A church service marking the centenary of partition and creation of Northern Ireland has heard that the partition of Ireland is still a source of political and cultural division in Northern Ireland.
Around 150 people attended the "Service of Reflection and Hope" at St. Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh City on Thursday morning, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Chief Whip Jack Chambers, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis.
Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan of the DUP also attended the ceremony, but Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was not in attendance.
Today’s Service of Reflection and Hope was an important reminder of the need to move forward together in a spirit of reconciliation and hope. We must uphold the sense of mutual respect and optimism we all saw today as we look to Northern Ireland’s future. #NIBeyond100 pic.twitter.com/ae4cFJT0Ns— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) October 21, 2021
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and Queen Elizabeth II were also not in attendance, with Higgins announcing in September that he was declining an invitation because the event's title was too political. Buckingham Palace announced yesterday, October 20, that the Queen would not be attending the service on medical advice.
Leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches all attended the service, including Roman Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin, who told the congregation that partition remains a symbol of cultural and political division in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the service, Martin said that partition "institutionalized difference and remains a symbol of cultural, political and religious division between our communities".
"Today I reflect as a church leader on the past 100 years. I have to face the difficult truth that perhaps we in the churches, could have done more to deepen our understanding of each other, and to bring healing and peace to our divided and wounded communities," Martin said.
Presbyterian Moderator Dr. David Bruce also spoke at the service and said that he looked back over the last 100 years with "mixed feelings".
"Northern Ireland is my home and I love it. But I lament the physical and emotional pain which has been caused over this last century to so many people by violence and the words which lead to violence," Bruce said.
The sermon was delivered by President of the Methodist Church of Ireland Dr. Sahr Yambusu.
Yambusu, who is originally from Sierra Leone and is the first African-born leader of one of the main churches in Ireland, told the service that Northern Ireland had "come a long way" since its foundation.
"During that time, people have cared for one another and made efforts to build community. For this we give thanks. But we have also been blighted by sectarian divisions, terrible injustices, destructive violence, and by win-lose political attitudes. And for this, we have cause to lament."
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell and President of the Irish Council of Churches Dr. Ivan Patterson also attended Thursday's event, while Church of Ireland Dean of Armagh spoke at the beginning of the service.