Tuesday 16 May 2017

The Corrymeela Diaries
Day 4 and beyond

Wifi seems to be down in many parts of London and which has delayed my last post. Here’s a final reflection from this year's journey …

Below are a couple of pictures from our final 24 hours at Corrymeela. One with jazz hands and silly faces (although some missed the memo on that one), and one “for the record.”

Sessions throughout the week took us deeper into the history and work of Corrymeela during the past 50 plus years. We had conversations with Karin Eybin, Community Famiily Worker, about her work with citizen engagement in several communities.

In addition to specific content sessions, participants are encouraged to have conversations with those at the centre during meal and break times … the many volunteers, young and old, from around the world, the visitors at the centre, whether for a day or a week, and the various staff people who are part of the community. Sometimes we learn as much from our conversations “around the edges” as we do in the content sessions.

Tuesday evening Paul began our sessions on peace and reconciliation by posing the question “how can we learn to live apart well?” At St. John’s this year many have spent some time studying the dynamics of conflict, how we personally respond to conflict, and how we can learn to still be in relationship with people with whom we profoundly disagree.

In order to get the conversation going amongst the leaders at St. John’s, I circulated an article from the Congregational Consulting Group that suggested that healthy congregations seek out conflict instead of trying to avoid it. That got some interesting comments! The idea is that by seeking out “conflict” in a congregation, we are really uncovering diversity, and encouraging the deep listening that is necessary to bridge the gap of stereotypes, misunderstanding, and competing narratives.

This has been the work of peacemaking in Northern Ireland for decades. Folks like Paul, Karin, Sean, Padraig, and Michael Doherty, who we met on Wednesday on our trip to Derry/Londonderry, have been mediating and facilitating conversations between different groups in the hopes that in the conversation a path will be found that will lead to living together with respect. Not always agreement. But acceptance, respect, and good relations. Below are a couple of pictures of our time in Derry as we walked the walls with Michael.

During the week we were also blessed to welcome into the group long term volunteer Kendal, from Colorado, and Alejandra, from Columbia, who is a student at York University (England) doing a two month internship at Corrymeela. Both young women were a rich addition to our group conversations. They also managed to take care of all of our physical needs, from getting our tea and coffee ready at break time, to ordering us a cab for the Wednesday evening pub run to O’Connor’s or the Thursday afternoon trip to the Giant’s Causeway.

It always seems like the time is too short at Corrymeela. Before we knew it, we were back in Belfast, enjoying Spanish tapas Friday night for dinner, and then having our final evaluation session on Saturday morning before folks went their separate ways. As is often the case, folks talked about the unexpected and profound insights that they experienced, both personally and in approaching the conflict in Northern Ireland with new insights.

As always … the journey continues … with blessing, challenge and much gratitude. Until the next time ...

Thursday 11 May 2017

Day 3
Catching up 

As the days go by, the busy-ness and intensity of the week often get in the way of actually sitting down to write each day. Plus, getting a consistent internet connection is sometimes a challenge on the cliffs of Ballycastle. I often find myself writing backwards, trying to catch up on several days. 

Monday morning was spent at the Corrymeela Belfast Office, first with Sean Pettis, who works with teachers and educators, and then Padraig O’Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community. Sean talked about his work with an organization called “Facing History and Ourselves” (, an international organization that empowers teachers and students to think critically about history and to understand the impact of their choices. Padraig, storyteller, poet and theologian, (pictured below with the group) talked to us about ways he has worked with young people to explore their own spirituality and their relationship with Jesus.

In between, Paul took us on a walking tour of “The Holy Land”, so named because after returning from the Holy Land in the Middle East, original inhabitants named the streets “Jerusalem”, “Cairo”, “Damascus” … He told stories of his own experiences from when he and his family lived there, as well as stories that reflected the specific character of the people, businesses and social gathering spaces of the area.

Sunday 7 May 2017

Day 2
Irish Spring

Everyone is positively giddy with the weather here in Northern Ireland. From visitor to local, the mood feels festive and joyful. Since I arrived exactly one week ago, it has been sunny, and warm-ish. Certainly not what one expects when you hear the words Irish and weather together.

Sure – one needs a jacket in the early mornings and evenings, but during the day the outdoor patios are full, and everyone is talking about how lovely it is. Taxis drivers ask us - “how do you like the weather?”, like it’s the normal state of affairs. We didn’t even mind waiting 40 minutes for our hop on hop off bus today, and some of us have sunburns from being outside all day. And the forecast for the next few days is the same.

Everyone arrived safely at the Farset International Hostel by the appointed time yesterday, and after introductions and checking in (not everyone had met), we headed out for dinner at Robinson’s, a local restaurant/pub complex near the city centre. That’s us – from left, clockwise – Alana, Katie, Lance, Karen, Diana and myself.

