin asked him to preach at a parish Novena, Archdeacon McBride said, “It was one of the most memorable days in my ministry. The reception of the parishioners was so warm and for many weeks after, people would approach me in the town to thank me for taking part. It is a day I will never forget.” The Rev Jack Moore from Antrim Methodist preached at the following Novena and the reception he received was equally welcoming in its warmth and sincerity.

It was possible for the two clergy from the Reformed tradition to preach at a Catholic Novena mission without creating a fuss from either of their own congregations or getting Father Devlin into fix, because the time was right for this to happen and our people were encouraging further such exchanges to be developed.

For the past few years, on Good Friday, over three hundred people per year have joined the clergy in a Walk of Witness which begins in Antrim Methodist and follows on to All Saints’, St Comgall’s and finishes in High Street Presbyterian Church. It has been very encouraging that each of the serving mayors, Sam Dunlop, Drew Ritchie and Adrian Watson have taken part in the short services in the churches. “People are taken aback at the sight of three hundred people walking in line behind a cross,” said Father Devlin and we are delighted that each of the mayors has given us such strong support.”

In October Archdeacon McBride was invited by the members of St Comgall’s GAA Club to join them at the county final in Casement Park. His fifteen year old son Alex had played several games for the club in the previous season and Archdeacon McBride and Father Devlin met with the team before the throw in to give the boys a word of encouragement.

In one sense what happened on Remembrance Sunday, 9 November 2008 was an historic occasion for the Royal British Legion in Antrim and throughout Northern Ireland and yet it was simply another step on the road to normality. Plans are underway for the churches to take part in a joint Alpha course and hopefully a project with Habitat for Humanity. The Rev Jack Moore said, “For the people of Antrim, we hope, in our own small way, we can work together so we can leave aside the label of being Northern Ireland’s most sectarian town.” The Rev Jack Moore and Archdeacon McBride would hope to build on this year’s service and enable the members of the Antrim Branch of the Royal British Legion and the youth organisations of the town to have a Remembrance Service that everyone can attend. Archdeacon McBride concluded, “I hope that what took place on Remembrance Sunday in Antrim will be remembered for its inclusivity. All shades of political and religious opinion fought together side by side for King, Queen and Country in the many wars and campaigns which we met together to remember. In a small way, our congregation was a microcosm of this.”