Last week when lecturing master’s students on the role of the churches in reconciliation in Northern Ireland, I spoke about the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel Project. I was surprised when a local student, with a long history of involvement in inter-church reconciliation activities, said that this lecture was the first he had heard of the Hard Gospel.
The Hard Gospel is the most comprehensive training programme ever attempted by a Christian denomination in Ireland. Spanning three-years, it developed an impressive range of training programmes and events around the issues of sectarianism, dealing with difference, immigration, and engaging with the loyalist community. Though the project has officially ended, many of those resources are still available on its website.
An external evaluation of the Hard Gospel project, published in 2009, praised the programme for the breadth of its engagement across the denomination and for contributing to wider public discussions about tough issues. But it noted that there was little evidence that the Hard Gospel had been enthusiastically embraced by all parishes, and questioned whether the Church of Ireland would continue to prioritise these issues now that the project had officially ended.
The Report of the Consultative Group on the Past, published in January 2009, called on the churches to make a special contribution to dealing with Ireland’s sectarian past. The Hard Gospel project can provide a lot of learning about how all the churches might consider such a task.