The leaders of Northern Ireland's four major churches have called for an end to sectarianism and prejudice in a joint New Year message. The move represents an increasing willingness among Protestant and Catholic leaders to speak together in the face of division.
Introducing the message, the Presbyterian moderator, the Rev David Clarke declared: "It's very easy to look back and complain about one thing or another - I think we want to look forward to a shared future. Where we recognise the equal rights of everyone in society and respect for other people with whose political views we may differ.‚Äù
He continued: "I think it is a constructive attitude we want to encourage - to look forward with hope for the future to build a better society for all our people."
The 2007 New Year Message was issued jointly by Mr Clarke along with Archbishop Robin Eames (outgoing head of the Church of Ireland - Anglican), Archbishop Sean Brady (Roman Catholic) and the Rev Ivan McElhinney (President of the Methodist Church.
The church leaders, all of whose denominations work across the two jurisdictions in Ireland (Irish and UK), said 2007 would be a year of decision for the people of the province.
"The decisions we make will either take us forward into a shared future with a mindset of moving forward together or leave us in the past trapped by our grudges and prejudices," they stated.
The message continued: "As Christians we believe our future is in God's hands and we would ask people to join us in prayer seeking guidance for ourselves, wisdom for our politicians and leaders and for the good of all our fellow citizens.‚Äù
It concluded: "We ask everyone to reject those words, attitudes and actions which fuel prejudice and sectarianism."
The willingness of churches and Christian groups at the grassroots to work across sectarian divides is one of the less publicised drivers behind the genesis and development of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
The Anglicans and Methodists are full members of the Irish Council of Churches and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Presbyterians withdrew from all ecumenical bodies a number of years ago, on a narrow vote. Individuals continue to participate outside the glare of publicity.
The Catholic Church in Ireland is an associate member of CTBI (which includes the Scottish and England and Wales Bishops‚Äô Conferences as full members). There is also an all-Ireland ‚ÄòInter-Church Meeting‚Äô which conducts conversation between the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Catholic Bishops.