Northern Ireland Week to Be Proclaimed in Fairmont

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

To be proclaimed as Northern Ireland Week by the City of Fairmont, the week of April 1 through 5 will feature the visit of a distinguished delegation of visitors from Northern Ireland. A series of speaking events and presentations, several of which will be open to the public, has been planned.

Events on the shared main campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College are made possible by FSU President Maria Rose, the FSU College of Liberal Arts and the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center. For more information, contact the Folklife Center at (304) 367-4403.

Comprising the delegation from Northern Ireland will be Rev. Dr. Johnston McMaster and his wife Jonene; Rev. Dr. Gary Mason and his wife Joyce; and Gary Crooks and his wife Sandra.

Six counties north of the Republic of Ireland – an independent country – make up Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and recognizes that country’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

McMaster and Mason will present a public talk and open discussion focusing on “The Troubles and Reconciliation in Belfast in Northern Ireland” from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 1, in the Falcon Center third floor conference rooms. Admission to this event is free and open to the public. During the event, City of Fairmont Mayor Ron Straight is expected to present a proclamation officially declaring the first week in April as Northern Ireland Week.

From 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, in Multi-media Room A of the Ruth Ann Musick Library, McMaster and Mason will participate on a panel with other faculty members to discuss Violence Prevention as part of the Instructor Exchange Ad-Hoc Committee of the FSU Faculty Senate. Dr. Tad Kato, chairman of the committee, will act as facilitator for the event, and Rev. Richard Bowyer, Minister Emeritus of the Wesley Foundation of Fairmont State and Pierpont, will serve as moderator. Admission to this event is free and open to the public.

Throughout the week, McMaster, Mason and Crooks will visit FSU criminal justice, sociology, Honors, folklore, English and political science classes to speak with students and will give presentations to the Lifelong Learners community group in Fairmont, as well as local United Methodist churches. Later in the week, they will speak at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

The visit is the continuation of relationships built during student research and a study-tour sponsored by the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center.

In the summer of 2012, Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director of the Folklife Center; Noel W. Tenney, Cultural Specialist; and Rev. Richard Bowyer led the “Roads to Appalachia through Study-Travel Abroad” program in Northern Ireland.

“We hope that those who attend talks by Dr. Johnston McMaster and Dr. Gary Mason take away a deeper understanding of reconciliation and the peace movement going on now in Northern Ireland to make the world better. Studying while one travels is the common denominator for the best kind of learning,” Byers said.

Centered in Belfast, the group, including students and community members, studied the conflict era of the 20th century in Northern Ireland, called “The Troubles” – how the conflict arose and how reconciliation is coming about in recent times.

Bowyer and his wife Faith have traveled to Northern Ireland many times over the past 20 years and even worked on the staff of the East Belfast Mission and lived in East Belfast for several months.

“One thing we would hope people gain from attending Monday night’s presentation by Dr. Gary Mason and Dr. Johnston McMaster is the notion of the futility of violence,” Bowyer said.

Students built upon their first-person experiences in the study-tour program for a research project presented through the 2012 Appalachian Teaching Project. By conducting a comparative research exploration of conflict and poverty in relationship to community sustainability and economic development, students discovered the parallels between the historic interrelatedness of the people of Northern Ireland and North Central West Virginia. The work of the East Belfast Mission in Northern Ireland and four United Methodist mission projects in West Virginia provided the basis for comparison.

On Friday, April 5, the Northern Ireland delegation will meet for a luncheon with FSU students and the directors of the four mission projects studied by the students: House of the Carpenter in Wheeling, Scott’s Run Settlement House in Osage, Heart and Hand in Philippi and The Upshur Parish House in Buckhannon. The students presented their findings before the Appalachian Teaching Project Conference sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C., in December 2012. Other invited guests include Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball of the West Virginia Annual Conference and Rev. Ellis Conley, Superintendent of the Mon Valley District of the United Methodist Church. Kostas Skordas, Acting Director of Regional Planning and Research for the ARC, is expected to attend the Monday evening presentation by Mason and McMaster.

McMaster holds a doctorate is from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill. McMaster was director for 16 years of Education for Reconciliation, a community education program of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Belfast. The program operated throughout Northern Ireland and the Irish border counties. He currently works for Ethical and Shared Remembering, 1912-1922, an educational project he designed to provide an alternative and more ethical way of remembering the centenaries of key events that shaped Ireland for the rest of the 20th century and into the present. He is also an adjunct assistant professor with the Irish School of Ecumenics/Trinity College Dublin and visiting professor with the Border Peace School in South Korea.

