Bridging divisions in Northern Ireland

Doug Baker works with churches and young adults in a ministry of reconciliation

November 2, 2011

Doug and Elaine Baker

Doug and Elaine Baker work for reconciliation in Northern Ireland. —Photos courtesy of World Mission.


After more than 30 years of working for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Presbyterian mission co-worker Doug Baker has seen tensions lessen and violence abate.

However, the tall, graffiti-covered metal walls that separate some unionists and nationalists neighborhoods remind him that much work is still to be done.

Baker helps Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner churches bring together unionists, who are mostly Protestant and who want to remain part of the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who are mostly Catholic and who want to unite with the Republic of Ireland.

The dialogues, Baker says, have helped build understanding and nurture relationships. “In the first 15 years of my ministry in Northern Ireland, we spent a lot of time debating whether we can accept one another as Christians, and how the answer to that should determine how we treated each other,” he says. The discussions have moved beyond that, he explains, because of a “rediscovery of what’s at the heart of the gospel, the command to love God and to love our neighbor and what that requires of us in the setting where our neighbor is different to ourselves in some respect.”

Religion has contributed to Northern Ireland’s division, Baker acknowledges. “That’s religion but there’s a growing recognition that the gospel itself, when truly understood and lived out, actually has the power to heal and unite.”

A group of people sitting on a cliff near a body of water.

Presbyterian mission worker Doug Baker has been a YAV site coordinator since 1994.

Baker, who serves alongside his wife, Elaine, invests much time preparing future church leaders. He teaches ministerial students about reconciliation and since 1994 he has been site coordinator for the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program in Northern Ireland.

YAVs are between 19 and 30 and serve for one year in communities of need in seven countries, including the United States. About one-third of YAV alumni go to seminary, and many others serve the Presbyterian congregations as lay leaders. In Northern Ireland, the YAVs plant seeds of reconciliation primarily in their work with children and youth.

“I see them making wonderful contributions not only in what they contribute during the year they serve in Northern Ireland, but in the leadership roles that they are taking on in PC(USA) when they return to the United States,” Baker says.

  1. I'm not from Northern Ireland or Irish but I am of Presbyterian faith and I have a Catholic friend from Belfast and sometimes I feel like she stopped bothering with me because of religion, so I understand what this mission is all about. I hope the people there can be brought together and realize that we are all Christians. I wish my friend would realize that. I thought I was going to help her do that but it didn't work. I still won't stop trying. I'm so hurt by this.

    by Laura

    November 11, 2011

  2. As a YAV Alumni from Belfast, I can truly say what an amazing work Doug is doing in NI. Firstly, in his work in Reconciliation in the country in the last 30 years. Secondly, in his commitment to the Young Adults who come every year and have life changing experiences. God bless our partnerships in mission across the world.

    by Kristina Hine

    November 8, 2011

  3. Our son, Nathaniel, served as a YAV in Belfast and we had oppotunity to meet Doug in June, 2010 while visiting our son. We are very appreciative of Doug's leadership and our son learned a lot through Doug's ministry -- as I'm sure did the other YAV's. Nathaniel stayed in Belfast and is now attending Belfast Bible College preparing for whatever call God has for him. In many ways, it was the YAV expereince that lead to this. Thanks Doug & Elaine!

    by Malcolm McQueen

    November 7, 2011