Leader in local Christian Charity calls for an active response to sectarianism

August 11, 2010

Published Ballymena Guardian, 11 August 2010

A former Ballymena youth worker has called on churches to respond to the Executive’s Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration in the wake of a recent sectarian incident. Jeremy Gardiner, who now works for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), believes that Christian leaders need to be involved in transformative action so as to prevent repeats of the paint attack in Harryville.

Only three days after Peter Robinson and Martin McGuiness published their proposals to deal with sectarianism and hate crime, vandals damaged Our Lady’s Church with paint in what the PSNI described as a sectarian attack. Under the new proposals, ministers will adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to attacks motivated by sectarian, religious, racist or hate prejudice. “The attack on Harryville church on Saturday past shows even though there seems to be progress at Stormont, division is still embedded in our communities,” explained Mr Gardiner, who is the Assembly and Development Officer for CARE in Northern Ireland.

As a youth pastor with High Kirk Presbyterian church, Mr Gardiner was involved in cleaning up Our Lady’s Church in 2005 after a similar attack. “It was an act of rolling up our sleeves, reaching out and addressing the divide. It led to conversation between the Catholic Church and local community leaders, and as a result the UDA mural in the area was removed. Whilst the recent attack in Harryville was dispiriting, and one wonders if anything has changed, churches in the area can once again take a lead.”

A public consultation process on the so-called shared future strategy has been launched and will run until the 29th October. Meetings on the proposals which can be attended by anyone will be held throughout September. Jeremy Gardiner, who in this year’s General Election helped organize a debate for the candidates in a local church, believes that church leaders and members need to seize this opportunity to respond. “As Christians, we can engage with the consultation process and take seriously our call to pursue justice. The church needs to think about its role in this process, and to speak with a prophetic voice.”

Building from his own experience of working with different communities, Mr Gardiner believes that churches have a physical response to play within contested communities. “We can’t simply say our piece and expect everyone to listen. We need to follow the biblical principle to love our neighbour, in how we respond to the attacks that happen in our neighbourhoods, and in how we interact with those who are different to us. The vision of the church is to speak good news to the circumstances it faces daily, and we ought to be doing that with our hands, as well as our mouths.”

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Cycling for Charity

September 30, 2009

Coleraine Chronicle and Coleraine Times

Two American brothers rode into Portstewart last week as part of their round the world cycling trip, designed to raise money for an orphanage in India. Randall and Andrew Leese arrived in Portstewart on Wednesday evening via the shores of Lough Neagh having left Newry early that morning. But whilst that might seem a daunting trip to many, the athletic siblings have already travelled over 7,000 miles from their home city of Seattle, collecting over £15,000 along the way.
The trip, which will take two years and 25,000 miles to complete, started back in April. Since then, they have cycled from coast to coast in the United States, through France, England and now Ireland. They hope to arrive in southern India via Turkey and Russia sometime in mid 2010 and deliver their pledge funds to the Servi Domini Orphanage in Palayamkottai.
“This is a dream I’ve had for two years,” says elder brother Andrew, 29. “Doing it as a fundraiser was kind of an afterthought. But after I emailed my brother, he jumped all over it and we decided to do it together. ”
Their current fundraising efforts have doubled their target, and the brothers are keen to thank sponsors from home and donors they have met along the way. Additionally, this is a ‘no overheads trip’, with the boys paying for their own living expenses and travel costs. Randall, 22, adds, “We’re essentially shelling out $30,000 of our own money to ensure that every penny donated to the orphanage really goes to its needs. Too many organizations recycle a significant percentage of their revenue into their own operation. We don’t like that. As for us, we’re basically bicycle delivery boys whose sense of adventure is totally disproportionate to the task at hand.”
Inspired by their sense of adventure, the brothers have overcome 32 flat tires and numerous parts changes as well as hills, wind and atrocious camping conditions. “Our next stop is Larne, then over to Scotland, and then we’ll be looking to head south into Spain and Morocco as the colder months close in” explained Andrew.
To read more about or to donate to The Orphan Ride, see their Web site: http://www.orphanride.org


Press Release for KIlcranny House

August 23, 2009

Summer Daze at Kilcranny House

Coleraine is set for a bonanza week of arts and culture [15th-22nd August] as Kilcranny House hosts its Summer Daze festival, offering entertainment, enlightenment and a chance to experiment with a new skill.

