Service to mark centenary of Northern Ireland's formation had hope at it’s centre

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The Service of Reflection and Hope, held in Armagh's St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral, had influences from all of the denominations involved in its organising.

There was a strong local representation too with young people from schools right across Armagh involved in proceedings.

Organised by the Church Leaders Group (Ireland), the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh, the Presbyterian Moderator, the President of the Methodist Church and President of the Irish Council of Churches all had a hand in the service.

A heavy police cordon was in effect in Armagh and around St Patrick's Cathedral from the early hours of the morning. Media from across Ireland had descended on the city for the service too, which was televised across the UK on the BBC and across Ireland on RTE.

Before the service began, the Assistant Organist, the Rev'd Canon Dr Peter Thompson, played as guests arrived.

The Cathedral bells rang as dignitaries arrived, including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and the leaders of the DUP, UUP, Alliance and SDLP.

The Queen, who was unable to attend, was represented by the Earl of Caledon.

The opening hymn of the service 'O Christ the same through all our story's pages' - played to the melody of Londonderry Air - was followed by a reading of scripture by the recently appointed Dean of Armagh, the Very Rev'd Shane Forster.

He read 2 Corinthians 5:17-19: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

"All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us."

The Dean also welcomed everyone to the service.

"We gather here today on this ancient hill of Armagh, where St Patrick established a faith community and church over fifteen hundred years ago, to reflect on the significance of this centenary year and the long road we have travelled which also stretches out before us," he said.

"In this the ecclesiastical capital of this island, a centuries old place of learning and outreach, we meet together at this time, people from diverse backgrounds and traditions, with different beliefs and aspirations, to pray for the healing of past hurts and to seek God’s guidance and hope for the future.

"Our past has shaped us and scarred us, it has divided us, and yet it has also on occasion brought us together. As we lament our failures, sorrows and pain, and recognise our wounded yet living history, may we with a united voice commit ourselves to work together for the common good, in mutual respect and with shared hope for a light filled, prosperous and peaceful future."

His following prayer spoke of how we as a people had "wounded each other and our communities in the past.

"We are sorry and ashamed and asked for your forgiveness, so that together we may move forward in faith, grow together in love, and faithfully serve you all our days."

Soloist Helena Hendron, accompanied by the gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir, sang 'The Deer's Cry', before a reading from Isiah 40:28-31 by Rebecca Morris.

A song of hope, 'We're the Future of Tomorrow', was sung by a children's choir drawn from the local area.

That was followed by a reading from St Matthew 5:1-9 by Oisín Walsh.

The hopes, dreams and aspirations of the next generation were then given to the congregation by Lucy Addis from the Royal School, Armagh, Sean McCourt-Kelly from St Patrick’s High School, Keady, and Andrea Andrews, a pupil of La Chéile Secondary School in Tyrrelstown in Dublin.

Prayers were read, with the opening prayer read in Irish by Linda Ervine and Séan Cull. Intercessions were offered by Professor Mary Hannon-Fletcher and Robert Barfoot, both of whom were injured in the conflict.

Reflections were then given by the Church Leaders, with the exception of the Methodist Leader, who was giving the sermon later.

‘In Christ Alone’, a hymn written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, who has links to the Armagh area, was then sung by the congregation.

Rev’d Dr Sahr Yambasu, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, then gave his sermon, followed by the Act of Commitment, led by Rosa McCloskey and James Chamberlain, a pupil of Markethill High School.

The most symbolic act of the service saw Billy Wilson, a pupil of City of Armagh High School, carry a lantern, representing a light of hope, through the Cathedral where it was received in the santuary by the Church Leaders. Billy was accompanied by Libby Harrison from Saints and Scholars Primary School, Erika Stancuite of Mount St Catherine's Primary School and Alfie Cummings who attends Armstrong Primary School.

Blessings sung by the Cathedral Choir and given by the Church Leaders, then took place, before the final hymn, ‘Be Thou My Vision’.

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