For 30 years, Rev. Dr. Gary Mason led peace efforts in Northern Ireland, helping to reconcile the divided Catholic and Protestant communities of Belfast.
Mason, founder of the non-profit Rethinking Conflict, will speak at services on Sunday (Feb. 19) at Hyde Park United Methodist Church and a special event Tuesday Feb. 21 at the Portico in downtown Tampa.
Tuesday's topic, "Uncomfortable Conversations," will address why people struggle to find common ground discussing topics such as politics and religion.
Mason, who holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Ulster, studied theology at Queen's University and received an honorary doctorate in divinity from Florida Southern College, works with organizations worldwide in resolving religious conflicts.
Religion, like anything with power, has the potential to heal and destroy, Mason said on the phone from Belfast.
"I served as a clergyman in a society divided so much we spent years killing each other," he said. "It was a conflict about land, about identity and also a conflict about religion. One way we were able to begin the painful peace process needed was to have uncomfortable conversations."
Mason said people of faith sometimes avoid hard truths. When he speaks to churches, he reminds Christians to ask themselves how they live out their faith. He encourages church leaders to manage conflict and bring people together.
"If religion is like fire, if it warms and also burns, it is important to ask how we are using our religion, to scorch or to warm people," he said, referencing a quote from British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Mason suggests churches focus less on people already inside the building.
"Stop hiding behind fortress doors," he said. "Engage with the other, with those who are different."
Mason will speak at 8:30, 9:30 and 11 a.m. services Feb. 19 at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, 500 W Platt St. and at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Portico, 1001 N Florida Ave. Events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit hydeparkumc.org.
Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]