Assessing the present situation in Northern Ireland, David Stevens, the late leader of the Corrymeela community, noted that there is a prevalence of the peace of truce over the deeper peace of transformation where attitudes and relationships can be changed. The former is largely accomplished through the political means of the Peace Process, whereas faith and spirituality can help bring the shift from the peace of truce to a peace of transformation. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Patterson, the Director of Restoration Ministries, says how “any peace process will only become a reality when attitudes change”. Attitudes can be changed gradually by building relationships with those who are different than us, by taking the risk to be open and vulnerable and by taking courage to inviting someone across the threshold of one’s life or to risk stepping across theirs.
Dr. Patterson is a Presbyterian minister, the first woman ordained in any denomination on the island of Ireland, a woman of great depth and insight. Earlier this year she celebrated forty years in ministry. Northern Ireland, like many places around the world, has had a troubled past, but there have been people and organisations that have embodied hope and that have been instruments of healing.
One such person is Rev. Patterson, whose faith journey and calling were instrumental to the start of Restoration Ministries. Restoration Ministries is a Christian group in Northern Ireland that has been working for peace, restoration and healing since 1988. Before that, Rev. Ruth Patterson was a minister in a Presbyterian parish, and the decision to leave the parish in order to work full time in Restoration Ministries has been, as she says, the major crossroad in her life.
In Restoration Ministries there is a great emphasis on hospitality, prayer and listening, in other words, their approach is grounded in a deep Christian spiritual tradition. Public aspect of their ministry is reflected through Patterson’s speaking engagements, and confidential aspect through listening ministry. Their listening and prayer ministry, where people can address painful memories in a confidential setting, has helped many to revisit and to an extent heal exiled parts of themselves. Their approach of listening, prayer and forgiveness fosters hope and nourishes inner life. As Ruth Patterson says, “people won’t be able to move on until someone has listened to their story”. The approach of Restoration Ministries is sensitive and not assertive, leaving each person to set the pace of how far and how deep they are ready to go on their journey of healing and reconciliation at a particular time.
The aim of Restoration Ministries is to help people to go at least one-step further and one-step deeper on their journey of life and faith. Ruth Patterson teaches that such going deeper is “an invitation to look at some of the things that prevent our journeying, our growth. It’s an encouragement to dare to look at some broken places in our lives, at areas of hurt and disease, that is, places where we are not at ease”. She explains, “it is in the area of the soul, that is, our minds, our emotions and our wills, that most of our difficulties arise”. Patterson often speaks of the need for reconciliation between different communities in Northern Ireland. She says, “there are very few, if any, conflict situations in the world whose underlying cause stems from the present moment. Nearly always [it] comes from an ancestral drumbeat,where a sense of injury, injustice, or abuse, real or imagined, has lain unaddressed or repressed for a long time. In Northern Ireland and in this island as a whole, we are no strangers to such scenarios”.
Lasting peace is the work of patience, and “also the fruit of love, for love goes beyond what justice can ensure” (Gaudium et spes). If, as Thomas Merton said, “the root of war is fear” then it is clear that long centuries of enmity cannot be mended quickly. Instead, it requires commitment to hope in furthering peace, which will ultimately promote and prepare a shared future for every citizen in the country. I think it would be fair to say that 99% of the people who come to see us in Restoration House have an issue with forgiveness”.
Ruth Patterson has written a number of books. The commitment to reconciliation in Restoration Ministries is inspired by Jesus’ own ministry of reconciliation. They embody a particular interdenominational spirituality. In order for an interdenominational meeting to be called ‘ecumenical’ there needs to be a reconciling intention present, and often that is implicit in what Rev. Ruth Patterson does and in what Restoration Ministries represent.
They foster a call to unity, not only through Patterson’s speaking engagements and close cooperation with different churches, but also by the fact that Patterson’s colleague in Restoration Ministries, Rose Ozo, is a Catholic. In all written documents Restoration Ministries state that they are non-denominational; this makes them an independent voice which aims to speak from a Christian perspective that is neither Catholic nor Protestant per se, but rather the one that embraces both by focusing on God instead.
In the journey of restoration and forgiveness, which are part of the reconciliation process, Patterson emphasises the importance of remembering. She explains that “to remember means ‘to put flesh again on the past’. It is not that we should forget the hurt or the past, but that we honour it by a profound remembering”. However, remembering itself cannot bring healing and is not sufficient in setting us free from being prisoners of the past. The means of healing and transformation is “the interpretative work a person does with memory”.
Having skilled listeners to facilitate this process can help people heal and move on in life. Patterson recognises the need for inner reconciliation that each of us are invited to embark upon as we journey through life. She points out that “the biggest peace-making journey we will make is within ourselves”. She Rev. Ruth Patterson says that “within most of us there is a desire, a hunger for meaning, for a deeper spirituality, for more of God. Ever so often on our earthly journey, we are gifted with moments of awareness, of recognition where the veil is lifted ...”.
Memory often limits us to what we have experienced, good or bad, while hope focuses us on God and in Him we find limitless possibilities for ever new discoveries in life. The call to know ourselves as beloved of God is regularly emphasised by Ruth Patterson. She said, “if we would take that in”, if we would really believe that we are deeply loved by God, “there would be no need for Restoration Ministries as we would know ourselves as loved, at peace with ourselves and with God”. She states, “We are called in essence to be a bridge between the times. Between the world as it was and will be, between the Church as it was and will be, between Ireland as it was and will be.
Restoration Ministries through their work are also ‘preparers of the way’. Their ministry while having a unique character with the focus on listening is grounded in the firm Christian Biblical tradition; they draw wisdom and encouragement from those who walked the path of faith before them. This is especially clear at the public gatherings where the Rev. Ruth Patterson shares reflections, usually illustrating some deep Christian values through unpacking the stories from the Scriptures.