22 SEPTEMBER, 2000

I am most grateful to the Board of Governors for the invitation to Friends’ School, Lisburn, 2000 Speech Day. It is truly a great privilege for me to be here with the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr Haire, the other governors, parents, the headmaster, Mr Green, staff and pupils, to present certificates, prizes and Records of Achievements. I see this invitation as a powerful sign of friendship in the best Quaker tradition and I am very grateful for that. I thank you all sincerely for your warm welcome. I heartily congratulate all those who are going to receive certificates, prizes and Records of Achievements today.
I have to admit that when I received the invitation I was a little overawed at the prospect. And when I told some people that I was coming here today, they were pleasantly surprised. “Well” they said, “that will be a new experience for you”. Yes, it is a new experience and a good experience. I am pleased to be here for many reasons.

I spent thirteen (13) years in a previous chapter of my existence, teaching in a Post-Primary School. That was in my native Co. Cavan where I taught Latin, French and football, among other things. So I was delighted to hear that Jonathan Bell is a past pupil. I watched him brilliantly help Ulster win the European Cup last year in Dublin.

As I wondered what I might say here today I received consolation from something I once heard on ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio Ulster. The speaker was the Reverend Sam Hutchinson, Clerk of the Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He lives here in Lisburn. He was recalling the Prize Days and Speech Days of his youth. He said that he has still got the books that he received as prizes then. He does not however, remember a word of what was said in the speeches – so that is some consolation!

Another reason why I am happy to be here is that the Friends in Ireland, as elsewhere, have a long and noble tradition of education. The existence of so many schools and colleges established by Friends is testimony to the Quaker concern for education. We share that concern. Edmund Burke, statesman and political theorist, immediately springs to mind. So also does the Dublin Friend who attended this school, James Green Douglas. He was a member of the committee appointed by the Provisional Government to draft the constitution after the 1921 Treaty negotiated between Britain and the Irish Republican plenipotentiaries. He later became Vice-Chairman of the first Free State Senate and remained a Senator until his death in 1954. We also think of William Glynn who wrote a welcome in Irish from Friends to Pope John Paul II on his visit to Ireland in 1979. An alumnus not immediately associated with Friends, however, is Cardinal Paul Cullen. He was Archbishop of Armagh in the post-famine era of 1849 to 1852 and later Archbishop of Dublin. Cardinal Cullen attended a Quaker School, Co Kildare. In a letter written in 1867 he speaks of “Ballytore School where I received my first lessons in English and Latin, under the care of Mr James White, of whom I retain a grateful remembrance.” As his 11th successor in the See of Armagh in this, the 151st anniversary of his appointment as Archbishop, it seems especially fitting that I should accept your gracious invitation to be Guest of Honour today.

I have been very touched by the opening hymn and period of silence we had at the beginning of our ceremony today. We live in a world full of noise and endless distraction. Creating space for God to speak to us, or rather space and time for us to listen to Him, is not easy but it is important. In silent prayer we can create that space and make that time for this precious meeting. We present our lives to God, our burdens and fears, our joys and happiness, and ask

For hearts to nobler purpose strung
and purified desire.

As I prepared this talk I was delighted but not surprised to be reminded that there is significantly more that unites us than divides us. Our common faith in the Lord of life, and love and power unites us in a powerful bond, greater than any power, which the world can muster. We must increasingly yield to that power at work in us, seeking to transform this world and all human life.

I have read with interest the concept of the Inner Light, which is at the very centre of the Quaker faith. This concept is based heavily on the Prologue of the Gospel of John: “The Word was the true light that enlightens all men; and he was coming into the world.” (John 1:9). The Inner Light discerns between good and evil. As George Fox, your founding father acknowledged, the “ocean of light and love” will triumph over the “ocean of darkness and death” throughout the world because it is the Light and Love of God Himself.

I note the traditional Quaker philosophy of education which states that the duty of the teacher is to discover and foster in each pupil his or her innate qualities and talents, unconfined to a purely academic and scientific programme. The development of the whole person, and not just academic and intellectual formation, is the goal of education. In this Quakerism was well ahead of its time. The Society of Friends values greatly the individual. It is the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God, which is fundamental. If only we could truly realise how precious each individual is how different our world would be. There would no longer be need for battle or war.

I am reminded of the famous painting, Peaceable Kingdom, by the American Quaker artist, Edward Hicks, painted in 1844. In the painting bison and bear, lion and tiger, wolf and goat kid, buffalo and children, lie down in peace. In the background Friends and American Indians peacefully meet. The painting of course is inspired by the Prophet Isaiah: “The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. The cow and bear make friends, their young lie down together.” (11:6-7).

We can only exist in peace if we work together. But lasting peace is not just a matter of working together. It is not just about structures and strategies. It depends, above all, on the adoption of a style of human co-existence marked by mutual acceptance, respect and forgiveness.

A situation where people simply exist in a state of separation, doing no harm to one another, and interacting only when absolutely necessary in the public sphere, is far from satisfactory. Such an arrangement can never be stable. There is always the danger that it will result in renewed hostilities. Lasting peace must surely include not only the will to co-existence but also a willingness to create a new inclusive community together. It is not clear that this will actually exists as yet. Certainly people want an end to violence but more is needed.

There is need to encourage co-operation in the creation of this new inclusive society. We must pray unceasingly that hearts will be softened, that hearts of stone will be replaced with hearts of flesh, and that the Kingdom of God, groaning to be born in our time on this island, may not be hindered and obstructed. We could do well to keep the intention of political progress in our minds and hearts in our silence at the end of our ceremony today, as we sing,

Take my life and let it be
consecrated Lord to Thee.

Dear young people, I urge you to live up to the high calling put before you in this school. In the words of George Fox: “Be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come.” May you keep as a personal motto throughout your lives the motto of this school: “Seek those things which are above”.

I congratulate Friends’ School, Lisburn on its many achievements and successes to date and wish it continued flourishing and blessing. I am sure that the pupils of this great school are taught to look upon all people as their brothers and sisters, and to reach out to others in a spirit of trust, friendship and acceptance. I congratulate you, teachers, on all that you do to teach your pupils the true values of life. I know that as you introduce them to the complexity of history, you help them to live in every situation, the virtues of tolerance, understanding and respect.

Young men and women – take as your models those who build peace and promote harmony. I know that you cherish great hopes in your hearts. May your years here prepare you to share the treasures of other cultures and traditions. May you all play your part in bringing about a world which is reconciled and fully human.