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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, November 13, 2002
    From a Belfast Internet Cafe
    I'm in a a Belfast Internet Cafe. On Great Victoria Street, just past the Europa, Europe's most-bombed hotel, on my wandering way back to Botanic where this morning I popped into the Corrymeela Community offices to chat with Shona, their children's and family worker, and where this evening I shall go next door to Mediation Northern Ireland to find Joe Campbell, who's been kindly hosting my city stretch of this month's NI adventure, for the past couple of days.

    A good couple of days they've been, too. Spent with Joe at Mediation's offices, meeting the staff and getting a feeling for the work they do, at all sorts of levels with all sectors of the communities here, to help people learn how to settle their (often deep-rooted, long-standing) disputes. Mediators, they say, are skilled, trained, decision-enablers and 'midwives' - helping others to take responsibility for dealing with their differences. They're a committed group and seem to achieve a good deal here.

    Joe also presented me with the opportunity to take time at The Irish School of Ecumenics, up in new premises in the North Belfast suburbs, which used to be the home of the Columbanus Community. Now it's base for the school and a range of innovative surely deeply-helpful courses to help people do, in a far more focussed way, what I'm attempting this month - reflect theologically on issues of reconciliation so as to take the learning into practice in ministry. In Joe Liechty and Cecila Clegg the School has two scholars from 'outside' (the States, England) who have helped, and continue to help, students be enlightened in ways of Moving Beyond Sectarianism. That's the title of their recent book, the fruits of years of study and interviews with people with something to say about sectarianism. It's a rich resource. I've got through the first 25 pages so far and already had the totally appropriate and humbling experience of realising that I am at times a Non-Sectarian (ie, someone who pretends sectarianism doesn't exist, certainly not in me...), and at other times an Anti-Sectarian (ie, someone who tries to fight sectarianism when I see it, which is, of course, only another way of perpetuating it...). The hope is to learn with these folks how to find a third way, to move beyond bigotry creatively and so as to truly be free of it. (More on their work here).

    The bigger picture can seem depressing. I'm in this cafe because my earlier attempt to blog was curtailed when the occupants of the City Library (self included) were asked to leave because of a bomb scare. We all left without any obvious anxiety but with a very deliberate urgency - in this city, experience tells everyone that compacency is not an option. Belfast's a city trying its best to re-emerge after the Troubles as a modern and future city. It's looking really good down the docklands and much good is being done in communities but my brief 'Troubles tourism' visits round some of the flashpoint areas, and this afternoon's event show that there's so much further to go for healing to reach a critical mass. Good to be with people - many, many of them, who believe in that and are working so well, to help bring it on.