We began Sunday at the Ulster Museum, a beautiful place with a wide and eclectic collection of exhibits, including one on The Troubles. A “Timeline of the Troubles” – a helpful overview, is pictured below. Folks also took the time to stroll through the adjacent beautiful Botanic Gardens where they mingled with families, students, and local characters before having a bite to eat in the café and then heading off the city bus tour.

Plans for the week include meeting our facilitator Paul Hutchinson and Corrymeela staff at the Belfast office on Monday, having a walking tour of the area, and then heading up by bus to the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Ballycastle, about an hour outside of Belfast on the northern coast.

After day one, curiosity and the hunger for learning is high. Many questions have already been articulated about this country’s history, social structure, and future. Perhaps we will get some rain by the end of the week, but the first two days have been glorious!

Saturday 6 May 2017


May 6, 2017
The Reconciliation Journey - Day 1

Two years ago I blogged twice about a Christmas cactus plant that I own – and my fear of people giving me plants that inevitably die. At the time, I was surprised that despite my history of having plants die in my care, one that I received as a gift had survived so far, and was even beginning to bloom as we started the student trip to Northern Ireland in February 2015. I saw it as a good omen after some challenges during the planning and preparation period before the trip …

This is the picture of that same plant this week. Bigger. More bloomy. At the risk of overusing the metaphor, the plant continues to remind me of the uncontrollable nature of the sacred in our lives, and the surprising blessings that occur when one is able to surrender to dreams and possibilities.

Today begins the eighth pilgrimage I have been privileged to lead to the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre since I was a mid-term volunteer in the summer of 2011. This represents over 70 people that have visited the Centre and learned about the work of peace and reconciliation and have then been challenged to apply that learning in their own contexts. I have been told that in some way most have been transformed by their experience.

I continue to be amazed by this realization of a wild and improbable dream that began six years ago as I planned a sabbatical with very little knowledge or understanding of what I was getting into at the time. The whole adventure has been such a blessing in my life. And the people that I have worked with along the way, that have planned and co-led the trips with me ... Sarah, Alana, Ariane, Bridget, Kendra, Kathryn, Wilf, Rick, Diana, ... and of course Paul from NI, I owe a huge debt of gratitude for joining me in the improbable dream.

Today I am here with my daughter Alana who has accompanied me and co-led many of the trips, and has her own network of friends in Ireland. We are waiting for the others to arrive today. We are a small group this time – Diana, who is my co-leader this trip, Lance and Katie from the congregation where I serve, and Karen who works with Alana in Toronto with the GO Project. Sadly, two others who were to join us were not able to come because of recent serious health issues, but I am glad to report that both are recovering.

As I enjoy a quiet morning at Farset International Hostel, reconnecting with old friends, I am filled with gratitude for another opportunity to be in this place, with these people. Many folks have heard me say over the years “this is probably the last trip” … and yet, there always seems to be one more. Just like the cactus plant that didn’t die when I thought it would. The weather in Ireland is unreal ... sunny and warm. Just right for growth and bloomy-ness.

stay tuned!

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Blog Day 7 Corrymeela begins when you leave …

That’s the sign over the front door in the lobby of the main building at Corrymeela. Everyone who passes through that lobby is challenged to find what that statement means in their own lives as they leave.

Our last sessions are always focused on integrating what we have learned over the week into our own contexts. As shocking as the peace walls and barriers in Belfast were to us, we were challenged to see the walls and barriers in our own lives, both personally and systemically. Paul asked us to think of what needs reconciling in Canada, again, either personally or in our communities. Certainly it was not hard to come up with many examples.

In this way, the work of Corrymeela has continued over the past fifty years. When one thinks of the thousands of people that visit Corrymeela each year, plus the hundreds of volunteers, it truly is a worldwide movement.

And so another pilgrimage ends, but I think, just one leg of the journey. It’s been a privilege and a delight – thanks to co-leader Alana, program planner and facilitator extraordinaire Paul, and all the participants. Indeed, the journey continues.

Blog Day 6

The Corrymeela Community

After our busy and inspiring day on Thursday, we wondered if our brains could possibly hold any more information. But amazingly, our capacity to keep expanding our perspectives and abilities to hold new ideas was large.

Friday morning we met with Colin Craig, Executive Director of Corrymeela. A former Centre Director during the 1990s, Colin spoke about the massive change that the organization has undergone in the past year. From changes to volunteer and staff structures, reducing the environmental footprint, to changes in funding and communications, he talked about how the organization is trying to live out the mission of “living and learning well together.”

Since leaving Corrymeela as its Centre Director in 2001, Colin developed several organizations, including TIDES Training, working with communities in Northern Ireland and other countries around the world including Bosnia, Kosovo, and Pakistan. He then helped develop a city wide collaborative called Youth Intervention Network in California, and Different Tracks Global (DTG). He brings this wisdom and experience to the new position, and it is clear from talking to staff and volunteers that there is excitement and enthusiasm as folks move forward.

