Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Corrymeela Diaries
Day 4 and beyond

Wifi seems to be down in many parts of London and which has delayed my last post. Here’s a final reflection from this year's journey …

Below are a couple of pictures from our final 24 hours at Corrymeela. One with jazz hands and silly faces (although some missed the memo on that one), and one “for the record.”

Sessions throughout the week took us deeper into the history and work of Corrymeela during the past 50 plus years. We had conversations with Karin Eybin, Community Famiily Worker, about her work with citizen engagement in several communities.

In addition to specific content sessions, participants are encouraged to have conversations with those at the centre during meal and break times … the many volunteers, young and old, from around the world, the visitors at the centre, whether for a day or a week, and the various staff people who are part of the community. Sometimes we learn as much from our conversations “around the edges” as we do in the content sessions.

Tuesday evening Paul began our sessions on peace and reconciliation by posing the question “how can we learn to live apart well?” At St. John’s this year many have spent some time studying the dynamics of conflict, how we personally respond to conflict, and how we can learn to still be in relationship with people with whom we profoundly disagree.

In order to get the conversation going amongst the leaders at St. John’s, I circulated an article from the Congregational Consulting Group that suggested that healthy congregations seek out conflict instead of trying to avoid it. That got some interesting comments! The idea is that by seeking out “conflict” in a congregation, we are really uncovering diversity, and encouraging the deep listening that is necessary to bridge the gap of stereotypes, misunderstanding, and competing narratives.

This has been the work of peacemaking in Northern Ireland for decades. Folks like Paul, Karin, Sean, Padraig, and Michael Doherty, who we met on Wednesday on our trip to Derry/Londonderry, have been mediating and facilitating conversations between different groups in the hopes that in the conversation a path will be found that will lead to living together with respect. Not always agreement. But acceptance, respect, and good relations. Below are a couple of pictures of our time in Derry as we walked the walls with Michael.

During the week we were also blessed to welcome into the group long term volunteer Kendal, from Colorado, and Alejandra, from Columbia, who is a student at York University (England) doing a two month internship at Corrymeela. Both young women were a rich addition to our group conversations. They also managed to take care of all of our physical needs, from getting our tea and coffee ready at break time, to ordering us a cab for the Wednesday evening pub run to O’Connor’s or the Thursday afternoon trip to the Giant’s Causeway.

It always seems like the time is too short at Corrymeela. Before we knew it, we were back in Belfast, enjoying Spanish tapas Friday night for dinner, and then having our final evaluation session on Saturday morning before folks went their separate ways. As is often the case, folks talked about the unexpected and profound insights that they experienced, both personally and in approaching the conflict in Northern Ireland with new insights.

As always … the journey continues … with blessing, challenge and much gratitude. Until the next time ...

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Day 3
Catching up 

As the days go by, the busy-ness and intensity of the week often get in the way of actually sitting down to write each day. Plus, getting a consistent internet connection is sometimes a challenge on the cliffs of Ballycastle. I often find myself writing backwards, trying to catch up on several days. 

Monday morning was spent at the Corrymeela Belfast Office, first with Sean Pettis, who works with teachers and educators, and then Padraig O’Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community. Sean talked about his work with an organization called “Facing History and Ourselves” (https://www.facinghistory.org), an international organization that empowers teachers and students to think critically about history and to understand the impact of their choices. Padraig, storyteller, poet and theologian, (pictured below with the group) talked to us about ways he has worked with young people to explore their own spirituality and their relationship with Jesus.

In between, Paul took us on a walking tour of “The Holy Land”, so named because after returning from the Holy Land in the Middle East, original inhabitants named the streets “Jerusalem”, “Cairo”, “Damascus” … He told stories of his own experiences from when he and his family lived there, as well as stories that reflected the specific character of the people, businesses and social gathering spaces of the area.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Day 2
Irish Spring

Everyone is positively giddy with the weather here in Northern Ireland. From visitor to local, the mood feels festive and joyful. Since I arrived exactly one week ago, it has been sunny, and warm-ish. Certainly not what one expects when you hear the words Irish and weather together.

