On Thursday, March 8th, a commemorative blue plaque was unveiled by the Ulster History Circle on the front wall of Shankill Road Methodist Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland in honour of Ms Saidie Patterson. Ms Patterson was the first recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award in 1977, and a faithful member of the congregation. Blue plaques are much coveted signs of recognition of a person or persons associated with the location where any plaque is placed.
During the morning’s proceedings, those present were able to see the medallion awarded to Ms Patterson, brought from the Methodist Archives for the occasion. Among those present was the Revd Dr Harold Good, another recipient of the Peace Award (2007).
The plaque was unveiled by Baroness May Blood, who spoke movingly of her old friend, describing her as ‘a feisty (spirited or assertive) wee woman…who had her own ideas about things.’
Gillian Kingston, Vice President of the World Methodist Council, was invited to address the gathering and spoke about the Award, and, in particular, about its significant Irish associations.
The vision for a World Methodist Peace Award came from the Revd Dr Eric Gallagher of the Methodist Church in Ireland. Articulated at the World Methodist Council meeting in Dublin in 1976, and taken forward by Dr Stanley Leyland, it was decided that the first award should be to an Irish person. Two other Irish persons have received the award: the late Gordon Wilson of Enniskillen for his amazing faith and irenic attitude following the murder of his daughter, and the Revd Dr Harold Good for his peace diplomacy both in Ireland and in other parts of the world.
The Methodist Church in Ireland nominated one of the co-recipients of the 2017 Peace Award, OPCEMI (the Methodist Church in Italy), on the basis of that church’s prophetic and courageous work among refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea and landing on Italian shores.
The Vice President commented that ‘this was an excellent event where the local Methodist community and the World Methodist Council intersected and we were able to celebrate the courage, creativity and consistency of an individual.’
Born in 1904, and one of a number of children, Saidie Patterson experienced tragedy early in her life when her mother died in childbirth, the family being unable to afford a doctor’s fee. When Saidie was 14, she started work in Ewart’s linen mill and, from the start, she fought for better working conditions. In 1940, she called for unionization of the workforce and, when this was refused, called a strike which lasted seven weeks. By the end of that year, wages had increased and holiday pay had been introduced.
When the period known as ‘The Troubles’ started in Northern Ireland in the late 1960’s, Saidie Patterson was at the forefront of those trying to bring peace and reconciliation across community boundaries; she played an important role in the work of the Peace People. For this, she received the first World Methodist Peace Award. Within hours of receiving the Award, she got the news that a great-nephew had been killed in a sectarian attack.
Saidie Patterson once famously remarked that the Lord has given each of us two ears and one mouth and these should be used in that proportion!
She died in 1985.