On Sunday November 9 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.
The Vicar of Antrim, Archdeacon Stephen McBride, said this was a momentous occasion and yet was simply another step away from the sectarian problems which have blighted Antrim’s past.
In the late 1990s, Father Devlin’s predecessor, Father Bobby Butler, commented at a meeting of the town’s clergy fellowship 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, NI 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 was a day I will never forget.” The Rev Jack Moore from Antrim Methodist preached at the following Novena.
For the past four years, on Good Friday, more than 300 people have each year 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 (from the Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party) has taken part in the short services in the churches. “People are taken aback at the sight of 300 people walking in line behind a cross,” said Father Devlin.
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 15-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.
Archdeacon McBride said the in one sense what happened on Remembrance Sunday 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.”