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Churches Programme

A Peacebuilding Resource for Civil Society

This programme concluded in March 2008

“Listen to all that someone has to say before making up your mind. Too many people already know their answer, and because of this they don’t listen, they’re just waiting to get their own point across. Consequently, they don’t learn anything. Say to yourself, I’m going to say something completely new, therefore I have to listen first”

Participant in the Clergy Group at Glencree Churches programme Workshop 2005.

1. Introduction

Glencree Churches Programme provides opportunities for debate within and between churchgoers and other believers. Theological and doctrinal issues may be part of the dialogue process, but this is a peace building endeavour that asks questions about the extent to which religion is responsible for the causes and resolution of the conflicts in the island of Ireland. Thus Glencree Churches Programme is a civil society project about reconciliation, rather than a religious project about ecumenism.

The Programme facilitates a process that addresses issues that are surfaced by participants. In this way, people are offered a ‘safe space’ within which they are encouraged to meet the ‘other’, often for the first time; to ask questions -and to really listen to the answers.

This is a strategic initiative that it works horizontally through local and residential workshops in the community and vertically via consultations with church leaders. Its primary area of operation is Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

Churches Programme resources are offered through a trained facilitation team and include Interactive online dialogue and hard-copy resource material that provides on-going and sustainable sharing of knowledge. This material:

  • Illustrates how Glencree programmes are designed and delivered
  • Explains what is behind the work (i.e. the Glencree ethos and practices of mediation, facilitation, conflict transformation etc)
  • Describes how the Glencree philosophy and practice can be applied generally.
  • Offers training solutions to people who are involved in finding ways to deal with conflict.


2 . Background

In offering this programme, Glencree seeks to make a further contribution to the many efforts that are being made by faith communities in both parts of Ireland and world-wide to understand the role that religion plays in causing and mitigating conflict

  • further develop its programme work with churches in Ireland to include inter-faith and single-identity dimensions
  • offer multi-level solutions that include dealing with requests by clergy for local capacity building.

Glencree’s earlier work in this field includes:

  • Research/publication 1998/9 of:

The Believers Enquiry - 'Imprisoned within Structures?'

The Role of Religious Believers in Building Peace in Ireland

This report records responses and debates with church leader in Ireland around the core question of the enquiry:
’What is the role of your church in building peace and who could work with you in this endeavour?

SInce 1999, Glencree Churches Programme has worked with more than 500 people at:

  • Local and residential workshops
  • Conferences
  • Meetings with church leaders.


3. The Programme

3.1 Objectives:

  • Uncover fundamental concepts of the language and dynamics of conflict and reconciliation
  • Develop a bespoke non-prescriptive learning experience through which participants bring the issues and the trainer/facilitator provides the process
  • Make the experience inclusive, non-judgemental and reflective

3.2 Elements:

  • Peace building and reconciliation training at local, and other levels (informal and accredited)
  • Space for people who wish to express their faith experience both inside and outside formal religious structures
  • Dialogue with church leaders
  • Work with theological students
  • Civil society cultural debates on a multi-dimensional basis: north - south, east - west and international

3.3 Issues:

  • Understanding conflict and transforming it
  • Listening
  • Stereotyping
  • Bigotry, racism, sectarianism, bullying, anger
  • Words and language
  • Rivalling and copying
  • The scapegoat
  • Recovering the truth
  • Forgiving
  • Making and accepting an apology
  • Moving on
  • Agreeing to differ
  • Consensus and compromise
  • The ice box
  • Finding the win/win

3.4 Things to do:

  • Games and role-play
  • Breakout groups and plenarys
  • Shared worship (optional)
  • Making plans
  • The next step


4. The Participants Speak (Selection)

“I found myself talking openly to strangers about issues I wouldn’t even discuss with my closest friends and family.”

“We often go to so much trouble to create space only to make safe statements. This was different. I had space to voice what I’m uncertain about.”

