Fifty years on, the man of vision behind Corrymeela
Tomorrow evening there will be a service in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Monkstown at 6.30pm to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Corrymeela, the cross-community group of church people who flagged up the need for reconciliation in our society, long before the Troubles broke out.
It was the brainchild of the remarkable Presbyterian minister, the Rev Dr Ray Davey, who died aged 97 in 2012 and who formed his vision of the need for people to find better ways of living together, during his incarceration as a prisoner of the Germans in the Second World War.
He had volunteered as a chaplain with the YMCA and was then captured by General Rommel's troops in North Africa, and spent the rest of the war in Italian and German prison camps.
These included a camp near Dresden where he heard the noise of Allied planes that bombed the city and killed thousands of innocent civilians, including children. Afterwards, he was taken out of the prison by the guards, and he saw the massive destruction for himself.
Years later, Ray returned to Dresden and spoke in a church that had been rebuilt after the destruction.
A member of his audience was a German who had lost family members in the bombing and could not forgive the Allies for what they had done.
After the church service, however, he said to his wife: "I have heard Dr Davey speak with compassion for all of us. He was in Dresden as a prisoner of war and he heard and saw it all. This man has inspired me to begin to forgive those responsible for the bombing."
That quality of inspiration and forgiveness was the hallmark of Ray Davey in his quest for peace in his native Northern Ireland. Corrymeela and its members did not just preach Christianity, they also acted it out in the most difficult times of the Troubles.
I have fond memories of meeting so many outstanding people there, including Mother Teresa. One man was so nervous meeting her that when she reached for a handshake he burst into song. Her visit was during the hunger strikes and the Press asked her to comment. She said that she found it difficult to understand why people in Ireland were starving themselves to death while millions in her own country were dying from hunger.
Corrymeela has had thousands of dedicated members over the years who did good work and still do, in helping to build bridges and creating a better understanding in our society. They were years ahead of the main organised Churches in doing so, and a few people in those Churches were not particularly supportive of what Corrymeela was trying to achieve. Thankfully they have now caught up.
I wrote two books on Corrymeela, which I think of as 'God's question mark', in asking us to seek for a better way to live.
One sunset evening at Corrymeela I sat with Ray, one of my lifetime heroes, and, as we gazed over at Rathlin, he said: "Unless the penny drops with the Churches that Christianity is all about reconciliation, we might as well go out of business."
Corrymeela has faced many challenges, but it has always shown courage and flexibility, as well as deep Christian trust, and the vision of Dr Davey remains alive. A Godly, practical, charming and deeply-spiritual leader, his words remain as important to all of us as ever.
Happy 50th Corrymeela.