Wednesday, 30 April 2014

April 30, 2014

Corrymeela really does begin when you leave ....

I realized yesterday that I am responsible for bringing 30 people to Corrymeela in the past 2 years. When I imagined, upon leaving Corrymeela after three months in September, 2011, that I might like to bring a group over someday, I don’t think I quite imagined the grand scale that it has come to be. I was reflecting on that incredible number as we arrived at Corrymeela yesterday afternoon, in the Corrymeela bus driven by Peter, long time friend of Corrymeela, Peter. Over the years Peter has driven hundreds of groups to and from many places, including Belfast, to the Giant’s Causeway, to Derry/Londonderry.

Upon arrival yesterday afternoon, we were met by our facilitator Rachel Craig, long time community member and former staff person, and the long term volunteer assigned to our group for the week, Deryk, from Brazil. There’s an incredible back story to the beginning of my friendship with Deryk that I told in a 2013 blog. The friendship began over a year ago when I found out that Deryk had been reading my blog in Brazil, and it inspired him to apply for one of the long term volunteer positions. After being welcomed and assigned our rooms, we had a tour of the site, which included several “adventure learning” games along the way, including skiing across the field to the Croi, the worship space. It’s fun to watch groups get over initial confusion and awkwardness about the task, and finally get into a rhythm of movement that included a “Corrymeela chant” to help mark the movements of each foot. By the other side of the field they were singing “I’ve been working on the railroad” at a pretty fast pace!

The beauty and magic of this place never fail me. I never get tired of seeing people’s first reactions to the geography, the view, the welcoming hospitality, the wonder that is all around. With each group that I bring here, I feel more and more rooted in this “project” ... in why I spend so much energy to make these trips happen. To facilitate this experience for others is a joy and a great gift. I could feel the relief settling over me (and the rest of the group) with each hour, realizing that I could begin to relax after months of planning and organization, endless emails and changed arrangements. I could now turn much over to those who will be journeying with us, Rachel and Paul and Deryk, and the Spirit that is present in this community.

This morning, after morning worship led by Yvonne, a community member who I have worked with a number of times, Rachel led us through a number of activities that showed us the connections between body work, trust building, group dynamics, leadership and peace and reconciliation. She then told us her story – how she came to Corrymeela and about the work that she has been involved in, both in Northern Ireland and around the world. We moved into our afternoon off full of gratitude and a new appreciation of the work of people like Rachel and this incredible community over the past 50 years. The site is now filled now with families and young children in the Main House, and a women’s group from Belfast sharing the Davey Village with us.

The sign over the door of the Main House has an inscription of one of Corrymeela founder Ray Davey’s sayings ... “Corrymeela begins when you leave.” Every time I re-enter this community, I find new meaning in that expression – my learning and understanding deepens, and I am filled with gratitude.
And, we’re only half way through the week!

Pictures below are of the group “skiing” to the Croi - at the very beginning, and then once they got their rhythm, and the group with Rachel Craig.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Leaning ... to the right or the left?

Not much time for reflection this morning ... only to post a few pictures from yesterday before we head off to the Corrymeela Belfast office for the morning, and then up to Corrymeela after lunch. There is much excitement to finally be heading up there.

Yesterday began with a visit to the East Belfast Mission, and folks were suitably impressed. The story of their Irish language classes with both Protestants and Catholics was one that stayed with folks throughout the day. The classes are growing in popularity and gaining much attention, as seen in the Aljezeera report the previous day. (see link in yesterday's blog). We were also struck by the sheer beauty and functionality of the building, which has won many awards. And, of course one of the first things folks notice is the leaning posts (picture below) ... designed on purpose to symbolize a ship's mast. Linda and I began to think that there was a theme developing in our experience - the appearance of leaning structures - escpecially after seeing the famous leaning clock tower on our bus tour.

After lunch in the mission's cafe "refresh", we headed off to City Centre for a Hop On Hop Off bus tour - the best way I know to get a sense of the whole city in an hour and a half. On our way back to get a cab to Farset, we encountered a gay rights rally in front of city hall. Since both United Church congregations represented in our group (Bedford United and St. John's United in Halifax) are Affirming congregations and take part in the annual Halifax Pride Parade, we were happy to see the support that the community was receiving, and for me it was a welcome change from some of the other sectarian protests that I have seen at City Hall.

Monday, 28 April 2014

April 29, 2014
The Art of the Troubles

Linda and I visited the Ulster Museum in the early part of the day. While Linda explored some of the more historical exhibits, I headed for the new art exhibition “The Art of the Troubles”. I quickly realized that the short time we had allotted for the visit was not going to be enough time to do the exhibition justice. “I’ll just buy the book”, I thought ... thinking that every exhibit usually has a companion book available in the bookstore. That would allow me to move through the exhibit fairly quickly, and
to absorb it in greater depth at my own leisure. Well, that was my plan.

