Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Puffin Outside My Window

September 18, 2011

From about the third day in Corrymeela, I knew that one of the last blogs I wrote about my experiences here would be called The Puffin Outside My Window.

I can’t remember – it was either my second or third morning. I awoke very early, because I was still adjusting to the time difference between Halifax and Northern Ireland.  Plus, the sun was rising in those days at about 4 am. So I awoke, somewhat groggy, raised the window blind, and found myself staring at a puffin hopping around on the grass outside my window. Now, I’ve never seen a real live puffin. But I just knew that’s what it was. I watched it for a good several minutes before it hopped out of sight. Of course, I did not have the presence of mind to grab my camera and take a picture – I was just too fascinated watching it hop around, seemingly just for my amusement.

Later that day, I cautiously asked one of the other volunteers who had been here awhile – “Is it possible that I saw a puffin outside my window this morning?” “Probably not,” I was told, “Puffins usually don’t make their way over here from Rathlin.” Puffins are one of the main attractions on Rathlin Island, just off the coast of Ballycastle, from late spring until early August. There are many things to do and see on the island, but puffin watching is one of the biggies.

So, of course, I then began to wonder whether I had really seen a puffin outside my window. Maybe it was extreme jet lag, and I was just hallucinating. I found myself watching each morning for my little friend, but to no avail. A week later, I got up enough nerve to ask someone else. “Is it possible that I saw a puffin outside my window one morning?”  “Sure” I was told, “entirely possible.” That gave me courage to actually talk about it to others, but with more conviction. “I’m pretty sure I saw a puffin outside my window the other morning” I said. Some believed, some didn’t.

But the story took on a life of its own. One day I thoughtfully compared it to the Holy Spirit. Maybe I was being sent a message of some sort ... but what? Keep watch? All will be well? Now you see it, now you don’t? Feed the puffins? Folks began to talk more about puffins, and in particular, the now mythical puffin outside my window. One of the summer volunteers reported after a trip to Rathlin that there was much talk about the new trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Puffin.

One day I looked out my window and found Teri (who in one of our discussions had very tactfully suggested that maybe it was an oyster catcher that I had seen ...) picking flowers. I opened my window and said “Excuse me, are you the puffin outside my window?” “Yes,” she said emphatically, “I AM the puffin outside your window!” (ps I KNOW it wasn’t an oyster catcher ... it didn’t have a long beak!!)

And of course, the puffin never returned. Or at least, it hasn’t yet. There are only two mornings left, and it truly would be a miracle if it did return, because all the puffins left Rathlin Island several weeks ago. So, I’m left to wonder whether there really was a puffin outside my window that morning. All I have are my fading memories of what I saw.

Somewhere in my puffin thoughts I began to understand that this very well might be a metaphor for my Corrymeela experience when I get home. Was it real? Did it really happen? The farther away I get from it, the more I expect it will seem unreal, fleeting, a brief moment in time.

Fortunately, unlike my puffin episode, I have taken many pictures to help me remember. And I have this blog – which I entered into three months ago with great fear and trepidation and, thanks to your words of encouragement, have been able to keep up. And I also have a journal with more personal reflections. And, the travel book that Tammy at St. Andrew’s gave me is chock full of notes from conversations, worship and reflection times, ideas, songs, games ... people, trips, money spent ... you name it, I’ve written it down!

But I suspect even with all this, after this Wednesday, it will all begin to fade slightly, to feel a bit unreal to me. Was I really here? Did it all really happen?
I also suspect that I will be processing this experience for many months to come. It is my deep hope that I will return to Corrymeela someday, either as a volunteer, or with a group that wants to explore the Corrymeela Community and how it has contributed to peace and reconciliation in the world. Until then, I’m dependent on my memories, my writing, my pictures.

I’m not sure if I’ll write another blog before I get home. My computer battery is dying a slow death, (another metaphor???), and I’m not sure what will happen when it finally goes. I’m hoping I get home before it completely dies. Folks are starting to ask me “What have you learned?” “What are the highlights?” I am starting to answer those questions, mostly in my journal, but it may take some time.

