Corrymeela – An open village for all people of good will – Irish Chronicles #7

“What were the highlights of our recent Irish trip?” The question is asked of Kathie and me almost daily. Truthfully, there was a highlight each and every day; Corrymeela certainly qualifies for such a distinction.  We have heard about the Corrymeela Community for many years now, from friends who have attended courses there, from others who have used their liturgies and prayers; and from those who have read books or seen videos of former leaders of the community. So when our Irish hosts asked if Kathie and I wanted to visit the community as we waltzed through northern Ireland we leapt at the opportunity. Why, you may ask is this place so special to us, and to everyone who visits there? Let’s begin with the community’s own explanation of their history and purpose.

Corrymeela has a residential centre on the north coast of Ireland that hosts over 11,000 people a year, as well as a lived community of volunteers and staff.  Corrymeela also has a dispersed community of over 150 members who commit to living out Corrymeela’s principles of reconciliation in their own communities. 

Corrymeela’s program staff travel to work with school and community groups throughout Northern Ireland, as well as hosting groups on site. We work alongside people from youth and school groups, family and community organizations, faith communities and political parties. We run group sessions using dialogue, experiential play, art, storytelling, mealtimes and shared community to help groups embrace difference and learn how to have difficult conversations. We work alongside visiting university groups as well as groups from other parts of the world who wish to learn from our experience, and learn how to apply the Corrymeela lens to fractures in their own societies.

All of this work helps us learn how to live well together. It helps groups learn how to work well together. Corrymeela believes in the power of people telling their stories, of shared hospitality, of telling the truth about the present, of turning towards each other and finding strength, life and hope in each other. Ultimately, the work of Corrymeela helps groups learn how to be well together.

Corrymeela was begun in 1965 by Ray Davey, a former chaplain in World War II, and a group of students from Queens University. During the war, Ray was captured and incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in Dresden and there bore witness to the bombing of that city.  This experience profoundly changed him. He returned to work as a chaplain in Belfast and became concerned at the tensions brewing between people of different political, religious and ideological differences in Northern Ireland. Corrymeela grew out of this concern. It began before “The Troubles and continues on after “The Troubles,” promoting tolerance between people of differing backgrounds and beliefs. 

Corrymeela offers space for an analysis of the underlying dynamics of conflict, fracture, scapegoating and violence that we see across so many spheres of our world today.

We begin everything with a welcome. Corrymeela is an open village for all people of good will.

Our hosts for this visit were the retired Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe in the Church of Ireland., Trevor Williams and his wife, Joyce. Both lived through and worked for many years amidst “The Troubles” through which they experienced the welcoming and reconciling work of the community. Trevor led the community from 1994 – 2003. Both remain active supporters today.

Amongst the administration, catering, residential and meeting facilities, indeed physically located in the centre of the community is the Croí (KREE), the worship centre. It was so moving and significant to be present in the Croí, seated in a circle surrounding the symbols of the community, and to recite the Prayer of Courage.

Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God,
the Croí of all being.

We bear witness to our faith,
knowing that we are called
to live lives of courage,
love and reconciliation in the ordinary

and extraordinary moments of each day.

We bear witness, too, to our failures
and our complicity in the fractures

of our world.

May we be courageous today.
May we learn today.
May we love today. Amen.

Think of the dialogue, the prayers, the quiet, the arguments, the inspiration found, the courage discovered over the years in this Holy space. As you pull back the door handle, which has the word PEACE inscribed on it, you enter a place of possibility, a haven of healing, a place for conversation, and even conversion.

Reconciliation is so difficult, especially when animosities, bitter memories, bereavements, physical injury, when all of these and more sometimes going back generations, frustrate and impede any kind of coming together. While seeking a deeper understanding of the nature and power of conflict, Corrymeela does not offer as a priority, theory or practical instruction. First and foremost, Corrymeela offers a welcome, and a supportive community, where the truth is told in a safe way so that relationships can mend.

It is interesting to this particular visitor to see how the welcoming, healing and reconstruction continue after The Troubles which entered a new phase following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. One might think that the community’s role is now redundant. It seems however that there is, and will always be, a need for places of inclusive welcome. In northern Ireland the socio-political situation is evolving rapidly as the graph below illustrates.

While there is now a remarkable coming together of Catholics and Protestants, many with specific memories and griefs arising from their experience and participation in The Troubles, there is a growing portion of residents, who like Joseph in Egypt who discovered a Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” who never experienced The Troubles. They have their own thoughts about a continuing Union with the United Kingdom; they wonder about collaboration with the Republic. The Republic has enjoyed inclusion with the European Union. In the religious space, there are growing groups of non-Christians. The peace in northern Ireland remains strong, though fragile in some places – recent protests around the continuance of the Monarchy may be symptomatic of dis-ease.

In sum, it was an honour to visit this very Holy place. What a lovely surprise to speak with author, Brian MacLaren who was leading a clergy event. What a gift from our hosts Alison and David who each lived through and amidst The Troubles in Belfast through much of the 1980s and 1990s. As Canadians, may we find fresh hope through Corrymeela, for our own healing and reconciling journey, especially here in British Columbia. Folks here keep asking “when will the work be done?” The short answer is “when everyone does the work and it is done.”

Peace, truth, justice and healing to all.

Additionally some may wish to view the sermon preached by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh at a recent Memorial Service for the late Queen Elizabeth at Belfast Cathedral. He celebrates the late Queen’s efforts to support and encourage reconciliation and encourages Charles III to continue this good work. Ten well spent minutes IMHO. We visited the cathedral on our final day in northern Ireland.

And concerning Corrymeela, a short film linked here is well worth watching.

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