Boasting an international flavour, the week kicks off this Saturday [15th] with a Festival Fun Day at the Centre with Bollywood Dancers and South American mask makers adding a touch of glamour to the day. There will also be a chance to learn a new skill through participating in one of the glass painting or drumming workshops. Bouncy castles and face painting will keep the children entertained for the afternoon and for adults looking simply to unwind, there will be live music on offer, ensuring an activity packed afternoon for all.
On Monday and Tuesday mornings there will be the opportunity to learn mask making from the Latin experts in Ballysally and Kilowen areas. On Monday evening listen to Roberta Bacic present ‘Threads of Hope’, an inspirational Chilean documentary. Bacic was a powerful voice against the military regime of Chile in the 1970s, suffering the consequences of being fired from her university job and being arrested. After many years as a member of the peace group War Resistors’ International, Bacic now lives in Northern Ireland and has a powerful story to tell.
For those with more of a palette for local history, local author and storyteller Dr Bob Curran will provide a stimulating historical tour of Garvagh on Tuesday afternoon, complete with lunch. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, why not try a new skill, be it Bollywood Dancing, or Jewellery making?
The week’s activities, which are funded by Coleraine Borough Council and International Fund for Ireland, finish on Saturday 22nd with a Gallery Exhibition at Coleraine Town Hall.

Kilcranny House was established in 1985 as a residential, educational and resource centre. Set alongside the River Bann, the centre aims to promote reconciliation in the local community, not just between residents, but between locals and the land.

For more information on the Summer Daze festival, or to make a booking telephone Lisa on 077*******7


Reaching out…

April 23, 2009

Published: Coleraine Chronicle, 23rd April 2009, page 17

In scenes resembling the TV shows Ground Force and Changing Rooms, local church folk – many of them teenagers – spent part of their Easter holidays carrying out acts of kindness in the Triangle Area last week [15-17 April]. For three days over 80 volunteers picked up litter, mowed lawns, weeded gardens, painted fences and stripped wallpaper free of charge as part of a programme called StreetReach, run by several of the local churches to demonstrate love to the local community.

After the success of the programme last year, local church leaders decided that it would be beneficial to run StreetReach again this Easter. Volunteers met each morning for a debriefing and time of worship, before heading into their local areas to help anyone who needed it in what one leader described as ‘The most relevant act of worship we will carry out’.

One of the co-ordinators, Jonny Doey explained what it was they were doing. ‘Streetreach is were we get people together from the local churches to go out into the community and to show acts of kindness and to relate the love of God in word and deed.
‘We’ve had young people involved from the age of 14 who have been coming in and serving during their holiday time. Not only that, but the Council and the Department for Social Development have got involved too.’

Having advertised their services via leaflet drops in Ballysally, Dhu Varren, Portstewart and the Heights area of Coleraine, the job list had mounted even before they began. In Ballysally the team spent much of their time picking up litter in the area as well as spending time with people in the community over cups of tea. In Dhu Varren, around 20 folk dressed in red and yellow t-shirts from the Elim and Presbyterian churches cut grass, painted fences and stripped layers of wallpaper. In Portstewart the young people learnt just in time the difference between a plant and a weed as they tidied up gardens in the Mullaghmacall and Lever Road areas. And in the Heights area, some of the young people decided to paint the park at Kylemore Nursery School as a way of brightening up the area. Robert McMullan, a 17 year old from the town had had the idea. ‘It was really old and there were names scored on so we just sanded it down and washed it and started painting it with bright colours and you can see a big difference in it now, it just shines so much more.’

One woman who StreetReach had a big impact on was Linda McAuley, who had just recently moved into Ferndale Avenue in Portstewart. She had responded to one of the flyers, as she needed help to chop large amounts of timber she had received into blocks for firewood. Initially four people had turned up to help on the first day, but as time went on the rest of the team followed. ‘ I looked out the back window at one point,’ Linda says, ‘and it was like a flurry of wee birds and worker fairies had come in in brightly coloured t-shirts. At that stage there were about 15 young people then working incredibly hard, and they ended up giving the garden a complete makeover, cutting the grass, trimming the back bushes, not just chopping the wood.’

‘The thing that I was noticing and that I couldn’t get over,’ Linda continued, ‘is that they were all so happy doing it. They were young people that were genuinely happy out helping other people and it just warmed me through to the soul. I cried and l laughed all in the one day. It was a lovely sight and I will never forget the kindness because it wasn’t done in a way that made me feel bad about asking for the help. Everybody has been so friendly and kind and happy and chatty and normal. It didn’t feel like there was an act of charity being done – it just felt like really genuine people coming out to help other people.’

