This week we have been drawing your attention to several of the seminars that will be taking place over the course of New Horizon next week. We hope this will peak your interest to just some of what will be going down at NH2012, as well as acting as a guide to where some old and maybe even new  – but equally significant – questions and issues are being highlighted and explored.

Today we host an introduction from Philip Orr for his seminar, ‘Your Time – Our Place’, which will take place on the morning of Thursday 16th. What follows is Philip’s breakdown of the direction, intention and thought behind both seminars – we hope to see you there!

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In this session we will look closely at the events of a hundred years ago in Ireland, focusing on the Solemn League and Covenant which was created by the Unionist leadership and signed by hundreds of thousands of Protestant men and women on ‘Ulster Day’, September 28th 1912.  We will try to understand the reasons for Protestant opposition to a devolved parliament in Dublin, to examine the Covenant document, which articulated that opposition, and to consider the short and long-term results of this short document and the powerful political campaign that accompanied it.

It will be important to explore the word ‘covenant’ itself, with its origin in the Jewish Scriptures and its re-emergence inside Scottish Presbyterian thinking during the 16th and 17th centuries. It will be of value to look at the way in which senior church laymen such as Thomas Sinclair then adapted the idea of Covenant for Ulster’s purposes.

We will focus on the role of both the Protestant and Catholic churches at this time, paying particular attention to the leadership given by the clergy, who not only offered a Biblical set of reasons for their opposition to ‘Home Rule’ but encouraged Protestant men to take up arms aginst what they saw as latent tyranny. We will explore the world of the British Empire, to which Unionist felt they proudly belonged and also the world of Nationalism, which was a growing force in Europe and in Ireland. Both Imperialists and Nationalists invariably felt that they had God on their side in 1912 and we will consider this interesting fact.

We will endeavour to find a way to offer a fair judgement, one hundred years later, of the behaviour of the Christian churches back then –  in particular to see the Covenant in the context of its time. We will be asking whether it is a relevant document for today’s Protestant churches, in an era when Northern Ireland is focused on the virtues of a ‘shared future’.   The session will be accompanied by a short slideshow to illustrate the period of history which we are examining and there will be room for discussion and debate. This will not be a dry historical study but rather a journey into the mind of the churches people a hundred years ago, which should illuminate our own spiritual principles in 2012.