One of the biggest changes has been the creation of the two distinct leadership positions within the organization, with the clear division of role and responsibility. Previously, many of the administrative and organizational roles would have been lodged in the Centre’s Leader as well as being the spiritual head of the community. Last fall, Padraig O Tuoma was named Leader of the Community. This is an excerpt from a press release on the website:

Padraig brings a wealth of experience from his work in poetry, theology and conflict transformation around the world … Pádraig will work closely with Executive Director Colin Craig and the staff team to run programmes of respite, encounter, dialogue and reflective learning for the 11,000 visitors that come through the Ballycastle Centre each year. He will represent Corrymeela in current public debates and build relationships with church and faith communities in Northern Ireland and beyond.”

I had mentioned that Thursday the leader of the community, Padraig O Tuama, had welcomed us into his home for coffee and conversation. It was an amazing gift to sit with Padraig for an hour, hearing him speak about his own experiences of encounters of “faith in the public square.” As a lover of language and a poet, Padraig speaks powerfully and eloquently. He knows his own tradition well, and speaks of having the space in one’s own tradition to “question the corners”. He asks provocative questions ... “How can a community hold its story well?”,  “what is its relationship with difference?”, “How do we safeguard the virtue and value and wonder of curiosity?” and “What is the ethic of engagement when you disagree?” It was a holy space with Padraig, one that I will remember for a long time.

Friday evening was spent with Marianne and Ruth, long time community members who were on site for the weekend to do “cover” (kind of like a duty manager, keeper of the keys, the buck stops here kind of role …) They each told their stories – how they came to be community members and their first encounter with Corrymeela, why it is still important to them, its challenges, and several stories. It was a great opportunity to find out how the community works at the grassroots level.

And of course, all week long we have had the delight of being with two of the long term volunteers, Beni from Switzerland and Diego from El Salvador, and have also met many others over mealtime conversations.

Many perspectives, all interwoven to form what is the Corrymeela Community. It never ceases to delight and amaze me.


Sunday 10 May 2015

Day 5 Fencing in or fencing out?

As is often the case, the days get longer and more intense as the week goes on here at Corrymeela. Once again I find myself writing backwards, filling in the experiences of the days.

Thursday when we returned to Corrymeela from Belfast we saw that one of the baby sheep had found a way through the fence and was by the side of the road, desperately trying to find a way back through to unite with its "tribe".  Presumably it's mother was the sheep right on the other side, clearly distressed and trying to encourage the little one to find a way back through. There was even a crowd of other sheep nearby, concerned for what was happening. Happily, with a bit of human encouragement and shepherding, it found its way through.

I heard the wonderful theologian, storyteller and author Tex Sample at a conference once ask the question  "are you fencing in or fencing out?" It's very hard for North Americans to fully grasp the concept of a "peace wall", which have actually increased in number since the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Dr. Jonny Byrne, a specialist in this topic from the University of Ulster, estimated there are about 75 peace walls in Northern Ireland.  He led us on a walking tour of some of them Thursday morning.

The peace walls were first constructed by Stormont and the British army in 1969 as a military response to sectarian violence and disorder. Although many outsiders, especially North Americans, see them as symbols of a deeply divided society, Jonny helped us understand that they were also symbols of a community that only feels secure and safe with the walls in place. Although the government has committed to a program that builds improved community relations and a more cohesive society, and the NI Executive has a target date of for the removal of all peace walls by 2023, Byrne said that the walls will not come down until the communities behind the walls feel safe and secure. It is a hugely complicated issue, which if nothing else, our group began to understand the complexities of the issue instead of rushing to judgements based on our own assumptions and experiences in Canada. For more information, check out or google Dr. Jonny Byrne to read about his work.  Dr. Byrne took us to Alexander Park in North Belfast, where Belfast’s only divided park now has an open access point (pictured below), a huge accomplishment, he said.

That was only the beginning of the day. From there, we were all welcomed to the home of Padraig O Tuama, Leader of the Corrymeela community for a conversation about "faith in the public square" (more on that conversation in another blog), and then to Holy Cross Parish, in one of Belfast’s most contentious areas, where for 600 days there has been a protest in place about a decision to restrict a parade route for an Orange parade. The Ardoyne area experienced 99 deaths out of the nearly 4,000 attributed to “the Troubles”, and the work of this parish in the community over decades is well known and well respected, both locally and internationally.

From Holy Cross, we went to City Hall for a presentation from David Robinson, Good Relations Officer (see 2013 blog for a description of David’s work) and a tour of city hall. When speaking about the peace walls, David also suggested that sometimes it is necessary to “divide people in order that they can feel safe” and stated that sadly, 1.5 billion pounds a year are spent servicing a divided society, including the areas of education, health care, and policing.

We were all left pondering our own assumptions, the staggering amount of information we had received over the course of the day, the moving testimonials from the Holy Cross folks, and connections to our own society. Maybe we don’t have structural walls, but can we name the invisible walls in our own communities, the ones that help some feel safe and secure? Do they keep us safe inside, or others out? Perhaps a bit of both I’d say.

Below are some pictures of the day.