LETTER FROM A MINISTER
The deep value of a three-month gift
I have just returned from sabbatical. This was a three month gift given to me after serving as a minister for ten years. I was able to use the time as I saw fit and do what I felt would benefit me and the role I have. I spent twelve days of it in Northern Ireland. I went to Belfast and then travelled to Corrymeela, a centre dedicated to peace and reconciliation. It is on the Antrim coast, overlooking Rathlin Island.
I was privileged to spend ten days working at the centre and participate in the life of the place. As a volunteer at Corrymeela, in contrast to my everyday role, I was on shifts working in the kitchen and helping with hospitality. I was the oldest volunteer there (by about 25 years!) and yet was welcomed with warmth and patience! What was amazing in Corrymeela was not just the centre itself but the welcome and inclusivity. At the centre, people came to learn and be challenged. They could find peace and go beyond their normal boundaries in terms of encounters with others who are ‘different’. Everyone was truly welcome. They didn’t have to fit in, belong, be the same, even believe the same thing (or have any fixed beliefs).
The surroundings are a little glimpse of heaven on earth and the sunsets themselves were soul food! But more that that it was a place that has walked a path with so many different people; a place that brought Catholics and Protestants together during the Troubles; a place that seeks to find common ground, that truly lives out the love of God. Its core belief is: ‘transforming division through human encounter'.
Above the front door there is a framed print that states
'Corrymeela begins when you leave...'
It has left so much with me, although I am sure I will bore people for months to come about what I did and encountered (!). But more than that it has made me even more aware of the need for a real welcome and for authentic relationships that allow for difference, wherever we find ourselves