Tomorrow night it will be my turn to experience a goodbye party – something very low key I hope. Tuesday I take the Antrim Coaster one more time to Belfast, and fly out Wednesday morning. This coming weekend we fly to Toronto for my mother’s memorial service next Monday. Prayers for safe travel, strength and comfort are most welcome.

And if you see the puffin outside my window, say hello for me. 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Is anyone keeping count of how many people I’ve lived with this summer?

September 15, 2011

I am up to 101 so far. That is, people that have lived in the volunteer house, Coventry, since I arrived on June 27. Given that about 30, give or take, can occupy the house at one time, that’s a lot of coming and going in three months. That number covers everyone who was there before me (only one now ...) to those who were here for only a few days. I am the next to leave.

When people ask me, as they are starting to do, “What have you learned here at Corrymeela?” or “What have been your most memorable experiences?”, my response is without a doubt something about the people with whom I have been in  relationship over the past three months – the other volunteers. The long term, mid term, short term, and summer volunteers. I have met people from just down the road in Ballycastle, from many different parts of Ireland and the UK, from all over Europe, and from Africa, the Philippines, the United States, and Canada.

Below are my newest friends and roommates – the new long term volunteer team. They are (from left to right, front row: Matt (new program assistant from the U.S.), Michael (Germany), Stevie (NI), Lindsay (England), Emily (U.S.), Nathan (kneeling, NI), 2nd row: Desi (NI), Aaron (NI), Kelsey (U.S.), me (in front of Kelsey), Tytti (Finland), Anna (Sweden) and Fergal (NI). The photo was taken yesterday on our way home from a day trip to the Belfast Corrymeela office.

Learning to live with 30 people at any time is no small task. Add on the pressures of sometimes up to 100 other folks at the centre for programs, and it’s a small miracle, and a testament to Corrymeela, that things run as well as they do.

One of my own strategies, which became a bit of a spiritual practice, was to try to cultivate a spirit of generosity while here. A spirit that assumes the best of intentions with folks, not the worst. Sure, it’s easy to get grumpy when one wakes up in the morning and there are no clean coffee cups, or there are dirty dishes all over the kitchen counter. But that didn’t happen too often, and when it did, I learned to either clean it up, or walk away from it (after, of course, washing one cup for my coffee!)

And then, most importantly – this is the spiritual practice piece - to let it go. I’m not saying it always worked, but it helped many times. And I’m certainly not saying that I didn’t have the occasional grumble to some of my fellow early risers, but I found myself learning to live with the constantly changing state of the kitchen – clean, unclean, clean, unclean ... and above all, to be surprised, delighted, and filled with heartfelt gratitude for the clean times. Which these days, is quite often, as it seems that the new ltv team seems particularly conscientious about cleaning up each evening.

There are some things best avoided when living with 30 people – like trying to do laundry on the LTVs day off ... of course I forgot that rule today, so ended up in a long lineup for the two washers and dryers. Sure I was frustrated at first ... but in the big picture, it didn’t seem like a particularly important world event to get worked up over.  And, there was a lot of laughter and negotiation involved which I might have missed had I not jumped in.

When I think about those 101 people, and all the conversations I’ve had over the past three months, over a cup of coffee, tea, a meal, a glass of wine, or a beer ... I am in awe. Some of these people I know I will never see again. But I carry those conversations, those encounters, deep inside me. I am changed forever because of them. Each relationship, however brief, has made an imprint on me, and I will never be the same. For that, I thank God every day for guiding me to this place.

Speaking of relationships – today is Pat and my 33rd wedding anniversary. We sent each other the same e-card from Jib Jab ... it was, as he said, an “O Henry moment.” We’ll celebrate next week, but today I went to lunch at O’Connor’s with Jo and had a beer and fish and chips. When she heard it was my anniversary, she insisted on paying. Thanks Jo, and Happy Anniversary Pat.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ray Davey, and the origins of Corrymeela

September 10, 2011

Before I leave Corrymeela, I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce my readers to Ray Davey, Founder of the Corrymeela Community, and his incredible vision of a centre for peace and reconciliation over 45 years ago. Now in his late 90s, and in ill health, he is still a strong spiritual presence at the Corrymeela Centre, and revered for both his vision, and his tireless work at Corrymeela and around the world in the area of peace and reconciliation.

