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Irish Methodist pastor receives Queen?s Honors

The Rev. Gary Mason, minister at the East Belfast Mission, stands in front of a paramilitary mural that is being painted over with a more peaceful image. The Irish Methodist peace activist will be honored for his efforts by Queen Elizabeth II this fall.
A UMNS file photo by Kathleen LaCamera.

A UMNS Report
By Kathleen LaCamera*

July 30, 2007

An Irish Methodist peace activist has been recognized for his work in Northern Ireland with a 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honors award in Great Britain.

The Rev. Gary Mason, who has worked for two decades to bring an end to violence and division in Northern Ireland, was noted for his "service to community relations." Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will present him with the award at Buckingham Palace during a special ceremony this fall.

Mason received an MBE — which stands for Member of the Order of the British Empire — for "outstanding achievement" and "hands-on local service which stands out as an example to others."

Delighted by the announcement, Mason said he is pleased not only for himself but for the recognition it brings to the peace efforts of his parish — the East Belfast Mission — and all who have been part of that ministry.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Mason has served as a Methodist pastor to churches throughout Belfast during the turbulent years of "The Troubles." He has promoted ground-breaking, cross-community programs linking Catholics and Protestants and has forged relationships with outlawed paramilitary communities responsible for much of the region’s terrorism and violence.

He believes peace and stability can become a reality for Northern Ireland only when paramilitary "hard men" are brought back into meaningful roles within the mainstream of Irish society.

"It’s more than just about economics," he said. "There is a whole psychological-pastoral need here."

While the armed paramilitary struggle is officially over, Mason doesn’t expect change overnight for the people whose lives have been defined by decades of violence and hatred.

"You have to help people know there’s a future with purpose and meaning for them," he said. "You have to replace the hate with something positive. If we don’t, then it can become Mafioso style culture here."

Through his work at the East Belfast Mission and its community outreach "Skainos" project, Mason has spearheaded grassroots efforts to support those who are young, old, marginalized, rootless and despised in Belfast. Skainos is a New Testament Greek word meaning "tent" or "tabernacle."

He has raised more than $32 million of the $40 million needed for a facility to house and support these efforts and provide economic and social renewal to the area as well. Skainos has been a designated Advance Special for The United Methodist Church for the past three years.

"His vision is large," said the Rev. David Kerr, a former Irish Methodist Conference president, now chaplain to the East Belfast Mission staff. Kerr noted that Mason "is a voice to be trusted."

"You have to help people know there's a future with purpose and meaning for them. You have to replace the hate with something positive."
-The Rev. Gary Mason

Kerr recalled an event when long-time Republican and Protestant enemies sat together in the East Belfast Mission sanctuary as Mason conducted the funeral service for David Ervine, a well-known politician and former paramilitary member.

"That they could sit there together says something about the relationships Gary has built up over the years," Kerr told United Methodist News Service. "He has been instrumental in getting (the paramilitaries) to change their war-like murals, and he has certainly played a part in diffusing potential flashpoints in the city over the past two years."

Sharing the legacy

The UK Honors awards date back some six centuries and are announced twice a year on the queen’s birthday in June and on New Year’s Day. The awards recognize people for "merit, service or bravery."

Mason is one of two British Methodists on this summer’s Birthday Honors List. The other is Glastonbury Music Festival founder Michael Eavis, who received a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for his contribution to music.

Since 1970, Eavis has been opening his Somerset dairy farm every summer for an event where world-famous musicians perform for crowds numbering several hundred thousand. The son of a Methodist lay preacher, Eavis confesses that he is the loudest singer in his local Methodist church choir. He says he likes going to church because it gives him "reassurance that there are some really reliable, sensible people out in the world."

More information on the Skainos Project can be found at www.skainos.org.

Credit card gifts in support of the Skainos Project can be made online at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/give/advance/, The Advance Web site or by calling (888) 252-6174. Checks, payable to a local church, can be dropped in church offering plates or made payable to Advance GCFA and mailed directly to P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Checks should include the name of the project and the Advance number. The Advance Special Project Number for the Skainos Project is No. 14698T.

*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Queens Honors List

Skainos Project

UK Honors System

The Advance

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