Earlier on in the year, the Corrymeela Community began the process of looking for a new leader. This was a venture of newness for Corrymeela for a variety of reasons - looking for someone new to do a new post. The 'leader' post has traditionally carried two aspects of responsibility. The first was to be the faith leader of the 170 Corrymeela Community members, as well as a guide in the spiritual life of Corrymeela and the second was executive responsibilities for the business, charitable, project and directing of Corrymeela's work in the community. These two aspects of leadership at Corrymeela have now been divided into an Executive Director and Community Leader. The Corrymeela Executive Director post was filled earlier in 2014 by Colin Craig and, announced today, I will be taking on the post of Corrymeela Community Leader - working with and for the community members, working to nurture our faith life, our faith witness, practice and voice.
Corrymeela was founded in 1965 by Rev. Ray Davey and students from Queen's chaplaincy. The troubles were brewing and there was need for places of encounter and dialogue. A piece of land - on a townland named Corrymeela - was bought. Since 1965 this piece of land has been the gathering place for the members of Corrymeela as well as thousands of individuals who come for programmes of learning about conflict, argument and dialogue, programmes of faith, programmes of skill, time to discuss difficult issues, time to discuss divisions. Corrymeela's vision is 'Embracing difference, healing division and enabling reconciliation'. This work happens at the centre in Ballycastle, through staff-led programmes in schools, churches and the community, through volunteer work and through the community members - people who, in their ordinary lives, make commitments to live in a way that manifests our vision and values.
The website has more information here. Initially, folks understood that the word 'Corrymeela' meant 'hill of harmony' - a fitting piece of etymology, it was thought. Later, it became suggested that Corrymeela was more likely to mean 'place of lumpy crossings' - a much, much more fitting piece of etymology. Corrymeela exists to help us all across the complicated terrains that separate us - not to conquer or colonise our differences, but to help us find ways to live well with our differences.
I begin my post on November 1st and am honoured by this call. I'll be spending a few nights a week in Ballycastle. Together with many Corrymeela Community members, I have plans for increased opportunities for people to gather - in Belfast and Corrymeela - for meaningful interactions about faith, difference, disagreement, dialogue and reconciliation. The post of Corrymeela Community Leader carries four main areas of responsibility - our faith life together; our community life together; our learning life; and our life of witness for a more just and equitable society where those who are marginalised and ignored can be listened to and learnt from.
I first came to Corrymeela in 2003, on the invitation of a friend Sabine. I came for a weekend of reflection, discussion and community for LGBT people of faith. In the meeting room, I found myself able - for the first time in a wide room of strangers - to acknowledge being a gay man of faith. Corrymeela became a place for truth telling for me. Soon after I moved to Belfast, I began working on some of the community programmes with Susan McEwen, as poet in residence, and within a short while, I was spending many of my working hours at the Ballycastle centre, or in the community doing programme work.
Corrymeela's three emblems are the Turf Cross, an open Bible and a lit Candle. These, for us, are symbols of how we wish our faith to be present in the world. The Candle, as a former leader, Inderjit, mentioned often is a symbol of how God created both the day and the night, of how all of our experiences are held in the creation of GOd. The bible - such a rich text of stories and invitations, has also been used to harm, and for us, we have the bible open - to discuss our differences, to discover how we have been hurt and how we have harmed others, through our readings of the texts. The Turf Cross, a cross made from the old earth of Ireland represents our witness to faith and peace in a society that has had complicated relationships with religion and faith. We do not see ourselves as the antidotes to Christianity's mixed witness to the world. We see ourselves as part of that mixed witness - a witness that has harmed and healed, a witness that has cured and caused violence, a witness that has hope for the future by being courageous - together with many others of good will - in the present.
Corrymeela has a vibrant volunteer programme -where individuals of all backgrounds are invited to work on our site for a year. During that year they receive training in group dynamics, youth work, experiences in living in a community of peace, and experiences of bearing witness to the work of the thousands of people who come through Corrymeela's doors every year.