It’s been a challenging year for us in Soulspace Belfast, as for all of us. The lockdown has meant that the Duncairn Arts Centre in north Belfast, run by the 174 Trust has been unable to fulfil its usually packed programme of events, courses and gigs and the café, usually our hangout and meeting place with many people from the local community, now closed altogether. Our community chaplaincy model, heavily relational and time intensive, out in the streets and drinking endless coffees, has been very challenging to maintain in the same way as before but, as with many pioneers, the context of the new normal has given us the opportunity to respond through prayer, innovation, social media and safe contact in every way we can.
We have learned the importance of virtual chaplaincy and of practical help and support for those in need in our community. Our small community foodbank, which we run in partnership with the local community residents’ group, was transformed into a massive community resource with lots of volunteers and donations. This ran for the first few months of the lockdown and proved an invaluable support to many. So, even though we have been physically unable to gather, we have learned again the importance of virtual community and of reassuring presence and connection.
As we emerge tentatively into the new normal, we have been so encouraged and excited by some new developments in our work in Belfast. We have the excitement of becoming a two-centre community and of taking possession of a new home in west Belfast, which is the neighbouring area to where we are now. We have been in conversation with Forthspring, which is a longstanding community project based in a former Methodist church right on the peace wall between the Springfield Road in west Belfast and the Shankill Road in north Belfast. The church building is actually in the peace wall and close to the large gates, which used to close each evening to keep two communities apart, in Lanark Way. There has not been an active congregation for some time, so we have been invited to extend the work of Soulspace into west Belfast and develop our chaplaincy along the peace wall and on both sides of the community. We will be in partnership with Forthspring, who already have a number of community projects running. We are excited to begin reaching out to a wider community and establishing a peace and reconciliation hub in an important part of the city. We are already talking about a number of peacebuilding initiatives which we hope to develop. We have also discovered that there was Mennonite involvement in the Methodist church in the past through a Mennonite pastor called Dave Moser.
Another exciting development for us has been our partnership with the Mennonite Mission Network through their European coordinator, Sharon Norton. A new MMN initiative is seeking to establish an international partnership of peace centres including ourselves in Belfast, Brooklyn Peace Centre in New York, Quito Mennonite Church in Ecuador and a Mennonite peace building work in South Africa. We have already all met on Zoom and are looking forward to seeing a number of new international peace initiatives develop over the coming months and perhaps years.
We would value your prayerful and practical interest and support as these exciting journeys continue in north and west Belfast and now perhaps internationally as well. We face many challenges in expanding our work post covid, not least a significant fundraising challenge.
Gordon McDade and Karen Sethuraman