With little reward, organisational chaos and extra responsibility, why would those who organised StreetReach do such a thing? ? ‘In the book of Jeremiah,’ Jonny explains, ‘it says to seek the welfare of the city and we believe that God here is calling us to seek the welfare of our cities and in the upkeep of them as well. We also want to go out and be hands and feet of Christ in the community, to let people realise that being a Christian is about serving and that the church is interested in people and the church wants to be real with people. We want people to see that the church is alive, but more importantly that Jesus Christ is alive.’

With dirty hands, paint in their hair and wet clothes from Wednesday’s rain, what inspires young people to give up three days of their Easter holidays, and get involved with StreetReach? Robert, who was volunteering for the second year, concludes, ‘I guess it’s for the love of Jesus. He’s got such a big part to play in all our lives. For me he’s changed my life. I would never have dreamed of painting a park, or helping someone clean up their garden just for the complete love of Jesus. He’s got so much to share and he wants to share it with everybody and to use us.’


Top marks for clean-up students

May 22, 2008

Published: Coleraine Chronicle 22nd May 2008

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A group of students have been praised by Portstewart Residents for volunteering to pick up litter after Saturday’s North West 200 races. Around 25 young people sacrificed their Saturday evening to pick up bottles, tins, cigarette butts and other litter on the old golf course which stretches from the starting grid to York corner on the race track.

One lady who lives on the Portstewart Road said “Students get such a bad press and its so refreshing to see them cleaning up this mess. The amount of litter that is left on that course is a disgrace.”

Rachel Logan is the 20 year undergraduate whose idea it was to mobilise the students, many of whom go to the Christian Union at the University of Ulster, Coleraine. She said; “We saw a need and we just felt that it was a good way of showing and being an example of God’s love. We saw a practical need and I think that at times us Christians can be too airy-fairy.”

Rachel, who studies Psychology, praised Coleraine council who were only too happy to assist this free offer of help. “We contacted the Council who were really pleased and welcoming of our help and they provided us with bin liners and gloves and assured us that they would take away the rubbish and they were really helpful.”


Soccer Sight – Another triumph for ‘Football for All’

July 11, 2007

Published: Coleraine Times, 11th July 2007

Are you planning on heading down to Coleraine Showgrounds on Saturday to watch Northern Ireland XI against Everton?  Are you hoping to see attractive football and goals?  If you are, consider yourself fortunate.  In Northern Ireland there are 5000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted.  However, whilst there are many difficulties to be faced, sight problems do not seem to quench the passion for sport.  Football can overcome many obstacles and thanks to the RNIB, in conjunction with the Irish Football Association and the George Best Foundation, blind or visually impaired folks will still be able to take in the action and the atmosphere at this weeks showpiece match.  The project is called Soccer Sight and provides audio description via a personal receiver and transmitter.  It allows the blind or visually impaired person listening to sit in their normal seat with their mates rather than go to a special designated area to receive the commentary.  It was launched in March of this year and made its debut at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland’s 2-1 victory over Sweden

In order for the scheme to run smoothly and consistently, the IFA ran a competition via their website to find two commentators.  The winners of the competition, as judged by the BBC’s Joel Taggart were Brian Elliot of Newtownards and Robin Peake from Ballynahinch.  After a trial run at the Setanta Cup game between Linfield and Glentoran and some Visual Awareness training, the pair were put to the test for the European Championship qualifier.  Robin says “It’s fairly nervy, because you know that there are people listening who are forming opinions on the match from how accurately and objectively you describe what’s happening on the pitch.  I was surprised how tired you can get by concentrating on describing what’s going on, so it’s good to have Brian with me to break it up with his analysis.”  Funded by the George Best foundation, the system will allow older members of the crowd to still enjoy the atmosphere despite diminishing eyesight.  As Robin explains, it differs from Radio Commentary in a number of ways: “If you took a walkman and tuned into the game you might get interruptions as they cross over to other matches, but importantly a radio commentator is not as focused on describing what’s happening off the pitch, be it a manager fuming on the sideline, a substitute warming up or what is happening in the crowd.  These are things that make the football match experience whole, and for those who can hear the crowd react around them but not know what they are reacting to, that must be very frustrating.”

The Milk Cup team have decided to utilise the scheme for the 25th Anniversary Challenge match between Everton and a Northern Ireland select side.  As a result the equipment and commentators will be in place so that those with little or no eyesight, can still enjoy the full matchday experience.  If you know of anyone who may benefit from this scheme then contact Barry Macaulay at the RNIB on 90329373 or email barry.macaulay@rnib.org.uk