15 Jan 2023
Members, staff, volunteer, family and friends of Corrymeela gathered at St. Patrick’s Church, Culfeightrin on Sunday 8 January for our Rededication Service. New provisional members were introduced and several new members and staff took part in the liturgy. We were warmly welcomed by Fr. Con Boyle, the parish priest –– and led in song by Dave Stewart and the choir assembled for the day.
In the service, members committed themselves to each other and to the shared work of Corrymeela by using the new Journey We Continue language.
The Leader of the Community also offered what was billed as ‘A Very Short Sermon’ but which was a little longer than that. The text of his sermon is below.
THE JOURNEY WE CONTINUE
Ruth 1; Hebrews 12
The Corrymeela Community
8 January 2023
Corrymeela is not a church. There is no catechesis. We do not baptise believers. But we aim to be an unapologetically Christian community. That is to say that we pursue peace and reconciliation; we seek freedom from the madness of us versus them; we seek a way out of the trap of religion by following Jesus. That may seem a contradiction that to escape the trap of religion we follow Jesus. But in the words of one of our wiser members: ‘I don’t care.’
‘I don’t care,’ she said, ‘what words you put in front of me. I will say them. I will say whatever you put in front of me in order to belong. Because I love this community for who it is.’ She could have added ‘where you go, I will go. Where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people. Your god will be my god.’ You are stuck with me. (Thank God.)
And so we continue along this path together, like Ruth and Naomi – clinging to each other on a road that leads towards home for one and away from home for another, but whose destination is the same. We cling to each other on this journey, not because we share one mind or agree on the answers, but because we love each other and because it’s better to face the unknown together.
Since last we met for our annual rededication service, we in the membership have been on quite a journey, throwing off language in our Statement of Commitment that weighed us down, that made it harder for some to feel a sense of belonging within the community. To the question we asked when we met in person at St Brigid’s in Belfast: ‘Do you have to be a Christian to be a member of Corrymeela?’ the answer we have reached is ‘no.’
However, that clarity that Corrymeela does not require members to identify as Christian does not mean that we have changed our direction. Hopefully, it will move further ahead. Corrymeela’s work (according to our Articles of Association) is to ‘advance the essential Christian principles of peace and reconciliation.’ We do that through our life in the membership; through the art of hosting at the centre; through our extraordinary programmes. And just as Naomi and Ruth continued toward Bethlehem together – we continue to follow the life and teachings of one who was born there. We follow his path because we are convinced that grace, mercy, forgiveness, love of enemies, a reliance on something greater than ourselves are necessary for lasting peace. Necessary to escape our own vain certainty. Necessary to stop categorising some as holy and others as not. When Corrymeela has managed to escape the trap of human religion, particularly the trap of sectarian Christianity, it is because we have kept our eyes fixed on Jesus – and heeded the call to love one another with a divine, self–giving love.
My sense is that we will know if we are headed in the right direction if we end up not deeper within ourselves or back in territory where everyone is already familiar to us, but rather if we find ourselves along the frontier where we meet people who surprise us by articulating in their own language what we cannot help but understand as true. The best moment yesterday in our conversation about the film Lyra was when Lyra’s sister revealed that she identified not as a Christian but as ‘a Spiritualist’ and mused that she was ‘perhaps the first Spiritualist to speak in the Croí’. She felt as if she were out of place. But then she spoke about the mercy she wanted to extend to her sister’s murderer. Mercy. That was the word she used. Not only so that justice could be found for Lyra, but because mercy was essential if the killer was ever to find peace for himself.
There. This ‘outsider’ more at home in the Croí than any of us. This Spiritualist who articulated the essential principles of peace and reconciliation in words Corrymeela tries to express. We know we are on a path following Jesus when it brings us into relationship with humans who do Christianity better than any church could profess.
The journey we now continue should feel like the one Naomi and Ruth were on: one that leads us back home and into a strange land. If you are feeling uncomfortable with where we are right now with this new language: good. We never intended to stop here. And it may be that this next turn in the road will feel like returning to a Corrymeela that many in this room romanticise: one of building genuine relationship with those who would otherwise we would not know. Not just by hosting groups, providing space, offering programme – but by being alongside, and by being changed through the learning that comes in shared experiences. We don’t know how these new relationships, these new experiences will change us as a community. But they should noticeably change us, diversify us, get us out of ourselves and our own navels; out of the comfy bubbles where we all think the same – and bring us closer to our true selves in the process. Closer to one another. Not by avoiding tough questions, but by leaning into them with faith. Questions like: What does it mean to follow Jesus? Questions like: Who isn’t here? Who has been left out or left behind or made to feel they can’t belong? Questions like: What is the relationship between the membership and the organisation that brings the best out of all of us? Questions like: what would it mean to love each other with a self–giving love? Will it mean changing who we are?
The paradox, as I see it as the Leader of a Christian Community, is that we cannot be a Christian community if we demand that everyone who belongs in community with us be Christian. We cannot advance the essential principles of peace and reconciliation if we define once and for all what peace and reconciliation mean. But we can get closer to being truly Christian if the relationships we enter change us into something noticeably different and more genuinely ourselves. As soon as we stop moving and think we have it figured out, as soon as we wait for everyone to join us here, we fail to move closer to the human community Jesus had in mind and the more peaceful future that God has in store.
Only if we keep moving into the unknown with faith, continuing along this journey, can we discover who we get to be together. I don’t know exactly where that will take us. And to a large degree, I don’t care. Because I love this community for who it is and for the journey we are on: choosing to be with and for the other along a path where we all can know we belong.
In the name of the Creator and the Christ and the Holy Spirit: one God. Amen.