Belfast Telegraph

Corrymeela ‘retains vital role’ years after Good Friday Agreement, says leader

The organisation was founded in 1965 to help individuals and communities suffering through the violence of the Northern Irish conflict.

The Rev Dr Alex Wimberly took over as leader earlier this year
The Rev Dr Alex Wimberly took over as leader earlier this year

By Michael McHugh, PA

Peace-building organisation Corrymeela retains a vital role 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, its new leader has said.

The centre was founded in 1965 to help individuals and communities suffering through the violence and polarisation of the Northern Irish conflict.

Prince Charles chose the Ballycastle site as the venue for a 2015 speech he gave on reconciliation.

We have, since the very beginning, in front of a fire or with tea, held spaces where people can deal with their differences differently, or hold their differences well Dr Alex Wimberly, Corrymeela

The Rev Dr Alex Wimberly took over as leader from Padraig O Tuama earlier this year, following a career in Presbyterian ministry, and has spent much of his time in Belfast.

The married father-of-three is originally from the US.

He recalled that 20 years ago, people were asking what the point of Corrymeela was, with the Troubles over, yet he said questions about the place of minorities and identity remained.

“If the idea is right that people fear becoming a minority then that just highlights the fact that minorities are not being treated well,” he said.

“If you don’t want to become a minority it is because you know that in societies like ours, minorities are not a good thing to be and are not treated well because they do not have the same advantages.

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The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle (PA)

“Everybody feels like they are part of a minority.”

He said people were becoming more tribal.

“The trend that we are seeing in the world is that people are either opting out of conversation and going silent or they are having one-way conversations online or elsewhere where they are just shouting,” he said.

“We have, since the very beginning, in front of a fire or with tea, held spaces where people can deal with their differences differently, or hold their differences well.

“We are not trying to make everybody the same, we are saying that some people are going to disagree and we need to be able to do that in a shared society.”

Corrymeela was started by Ray Davey, a former Second World War chaplain, together with a group of students from Queen’s University.

The clergyman was captured and incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in Dresden during the conflict and witnessed the city being bombed. This experience was said to have profoundly changed him.

Corrymeela works with around 11,000 people a year at its residential centre in Co Antrim.

It was opened by former prime minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill.

PA

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