Award-winning journalist Alf McCreary has written two books about Corrymeela, Hill of Harmony in 1975, and more recently In War and Peace, The Story of Corrymeela, in 2007.(note:  I have a copy of the most recent one to donate to the St. Andrew’s library when I get home.)

Many folks think that Corrymeela arose out of the time that is euphemistically called “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but in fact the Corrymeela Community predates the time of The Troubles. Although the Centre was officially opened on October 30, 1965, the concept began much earlier in the minds of those who conceived it.

McCreary writes, “It is widely acknowledged that one of the main visionaries was Ray Davey, the urbane and gentle but tough-minded Presbyterian minister who became Corrymeela’s first Leader and Founder.” (p.15) His personal story is too long to recount here, but begins as a son of the manse, takes him through near-professional rugby playing for Ulster, the war years as a prisoner of war, and after that as the first Presbyterian Dean of Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast.

As a prisoner in a nearby camp, Davey was deeply affected by the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany. McCreary says Davey wrote in his diaries “Dresden was something I could never forget. It underlined to me the futility of all conflict, and when I returned back home, the challenge of trying to do something about conflict stayed with me, especially in my own society which was so polarised.” (p.18)

At Queen’s, Davey created a community of Christians, not just Presbyterians, a truly ecumenical community. McCreary writes, “This was a considerable achievement in Northern Ireland which was still suffering deeply from religious and political apartheid. It was no surprise that the seeds of a wider religious community developed from the experience at Queen’s, and that some of the other main Corrymeela visionaries had learned a great deal as undergraduates, and later graduates, of the university.” (p. 19)

In 1964 two other Prebyterian ministers, Rev. John Morrow (who would succeed Davey as Corrymeela Leader) and Rev. Alex Watson met with Davey. Both men were members of the Iona Community and were deeply influenced by the leadership of Rev. George MacLeod and the practicalities of the Iona Community, combined with its renewed sense of worship and common life. Subsequent to that meeting, another meeting took place with over 50 people from very diverse backgrounds. McCreary writes, “There was an impetus for a Christian Community, but not yet sufficient consensus as to what shape it should take.” (p.21) The group included people who were familiar with Iona, but had also visited Taize in France and Agape in Italy.

Each of these communities were seen as having strong elements of a desired Christian community – Iona, for its central philosophy that God was concerned about the totality of life, and not just the spiritual side; Taize, for its strong spiritual base, and the Youth Village of Agape, in the Italian Alps, with Pastor Tullio Vinay. Vinay advocated that a Christian community must incarnate the problems, the difficulties of men, be they hunger or unemployment in order to bring them the message of the Kingdom of Christ which is a message of reconciliation, of service and of love.

The event that focused the group’s thinking happened in early 1965, when a Holiday Fellowship Centre near Ballycastle came up for sale. It moved folks from the abstract to the very real possibility of creating a Christian community, putting the ideas and visions to the test. Folks actually had to put up their own personal money, and also do fundraising, for a total of 10,000 pounds. When the offer was accepted, the hard work of making the site habitable began. McCreary says “The Centre was derelict, and an army of volunteers was required to make it habitable. This was done through a series of work camps, where people discovered the virtues of hard work, and the welcome surprise of developing skills which they did not believe they possessed.” (p. 22)

That sounds pretty familiar to me, all these years later!

The Centre was officially opened in October, 1965, with about 200 people gathered. Ray Davey welcomed Pastor Tullio Vinay from Agape, who had been asked to open the Centre. This was a man who had not only inspired the founders of Corrymeela, but who had also risked his life sheltering Jews from Nazi persecution. In his opening address, Vinay asked that the Centre should be a “question-mark to the  Church everywhere in Europe so that it may review its structures and task, and may be free from this instinct of preservation, to hear the time of God for its mission in the world.” As McCreary says, 40 years later, these words seem even more prophetic. (p.27)

In the summer worship information package which I received as one of the worship coordinators, it says:

“Ray Davey said of this Centre:  We hope that Corrymeela will come to be known as ‘the Open Village’:Open to all people of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and work together for the good of all. Open also for all sorts of new ventures and experiments in fellowship, study and worship.  Open to all sorts of people; from industry, the professions, agriculture and commerce.  This is part of our vision.  We know we are only at the beginning and there is so much to be done.”

