4 Corners Festival Belfast runs from 30 January to 6 February with the theme 'Common Ground Common Good'.

A bird's eye view of Belfast with every faith tradition marked would offer a rich seam of community running right across the city, corner to corner. I’ve visited most of the churches for a service  from gospel halls to monasteries and kirks to meeting houses. I’m not the same person at the end of the experience than I was at the beginning.

In Belfast we got used to feeling safe in some areas and threatened in others because of real violence. There are visible and invisible lines we encounter on a daily basis. The Glider was getting us all gliding across the city on a west-wast axis and when the new north-south route is finally agreed that will move people around more (eventually even without a mask).

Now in it’s 10th year the 4 Corners Festival starts in Saint Anne’s cathedral and ends in Saint Peters. It “seeks to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and wellbeing of all designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends.”

Last year, these new perspectives were all online. This year it’s currently hybrid but, as with everything, it’s a case of check closer to the time. I’ve encountered some people who are feeling a heightened sense of fear about going out and about no matter what precautions are in place. If this is you, you should take comfort from the fact that the walks featured are all outside.

There are some tickets still available to see the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in St Peter's Cathedral along with jazz singer Dana Masters. With husband Andy, Dana was key in setting up the Lagan Valley Vineyard Church. But there are plenty of live stream tickets still available. Justin Welby  does have an understanding of our current and past status in the region and I’ve found he’s usually on mark with his comments. I only wish the peace work of Coventry Cathedral that he spent his first 15 years working in the diocese and was Canon in 2002 would link more with this region and move out beyond its current reach. We have much to learn from their brand of reconciliation.

For many, the most important event will be 'Knitting 4 Corners Together' at Fitzroy Presbyterian in Botanic. Many people will not be familiar with the amount of people in the city who belong to knitting groups or have learned the joy of knitting or crochet as a deep meditation.

During lockdown, the popularity of the skill has increased and many faith groups share community while knitting for worthy causes from baby’s in neo-natal units to the homeless and sailors on the high seas. In it’s third year, the event will knit or crochet squares to be made into blankets as gifts to individuals, hostels and homes across the city. It's also a good opportunity to visit a large refurbished Presbyterian Church in the heart of Botanic area (during renovations, the congregation at Fitzroy built a school for a sister congregation in Uganda). Beginner’s welcome; email Janice for more details. 

Also on offer is an introduction to the concept of nonviolence?  For this event, Fr John Dear from the USA will talk to youth workers. He is reported to have been arrested more times than is humanly decent! A Catholic priest, he used to be a staff member at the Pace e Bene nonviolence service.  We are all pretty familiar with violence, nonviolence perhaps less so. I first came across this while working with Suellen Semekoski in Chicago where she was using art and nonviolence to stop a march where veterans were tossing their medals back to NATO shifting into violence.

I had never experienced anything like it and on coming home delivered a talk about it at the Féile at which point someone in the audience stood up and asked if I thought it would be better just to let rioters blatter the hell out of each other. Since then I bring it up usually to be stared at blankly. Fr John Dear will be inspiring to anyone curious about the area of nonviolence.

Pace e Bene where Fr John Dear used to be on staff was started by a Catholic priest but has since become non denominational. With spirituality at its core, they have multiple strands of work around the world and the pandemic has shifted their training online so it is more accessible. With so many people cynical about Peace work it was been a breath of fresh air to be the first people from Belfast to connect with amazing humans working on this concept in their own communities around the world, from migrants on the Mexican border to the homeless in Seattle. They give real support, learning and inspiration to show how we all have a role to play in moving our communities further into non- violence including non -violence against yourself. 

Other events include Pianist Ruth McGinley talking with Rev Steve Stockman at the Grand Opera House. Carl Frampton will be in the peaceful surroundings of Clonard Monastery to talk about a sincere desire to be an ambassador for Common Ground and Common good. Susan McKay also gets a look in as does Austen Ivereigh, the Pope's Biographer .There is a wonderful sport event with Peaceplayers at Queens PGC where young people aged 11-14 will get an opportunity to play GAA, soccer and Rugby. The drama element will be at Titanic Hotel with Sam Thompson's 'Over the Bridge' which was originally banned by the unionist trustees of Ulster Group Theatre. It went on to be seen by over 80,000 people.

Hidden in the night prayer element happening over the eight nights of the festival, Jim Deeds and Mc Kayla Barbour will talk with an artist about their process, and how art can reflect common ground common good. One night it will be me.

There is one gap in the 4 corners schedule: the role of women in the churches and what they are doing in the 4 corners of the city. It’s an area that I often get asked about in particular from people outside of mainstream church. The festival runs from 30 January to 6 February and you do not have to have a faith to attend.

The Out to Lunch festival which featured last week has moved to a limited livestream- only events.