It is an amazing exhibition.  I was moved by many of the pieces – in particular a short video installation by Willie Doherty called Remains, about the generational nature of the conflict, and the passing on of attitudes over generations. I found out in the bookstore that in fact, they didn’t produce a book ... “the artists didn’t want any one image to be the definitive representation of the time ...” explained the young man who was staffing the museum store. When I remarked that I thought the exhibit was amazing, he agreed. “I loved it, until I saw it with my da ...”. I asked him to tell me more ... “well, for me it’s just art, but he actually lived it. For him, it represented something very real. I saw the exhibit very differently when I experienced it with him.”

I  did find out that there is a large online presence for the exhibit, which is explained in the video, linked below. So, I guess I can continue to ponder and have the pieces work on me without the book.

After a walk through the Botanical Gardens and the Palm House (pictured below) – built in the mid 1800s, which seemed quite incredible to us – we made our way to Farset to meet the rest of our group. All made the journey safely to Belfast, and after a couple of hours of checking in with each other, we made our way to Robinson’s for dinner. We are ready for the week!

Linda found the following article, number one on Aljezeeera yesterday, which heightened the excitement about our visit to the East Belfast Mission in the morning.

Below is our group at breakfast at Farset ... from left to right, Sandy, Judy, April, Rick, Linda, Rose and Karen.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Fawlty Towers meets Absolutely Fabulous

For the fifth time in two years, I arrived into Belfast’s George Best city airport yesterday afternoon. This time, my traveling companion is one of my bff’s and a colleague in ministry, Linda Yates. Former partners in ministry at St. John`s United Church for 4 years, we have traveled overseas together once before – early in our relationship when we took a group of youth to Guatemala in 2007. This time, she is one of 7 participants in another Corrymeela pilgrimage through the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia.

The rest of the group is arriving into Belfast today. We arrived a day early, and because there was no room at Farset last night, over a month ago I booked into a B&B that I have stayed at several times before. Our adventure began as soon as we walked through the door.  Strong paint fumes ... the dining room was taken apart and being painted. Yes, they had the booking that I booked through Expedia, but even though my booking clearly stated that we had one room with two single beds, the proprieter (who Linda later said reminded her of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous) said that they only got a the booking which said ``two adults`` and all they had was a room with one bed. ``It`s a king sized bed`` she sad ... (which it definitely was not...).  After trying to find another room in Belfast to no avail, we decided that between ear plugs, eye masks, and snore strips we could muddle through one night of sleeping together. And, she assured us that the dining room would be put back together and ready for what I remember as a fabulous breakfast by morning.

We got into the room and began to acclimatize ... Linda took a glass for a drink of water, put the empty glass on the shelf above the sink, and realized too late that the shelf was on such an angle that the glass slid off, right into the sink, breaking into a hundred pieces. I looked around for a plug to recharge my computer and my UK phone ... and realized there was only one accessible plug in the room. Linda went out for a walk ... I decided to take a shower. After running the water for five minutes, I got dressed and ran downstairs ... “any special trick to getting hot water?” I asked. “No, just let it run, it will come” was the answer. 10 minutes later and still no hot water ... I was getting kind of cranky by now. I did finally get a hot shower, only after another complaint that resulted in me getting a hot shower on the top floor bathroom with electrically heated water. The water alternated between extreme hot and extreme cold, with not a lot of control either way – I think I have burned my right breast.

Linda came back from her walk to find me nearly in tears ... this whole trip has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster in the weeks and months of planning for it, and I was not only frustrated, but embarrassed that I had brought her to this place. She was great ... in keeping with the British comedies, she said imagine that we’re in an episode of Fawlty Towers. I laughed, squeezed myself into our tiny bathroom, and knocked the toilet paper holder out of its wall socket. BASIL!!!!

We went out in search of dinner and ended up at Benedict’s – a great place to people watch, hear some music, and the food was good. And so was the beer. Found an old episode of Waking the Dead on TV, and settled into our less than king sized bed. This morning, paint fumes were minimal, and the breakfast was as good as I remembered. Linda did notice that the an old bookcase made into a china cabinet in the dining room was dangerously leaning over on the wall ,,, and she also noticed the inscription on one of the books (well, really it was wallpaper) .... together we live. It’s great to be with a good friend with a sense of humour – and thank God for British comedies! Today, a visit to the Ulster Museum, and then  to meet our fellow pilgrims.