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.



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