McMaster’s publications include: “A Passion for Justice: Social Ethics in the Celtic Tradition;” Overcoming Violence: Dismantling an Irish History and Theology, an Alternative Version;” and “Signing the Covenant: But Which One?” Through involvement with Christian-Muslim dialogue, nationally and internationally, he is writing a commissioned book on the thought of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim philosopher and theologian, bringing his thought into the dialogue with Jewish and Christian thought. The writing dialogue will pursue a shared Abrahamic ethic. 

McMaster has been involved in the development of a community education program for Northern Ireland and the border counties. This includes the development of teaching methodologies, curriculum design and delivery. He has lectured in Eastern Europe, Sri Lanka, South Korea and the United States. McMaster has been engaged as a consultant with statutory and voluntary sectors in Northern Ireland and chairs a number of initiatives and works collaboratively with community relations networks.

McMaster’s areas of interest and ongoing research include reconciliation and peace-building, socio-political hermeneutics, empire studies, faith after Christendom, Celtic Christianity and spirituality, ethical remembering, social ethics and inter-faith dialogue.

Mason is a Methodist clergyperson in Belfast who has been in the pastorate for 25 years. He studied Business Studies for his primary degree at the University of Ulster where he was awarded the British Enkalon cup for the best student in Business Organization. He went on to work as a health service administrator for a number of years before studying theology at Queens University in Belfast and entering the Christian ministry in 1987. In the final year of his theological studies, he won the Minnis Mills award for the best student in Pastoral and Communication Studies. Mason also holds an honorary doctorate from Florida Southern College for his role in peace building in Ireland and also carried out doctoral studies at the University of Ulster and earned a Doctor of Philosophy from the School of Psychology. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2007, he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire for his work in the peace process and was awarded the honor in the autumn of 2007 by HRH Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

In the course of his ministry, Mason has been involved in what has now been called the peace process. Behind the scenes, he has taken part in discussions with those wedded to violence in society, trying to present an alternative way to resolve the differences.

Mason has spent his ministry in the inner city having a strong commitment to the church’s role in the urban setting. From 1992 until 1999 he had responsibility for two Methodist churches one of which sits on a peace line in West Belfast. A peace line is a Berlin type wall, which separates the Protestant and Catholic communities. As recognition of the role he has had in peace building in the 1990s, he was invited to attend a reception with the former British Prime Minister, John Major, at Hillsborough Castle a number of years ago. During one of President Clinton’s visits to Belfast a member of Mason’s former congregation aged 10 years was chosen to meet the President and then flown a few weeks later to a meeting with Bill Clinton in the oval office with his family. The Springfield Road Methodist cross community project has been designated to be part of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland Churches’ Commission on Mission, Building Bridges of Hope, a value sharing project. This is part of a wider European network of churches trying to bridge divisions in Western Europe.

In 1999 Mason was moved to be the Senior Minister and Mission Superintendent of one of the largest Methodist Missions in Europe at East Belfast Mission, this church with 100 employees is in the inner city and is seen as one of the most creative churches in the area of social justice and peace building in Ireland. This church in the last few years has been at the forefront of efforts to quell interface violence and is recognized by the British, Irish and the American administrations as having a leading role in developing peace within loyalist communities. East Belfast Mission in the autumn of 2012 opened what is probably the largest faith based redevelopment project in Western Europe called Skainos.

He was also a member of a working party on sectarianism drawn together by the Irish Council of Churches, which resulted in the publication, Sectarianism, the most detailed report ever made to the Irish church on this topic. The co-chair of this working party Mary MacAleese is the former President of Ireland, who remains a friend to this day.

Mason was also the Methodist representative on the Loyalist Commission, a group consisting of loyalist paramilitaries, community activists and church representatives. This group has received press coverage on an international scale. In July 2002 the former British secretary of state Dr. John Reid met the commission at Mason’s church, this was the first time ever that an official meeting between paramilitaries had taken place in the history of the conflict. Mason was one of the main engineers in setting this dialogue in place.

Mason has appeared on ITV, BBC, CNN television and radio on a number of occasions on various documentaries and religious affairs programs. In March 2008, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the East Belfast Mission and give very public recognition to the work carried out there.

In June 2009 two of the loyalist paramilitaries groupings, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando, after 40 years of an armed campaign announced the decommissioning of their weapons statements in Mason’s church. They were the only group of ex-combatants to do so in a church setting.

Mason has traveled widely in the U.S. and has spoken in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and independent free churches, Jewish Synagogues and Jewish centers and also given lectures in a number of Church, College, University and denominational settings across the U.S.

Mason has spoken at political gatherings across the island of Ireland and Europe seeking to engage others in lessons to be learned from the Irish peace process.

Crooks is the equivalent to a Lay Leader in a local congregation of the United Methodist Church and serves as an Officer for the East Belfast mission, where his wife Sandra is receptionist for the Stepping Stone Job Replacement Program. He works in the mental health field.


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