<-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->

john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, November 26, 2002
    From Belfast Central Library
    Out of breath, and out of sorts, having taken my camera on a trip round some famous interfaces this morning. Identity is everything here, as I'm sure I've already written, and as an Anglican clergyman I ought perhaps to have felt safe on the Shankhill Road, with its Union flags and Loyalist murals turning an awfully grey place a festive-looking red, white and blue. But the truth is I found myself walking very quickly out of there, intimidated by the the colours which are a show of defiance, pride, call it whatever, but which scream out with all the anger and fear of betrayal and lost ground, and which invite the feeling that this is not an easy place, it's hard, unstable, unsafe.

    Take away the colours and the Falls Road looks little different really. I felt more at ease there because, having asked for this day-trip to be a sort-of pilgrimage, a mobile meditation, I found myself drawn into an estate which has, at its heart, the wonderful twin-steepled cathedral of St Peters. And there, underneath its impressive facade, I found myself able to stand and pray for the people who live in its light - including those across the terrible peace-lines two streets away. Far more prayerful here than outside the Shankhill Gospel Hall, a stern concrete building like a council-estate boozer, above which flies a massive Union flag and a banner visible streets away which says 'Free Johnny Adair - His Only Crime is Loyalty'.

    I think partly I'm feeling out-of-sorts because in talking my camera around West Belfast and also the current flashpoint, the dockland area of Short Strand / Newtownards Road, I've become a voyeur. Call it a pilgrimage but it's still a very unsatisfactory way of gaining insight into a place, it too readily invites me to make easy comments about it all, too easily skims the surface of things. But I needed to do it. I was faced with the happy choice of rounding-up my time here by deciding how I was going to do some reflection. One choice was to escape to Corrymeela Knocklayd, a retreat house on a hillside eight miles outside Ballycastle, but after ten days in the country I felt keenly the urge to get back into the city, to do my reflecting there, to let the journey and the encounter speak.

    And so it has, if only to reinforce impressions I already had of (a) a city visibly at odds, in its poorest areas, places where violence is seldom far away, and (b) a friendly city, a city on the 'up', confirmed by an easy conversation I've just had in a busy shopping-arcade cafe with a dad laden with Disney Store Christmas gifts for his three little girls, a conversation which didn't get political and inevitably spent a long while on the topic of Premiership football, but before that lingered on the way things are picking up here, and how most people here want it to carry on that way.

    If I'd have dared stop at the KFC opposite the Shankhill Gospel Hall I'd probably have had a very similar conversation. Therein lies the ultimate reflection from my time here - avoidance of the deeper issues won't make them go away. It takes two to make conversation - and back home I shall have to continue facing my avoidance of conflict, my promotion (passive but no less real) of sectarianism and other sorts of -isms, and bring others into those conversations too.