Below is a picture of the new Davey Village, opened in the spring of this year, plus the welcome sign when you first enter the car park. Thank you, Ray Davey, for your vision, your leadership, your commitment to peace and reconciliation.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Hello, goodbye, part two, and the red duck in my eye

September 9, 2011

More comings and goings this week ... today we said goodbye to Karen and Glenn from Cornwall, Ontario, who have been here for two weeks. In that short time they made their way into the hearts of everyone with their contributions to the community and the way they jumped in with whatever needed to be done. Karen is also a musician, and to my (and the centre’s) delight, she also bought a guitar to play while here, and to leave behind. Many of the nights she was here she had a crowd of young people around her as she taught guitar chords and rhythms.

We also said goodbye to Teri today. Teri arrived three weeks before me, from Arizona, and left today to teach for a year at Sabanci University in Istanbul. Teri quickly found her place in the Corrymeela Community, and into the hearts of all – offering pastoral support, driving folks hither and yon, offering workshops on peace and reconciliation, supporting groups, doing special projects for the Centre Director, scrubbing toilets ... you name it, when there was something to be done, Teri was there. Her two sons, Jesse and Jason, also spent time at the Centre as summer volunteers while she was here. While it was sad to see her go, we were all celebrating her adventurous spirit as she drove off with Aileen, her “entire life” in four suitcases. The picture below is of Jo, midterm volunteer who arrived the day before me, and was also here last summer, William, one of the chefs in the kitchen, me, and Teri on the day we were cooking the long term volunteers’ farewell supper at the end of August.

It’s the custom for goodbyes that as soon as folks hug and wave goodbye in the car park, they run to the top of the cliff so that they can wave goodbye as the car drives down the steep hill. Of course the driver has to drive a bit slowly as everyone makes a mad dash to the cliff, where the cross is, to wave goodbye. It’s a ritual for all the volunteers when they leave. It’s quite a workout, especially twice in half an hour!

Several instances this week made me realize that I had turned a corner as far as becoming part of the wider Ballycastle community. On Tuesday, I got my hair cut at a local salon. I was hoping to last until I got home, but just couldn’t do it. It’s a risky thing, going to a new stylist, in a foreign country. I’m happy to report that all is fine in the hair department.

Then I had to visit the surgery (health clinic) for something odd that was happening to my eye ... for the third time in about 10 days I had quite worrisome looking broken blood vessels in my eye. Exploding eyeballs I called it ... perhaps the stress of the last month? What worried me was that each time it happened it got a little bigger ... by Wednesday it looked like I had a little red duck stamped into my eyeball. Thankfully, according to the doctor there’s nothing serious going on ... perhaps a very tiny abrasion that has become irritated. “It’s very windy and dusty up at Corrymeela” she said. Which it is, for sure. And, I can also happily report that it’s much better today. Hopefully that’s the end of the exploding eyeballs.

And, the third thing that made me feel like part of the community was that as I was walking down the main street of Ballycastle from the surgery, my most regular taxi driver, Paddy Dornan, drove by and waved at me. “Wow,” I thought, “how cool is that?” Later, after I ran my errand, I found him at the head of the taxi line. I didn’t even have to tell him where I was going (to Corrymeela). “Did you get up to Tor Head yet?” he asked me, knowing that it’s something I want to do before I go home. (I haven’t).

I will miss this place for sure ... but I am beginning to count the days until I get home. Pat asked if there’s anything he should get in for me on my arrival. I’m afraid I sent him a long list ... including Montreal bagels, popcorn, cream for my coffee, a good steak for a bbq, and a huge array of vegetables. Oh yes, and not to have to label everything “Martha” when I put it in the fridge or cupboard.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

My second Belfast adventure ...

September 3, 2011

I haven’t written in a few days because I’ve been sick – for the second time since I’ve been here. I was proud of the fact that I seemed to miss all the bugs that were going around the St. Andrew’s staff last year, but I guess something about living in close community with 25 people increases the odds of catching something once its in the building. Earlier this summer, the same bug kept being passed around for weeks. I fought it off several times, and finally succumbed. Anyway, this time it’s just a typical cold, but it has lowered my energy level for sure.