Sure – one needs a jacket in the early mornings and evenings, but during the day the outdoor patios are full, and everyone is talking about how lovely it is. Taxis drivers ask us - “how do you like the weather?”, like it’s the normal state of affairs. We didn’t even mind waiting 40 minutes for our hop on hop off bus today, and some of us have sunburns from being outside all day. And the forecast for the next few days is the same.

Everyone arrived safely at the Farset International Hostel by the appointed time yesterday, and after introductions and checking in (not everyone had met), we headed out for dinner at Robinson’s, a local restaurant/pub complex near the city centre. That’s us – from left, clockwise – Alana, Katie, Lance, Karen, Diana and myself.

We began Sunday at the Ulster Museum, a beautiful place with a wide and eclectic collection of exhibits, including one on The Troubles. A “Timeline of the Troubles” – a helpful overview, is pictured below. Folks also took the time to stroll through the adjacent beautiful Botanic Gardens where they mingled with families, students, and local characters before having a bite to eat in the cafĂ© and then heading off the city bus tour.

Plans for the week include meeting our facilitator Paul Hutchinson and Corrymeela staff at the Belfast office on Monday, having a walking tour of the area, and then heading up by bus to the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Ballycastle, about an hour outside of Belfast on the northern coast.

After day one, curiosity and the hunger for learning is high. Many questions have already been articulated about this country’s history, social structure, and future. Perhaps we will get some rain by the end of the week, but the first two days have been glorious!

Saturday, 6 May 2017


May 6, 2017
The Reconciliation Journey - Day 1

Two years ago I blogged twice about a Christmas cactus plant that I own – and my fear of people giving me plants that inevitably die. At the time, I was surprised that despite my history of having plants die in my care, one that I received as a gift had survived so far, and was even beginning to bloom as we started the student trip to Northern Ireland in February 2015. I saw it as a good omen after some challenges during the planning and preparation period before the trip …

This is the picture of that same plant this week. Bigger. More bloomy. At the risk of overusing the metaphor, the plant continues to remind me of the uncontrollable nature of the sacred in our lives, and the surprising blessings that occur when one is able to surrender to dreams and possibilities.

Today begins the eighth pilgrimage I have been privileged to lead to the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre since I was a mid-term volunteer in the summer of 2011. This represents over 70 people that have visited the Centre and learned about the work of peace and reconciliation and have then been challenged to apply that learning in their own contexts. I have been told that in some way most have been transformed by their experience.

I continue to be amazed by this realization of a wild and improbable dream that began six years ago as I planned a sabbatical with very little knowledge or understanding of what I was getting into at the time. The whole adventure has been such a blessing in my life. And the people that I have worked with along the way, that have planned and co-led the trips with me ... Sarah, Alana, Ariane, Bridget, Kendra, Kathryn, Wilf, Rick, Diana, ... and of course Paul from NI, I owe a huge debt of gratitude for joining me in the improbable dream.

Today I am here with my daughter Alana who has accompanied me and co-led many of the trips, and has her own network of friends in Ireland. We are waiting for the others to arrive today. We are a small group this time – Diana, who is my co-leader this trip, Lance and Katie from the congregation where I serve, and Karen who works with Alana in Toronto with the GO Project. Sadly, two others who were to join us were not able to come because of recent serious health issues, but I am glad to report that both are recovering.

As I enjoy a quiet morning at Farset International Hostel, reconnecting with old friends, I am filled with gratitude for another opportunity to be in this place, with these people. Many folks have heard me say over the years “this is probably the last trip” … and yet, there always seems to be one more. Just like the cactus plant that didn’t die when I thought it would. The weather in Ireland is unreal ... sunny and warm. Just right for growth and bloomy-ness.

stay tuned!