“I felt privileged to hear someone else’s story, and felt the ‘gift’ of being listened to.”

“The confidentiality helps, and the safe environment leads to a sense of security.”

“We can’t provide safe space, but we can offer positive space.”

“Why did I become a Christian? To love my enemy!”

“Does instability result in community?”

“Challenge equals growth, and the next workshop will be more challenging!”

“I though I was coming to listen to a speaker.....but it was great to be a real participant, speaking myself”

“We’ve all got on really well, and that’s created a sense of comfort. Don’t use that comfort to stop us all asking similar hard questions next time. Don’t fear a challenge.”

Open Letters

These open letters to church leaders * (local and otherwise) in both parts of Ireland were compiled at a Glencree Churches Programme weekend workshop in February 2004.

a) From church-goers

"As a group of concerned church-goers, we would like to put forward some suggestions regarding peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland, and would be interested in seeing if you would be willing to embrace any of the suggestions in your own church.

Our suggestions are:

  • A weekly or monthly rota of prayer and fasting between churches for peace and reconciliation.
  • Guest speakers to be invited regularly to your church to share their experiences of the conflict in Northern Ireland; e.g. victims/perpetrators of violence who have been changed by Christ.
  • Healing and support for those who have been physically and emotionally damaged by the conflict.
  • Focus on young people to explore their faith, to have the freedom to ask questions that are important to them and that lead to dialogue with other denominations and communities.
  • Dialogue on doctrine and canon law with lay people."

We invite you to discuss these issues with us.

b) From non church-goers

"We would like to express some issues and concerns that we have regarding the Churches in both parts of Ireland, and their approaches (or the lack of them) to peace building.

We are writing this letter as we feel detached from the Church due what we perceive is a lack of interest from the churches in embracing social issues such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland: especially sectarianism and political racism, victim/perpetrator relations, bereavement counselling and suicide. We would also like to know about the services that the Churches are offering to the wider community, as there is a lack of knowledge around the churches’ role in civil society. This leads to fear and distrust, particularly within the younger generation. We would like you to tell us, for example, how your church is facing up to issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse?

We feel that is a fundamental Christian duty of all of the Churches to embrace these issues, yet; instead we see them isolating themselves from the wider community, thus creating a divide between the Church and civil society. For us, Christianity is, amongst its other concerns, about peace building and building bridges. It is about creating awareness of social ills, whether related to the conflicts in Ireland or in the home. Christianity is about learning from the Gospels and from the experiences of everyday life and then taking action to achieve equity and justice through dialogue with civil society.

We, the authors of this letter are, for a variety of reasons, no longer churchgoers. Many of these reasons relate to our perception that the churches have done too little to help build and maintain peace in this island.

We urge all Churches to openly embrace the Gospel examples of peace building. We urge all clergy and lay leaders to preach on the fundamental duty of Christians to building bridges between divided peoples.

Finally, we urge the Churches to act in the way of Christ by addressing these issues through genuine public debate that deliberately sets out to give voice to all, whether they be churchgoers or not; Christian or not."

We invite you to discuss these issues with us.

* The term ‘church leader’ should be interpreted broadly to include anyone, clerical or lay, who has a role - local or national - in any aspect of Christian outreach in either part of Ireland.


5. Funding

Glencree Churches Programme is funded by the European Union through the Cross-border consortium under the EU Peace II Programme and part-financed by the UK and Irish Governments.

Website supported by the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation
Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation is a company limited by guarantee in the Republic of Ireland; Company Number: 50088 and registered charity number: CHY5943; and a charity registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales under charity number 1137390 and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales, company number 7152448. The registered address in Ireland is: Glencree, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. Company Directors: Mary Curtin, Denise Collins, Debbie Donnelly, John Flood, Bronagh Hinds, Colin Murphy, Turlough O'Donnell, Andy Pollak, Barbara Walshe (Chair).