I had a great two days in Belfast last week. Came in by train on Monday afternoon, and settled in to my room at the Camera Guesthouse, near Queen’s University. It had been recommended to me by Aileen (Corrymeela staff), and it’s where Alana and I stayed for one night a few weeks ago. It’s owned by a young couple, who seem to work very hard at catering to the guests’ needs and comforts. When I checked in, he noticed that I was reading “Game of Thrones.”

“I’m working on that. It’s being filmed up on the north coast,” he said, “Hollywood had come to Northern Ireland.” Which is precisely why I picked up the book after my kindle broke (a long story ...), because I had read an article that HBO was filming the series on the coast, near Ballycastle. He must be pretty busy, commuting from Belfast, and running the B&B. I hope I can get to see some of the filming sites before I leave in a few weeks.

I set out on my mission for Monday afternoon, which was to find claddagh rings for the folks I had promised them to ... fortunately I found a very patient young woman at the huge Irish shop Carroll’s. (“Are you buying rings for your whole family?” ...). I”m happy to say I was successful in my mission.

Monday evening I went back to my favourite little Italian place that I had been twice before. I couldn’t help it ... it seems that once a month I’m craving a really good Caesar salad, pizza, and half bottle of wine. Why mess with a good thing? I came “home” and had a great Skype conversation with Pat – whatever did we do before Skype?

Tuesday morning I met with a wonderful Presbyterian minister named Lesley Carroll, who is the minister in an inner city amalgamated church in a mixed area of North Belfast. She has been there for 14 years, and the church has been involved in teaching mediation and conflict resolution and promoting restorative justice practices in schools, amongst many other things. We had a wonderful conversation, and I know she will be someone I will keep in contact with as I think about some possibilities and projects in my own ministry in Halifax.

Lesley was kind enough to drop me off at An Culturlann on the Falls Road, a cafe, tourist information office, community radio, and the north’s largest dedicated Irish language and media book and gift shop. Of course, I did a bit more shopping and poking around, and headed off to my next meeting, which was with Nicola McKeown, the Schools Worker at “Number 8”, as it is referred to, the Corrymeela Belfast Office.

I have long wanted to understand more about the Corrymeela Schools Program, and I did get a few more pieces of the puzzle as Nicola and I shared lunch. Corrymeela has been working in the schools for many years, and because of that, has a lot of credibility. Working in both Primary and Secondary Schools, Corrymeela facilitates and supports teachers for the delivery of topics and themes such as making choices, communication skills, positive management of conflict, recognizing and valuing diversity, and forgiveness education, just to name a few. Our conversation challenged me to think about how the interfaith community in Halifax could be a resource to the schools, facilitating these kinds of conversations.

After my meeting with Nicola, I hopped on a bus to East Belfast to have a lovely dinner with new friends, Emily and Hedley, and their small sons Liam and Rhys. Emily, from the U.S. and Hedley, from Belfast, both have a history with Corrymeela, and with peace and reconciliation work in Northern Ireland. We had some great conversations, and I was very appreciative of their hospitality.

Wednesday morning I met with long time community member (and former Schools Worker) Yvonne Naylor to show her my draft children’s worship resource, and to plan a session on worship planning for the new long term volunteer team. Then, I hopped back on the bus, and arrived back at Corrymeela about 4 pm. I was greeted with “Welcome back!” “How was your trip?”, which made me feel like I had been away for ages. Life certainly carried on in my absence – sometimes when you are away for a few days, it’s a challenge to catch up, as so much can happen.

All week long, folks have been busy preparing for the new ltv team, which arrives tomorrow. These are 12 folks from around the world who will spend the next 12 months living in community, and providing the main leadership to the Corrymeela programming over the next year. The place has been cleaned, scrubbed, and tidied ... and welcome posters and cards made. The “induction” (think orientation ...) schedule has been largely set, and all is ready! Everyone is very excited for tomorrow.

In addition, there are three groups on site this weekend, one group from Hungary (led by a former long term volunteer who brings a group here every year), a family group, and a university group who couldn’t make it out of the U.S. last week because of the hurricane, and are arriving tomorrow.

Never a dull moment at the Corrymeela Centre!!