February 22, 2014
Wednesday and Thursday – two days chock full of stimulating conversations, curiosity, confusion, questions, great food, and at the end of the day ... immense pride in our Canadian womens’ hockey team for winning the gold.
Wednesday began with a visit to the East Belfast Mission (www.ebm.org.uk), a project of the Methodist church, which has in one way or another occupied the site since the late 1700s. The present building, which has won awards for its architecture and elements of sustainability, is home to three stages of housing – a shelter, transition housing, and separate apartments - numerous offices and studios, rooms for dance, yoga, workshops and classes, a sanctuary, and a wonderful cafe called "refresh", with very affordable and delicious food.
Megan Miller, manager of Compass (one of the organizations of the East Belfast Mission), gave us a presentation on “Skainos”, which is the manager, or landlord, for the mission. This is from their website: “... the word is from a biblical Greek word and rooted firmly in Christian tradition and history, the name Skainos speaks of the importance of practical engagement with a community by figuratively pitching a tent in its midst, and it hints at the notion of hospitality and the extended family. An alternative meaning for the word is as a description of the frailty of human beings. It stands therefore as a useful counterbalance to the temptation to focus solely on new building to the detriment of serving people.” Megan, said that folks loosely translate the word to mean “God’s living among the people.”
This concept is evident in the structure of the building, and in its philosophy and theology of operation. Megan said that the original vision was to have an “urban village” ... where all would be welcome. One can see this vision lived out in the one of the outside walls, a living wall (pictured with the group, below), in the small details of architecture that give a nod to the industrial heritage of the area, and even in the sanctuary, where large windows purposefully look out to the homeless shelter (also pictured below) to remind folks inside that they are not separated from their community.
For anyone interested in church development, and what is possible, Skainos is a dream. They have many programs for children, youth, families, and seniors, including a highly successful Irish language program called “turas”, which has participants from both loyalist and republican backgrounds. The word “turas” actually means journey in both Irish and Scottish language. Another amazing part of the organization is its commitment to social enterprise. Again, from their website: “A social enterprise is also known as “not–for–profit” as profits are used to further social and environmental goals rather than distributed to financial investors.” Some of the current social economy/enterprises of Skainos are a cafe, a for profit daycare centre, and a used clothing shop.
After the East Belfast Mission, we had another lively and informative session at the Andy Tyrie Interpretive Centre, a museum of the UDA. I wrote about this organization on last years trip (check out the February 2013 entries) but it’s safe to say we were all engaged by Billy Rowan, Mark Anderson, and Alan Price, former combatants who talked about present day challenges and engaging youth in the community. As we heard last year, their challenges are in continuing to advocate for the renouncing of violence, and in engaging young people in the political process to work for change.
Thursday we visited the Corrymeela Belfast office for a time with Sean Pettis, whose role is Programme Coordinator for the Facing Our Past Shaping our Future project, part of the larger Facing Our History and Ourselves project. This is a project that engages high school youth and teachers in conversations about ethical decision making and citizenship, using the Holocaust as a case study. Sean said that using a distant case study often helps people look at their own context more easily, helping folks to first explore universal themes and then move into the particular themes that apply to their own context.
We learned a lot from Sean, and he packed much into an hour and a half, including several short videos, one about Facing Our History and Ourselves:
We left quite energized, and with lots of materials and ideas for our work with Halifax high schools in March.
Ivan Cross, youth worker for Corrymeela, then hosted us on a tour of the peace walls and interface neighbourhoods of Belfast. Although we had seen many of them before, it was great to have Ivan’s commentary and explanations of some of the context and history of the walls.
Filled with information, more questions, and lots of ideas for connecting our work in Canada with the work of peacebuilding in this area of the world, folks headed off in different directions to explore Queen’s University, the Botanical Gardens, the Ulster Museum, or the charity shops in the area before dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, The Bird Cage.