‘Building Community: From Exclusion to Inclusion’ was the title of a significant Conference with an international dimension, held on Friday 15th June at The Corrymeela Centre, Ballycastle.
Marking the launch of Ballycastle Church Action’s new year-long programme of Peace and Reconciliation activities, it focused on the continuing role of the Irish Churches in peacemaking, within the wider ‘peace process’.
Generously supported by Moyle District Council Good Relations the event drew over forty participants from the local community, Coleraine, Cookstown, Ballymena and farther afield, including two Japanese post-graduates researching ‘Reconciliation’, who travelling specially from Birmingham.
After a welcome from Mrs Maeve Walsh, Chairperson of Ballycastle Church Action, the Rev Don Irvine, main organiser of the event, introduced the two main speakers. First up was the Rev Robert Penrith, Rector of a large Anglican Church in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Referring to the apartheid era, its tension, discrimination and violence, “South Africa was a ghastly place to be” he said.
“Then in the 1990s God did an incredible thing, raising up men and women of great stature with an ability to love” He named specifically Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela “people who were Christ in the world; people of incredible compassion and incredible desire to be agents of change”.
He illustrated his theme with moving and challenging stories of courageous actions of individuals crossing the apartheid barrier. His Church has a special relationship with a nearby township community.
This in many ways was his main challenge to the continuing task of peace-building in our community. The task is not only to ‘read the signs of the times’, he said, but ‘to act on their implications’.
And this requires individuals to get involved. ‘Peace cannot be built by more committees but only by individuals establishing new relationships’.
This was also the theme of the second speaker, the Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal, recently-appointed Leader of the Corrymeela Community. Stressing the Christian basis of Corrymeela he focused on three challenges for Christians, in terms of ‘Building Community’ arising out of major concerns of people today, as identified by the participants through group discussion.
The speaker then summarised these as: The Economy, Extremism and the Environment. “In all of these issues it is the poor of the world and our own society who feel the pinch first”, he said. For Christians, he stated, “The Cross is God’s great question-mark against the world, challenging all relationships of exclusion and exploitative power”. Underlining the on-going task of peace-building “Peace is not the end goal: it is a pathway towards Reconciliation”.
BCA’s forthcoming Peace and Reconciliation Programme was then announced: an autumn Course on “Understanding the Theological Roots of Sectarianism”, a further Faith in the Public Square” series of Community Forums over the winter, and in Spring 2013,” Christ and Other Faiths”, focusing on the ‘faith’ dimension of relations with those of other ethnic origin.
Closing Worship was led by Yvonne Naylor and the Conference ended with lunch. The actual venue for the event was the new Davey Village, so named in memory of the Rev Dr Ray and Kathleen Davey, and due to be officially opened non 27th June.