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 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/11/03/peace-walls-northern-ireland_n_6093634.html 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.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Day 4 We like sheep

What is it about baby lambs that turn everyone into a little puddle of mush? This is the time of year for it ... they are everywhere, including the adjacent field at Corrymeela. The scene of a field full of sheep which greeted me every morning when  I lived here for three months was always very comforting. I was surprised this morning to see a bunch of the little ones all together, exploring and playing. Usually they seem to stay pretty close to their mothers. Find a baby lamb, and the mother is nearby. I guess there was a feeling of safety on both parts - mother and offspring, for them to be straying a bit.

Day 4 was spent with Susan McEwan, Head of Programme at Corrymeela,  and Karin Eyben, Multidisciplinary Programme Worker, about peace and gender. Both women have a long history and much experience working in the field of peace and reconciliation. Over the course of the morning we heard how women's voices and experiences have been largely unheard in the peace process, and also in the retelling of the history. In a society where patriarchy and militarism have been the dominant influences for generations, it is hard to make change. Even the language can be symbolic. Often we hear the words "building peace", but even that evokes male imagery. Susan several times offered the image of weaving, which for me feels more holistic and inclusive. Susan offered us some questions to ask as we continue to learn ... how do politicians constantly speak a language of war? As we tour the city of Belfast tomorrow, where do we see the symbols of a cultural war and what is the gender analysis of the murals? Karin offered us a model for looking at the intersectionality of identities, and case studies from her work which helped us look at the role of the media, where we find women's power, and to begin to hear the voices of women. It gave us lots to think about as we move through the week.

Wednesday afternoon folks had a well deserved break. Some walked into Ballycastle, some went to the Giant's Causeway, some slept, some got caught up on work that needed to be done.

Thursday is a day back in Belfast. Paul has lined up a number of speakers and activities, including the leader of the Corrymeela community, Padraig O Tuama.

Day 3 pictures

The group is greeted on arrival with  refreshments  

Volunteers Beni and Diego take us on a site tour ...

The Dalai Llama's scarf which hangs in the building called the Croi

What we all hope for during game our time here...

Monday, 4 May 2015

Day 2 Team Martin


My co-leader on this trip is Alana. This is our fourth time together in Northern Ireland. We have a lot of history here together, and we each have our own history. She first visited me when I was here for three months in the summer of 2011, and walked through the experience of my mother's death back in Canada together while visiting Dublin. It was lovely to be back in Dublin last week with her and Pat, creating new memories and seeing Ireland fresh through Pat's eyes

Alana also has spent time as a mid-term volunteer at Corrymeela, and has her own set of close friends from that time. She has also been a member of St. John’s United Church, one of the participating churches, since she was a pre-schooler, and is now a candidate for ministry from there. She brings a unique set of gifts to the group – not just her experiences as a volunteer at Corrymeela and on two previous student trips, but also her years of experience as a GO Project leader, a United Church mission program for youth aged 13-19. The program runs summer programs in six locations across Canada and offers youth an opportunity to live in community for 10 days while experiencing what mission looks like in their particular locale. She is also the co-leader of the General Council youth pilgrimage across Canada this coming summer.

Last night she led us in a wonderful exercise that helped us begin to name some of the important moments of our lives, our influences, our own contexts. After experiencing the incredibly informative Hop On Hop Off bus tour of Belfast, (no small task – it was the Belfast Marathon yesterday …) folks were already beginning to see the complexities of the history of this region. In our reflection time over dinner, the questions emerging were ones that often pointed us back to reflect on our own histories and memories.

The exercise that Alana led us through was not only an opportunity to practice some very holy listening to several others’ stories, it helped us begin to understand that our experiences shape our perspectives, and sometimes we are not even aware of our own biases.

It was a great way to start the week, and set the tone for the next few days.

This morning – off to Corrymeela! The excitement is high, and the questions are building!


Sunday, 3 May 2015

2015 Pilgrimage

Day 1 Glendalough and Belfast


I’m not sure what this picture says to me, but I love it. My daughter Alana took this yesterday while Pat, (my husband), Alana and I were on a day tour from Dublin … “the Wild Wicklow Tour” … a tour of the Wicklow Mountains, and the famous ancient monastic site called Glendalough. The weather was horrendous – raining hard, misty and foggy, and cold the whole time. Our tour guide said it was one of the worst days he had experienced weather-wise as a tour guide. But we pressed on. “Believe me”, he said as he pointed out the window, “this is one of the most magnificent sights in all of Ireland. Do you see anything? Do you want to get out and take a picture?” Some did, most didn’t. It was fog, and we get plenty of that in Nova Scotia.

I was desperately looking forward to Glendalough, the early Christian monastic site which dates back to the 6th Century. Certainly we could tour the site and see some of the ancient structures, but the majesty and splendour that I have read about would have to wait for another time to experience first hand. Instead, this is the view that many of us had while listening to our tour guide. He chose not to use an umbrella, (said it got in the way) and so for 20 some minutes, he took us around in the pouring rain, telling stories and reciting historical facts while we shivered and shook under our “broillies”.

For some reason, this picture speaks to me as I stand at the beginning of a third pilgrimage to Corrymeela in as many years. Counting the three student trips, this makes six groups that I have brought to Corrymeela in three years – over 50 people. I never get tired of the collective sighs of wonder as we enter the site, at the delight over the hospitality received from the first moment, at the deep appreciation of the hard work that is being done in the name of peacemaking. As our whole group of 13 met for the first time this evening, it was me that was emitting the sigh of wonder as friendships began and community was formed. Over dinner, stories were told. Our participants this year come from Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax. The ages range from mid-twenties to at least mid-sixties (don’t want to make assumptions, but that’s where I am!).

We have several “tour guides” along the way this week who will help us interpret the context of Northern Ireland, and the work of Corrymeela. I suspect that they too might sometimes feel like they are standing in the cold rain without an umbrella, wondering if their words and stories hold any meaning to those listening … those protected under their own umbrellas of comfort and privilege. I wonder if I will have the courage this week to put down my umbrella and stand in solidarity with those who invite us to walk with them – encouraging, challenging, and teaching us to see in new ways. May the journey begin!

Below is the traditional first group picture on our first night’s dinner at Robinson’s. Not everyone made it into the picture … David is taking the picture and Gail and Irma are slightly hidden.