IN JANUARY I wrote about becoming a participant on the Journey of Hope pilgrimage of training in
‘Christian peace-building and reconciliation… to inspire and equip Christian leaders to become skilled practitioners of reconciliation in their churches and communities.’reconcilerstogether.co.uk
Last month I was with the Rose Castle Foundation in Cumbria for the fourth stage of this journey.
Positioned in historically disputed territory on the borders of England and Scotland, Rose Castle has witnessed 800 years of conflict and endured centuries of violence at the hands of changing political and religious allegiances. The Foundation’s website says:
We welcome those that have spent their lives back-to-back, turn them face-to-face and help them leave shoulder-to-shoulder by teaching them to disagree well.rosecastle.foundation
In keeping with this vision, the focus of this module was radical hospitality, which our course notes defined as
an ‘inside-out’ journey beginning with hosting ourselves and moving out to consider host-guest dynamics within congregations and communities.
Having already spent the best part of a week in each other’s company during the previous three modules combined, this time we were encouraged to ‘share the everyday’ with one another, including the preparation of meals, worship and other communal activities.
We also had a more flexible programme with ample time for personal reflection – I used much of that to write about my experience of the third module at Corrymeela in the north of Ireland. We also considered what it means to be a reflective practitioner (with which I am familiar, having spent ten years as a youth worker) and were invited to journal about our experiences. My only suggestion in my evaluation of this module was that perhaps we could have adopted journalling from the beginning of the journey to aid our learning.
The module was jointly facilitated by Place for Hope which offers
- Facilitated conversations – Support for hosting important or potentially difficult conversations
- Help in a crisis – Accompanying people struggling with difference or conflict
- Coaching – 1-1 guidance for those in positions of responsibility
- Training – ‘Open access’ programmes focusing on understanding and engaging in conflict, or programmes tailored to suit a particular faith community or organisation.
There were five stand-out moments which helped me to reflect more deeply on my journey on this pilgrimage, and the insights it is giving me into my role as the Network Co-ordinator of Open Table, an ecumenical Christian worship community which offers a warm welcome to people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer / Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA), and all who seek an inclusive Church.
The first was the prayer for hospitality which which we opened and closed our gathering:
We respond to your invitation, O God. As we are, we come.
We offer to you the hostilities that shape us, the hostilities we carry, the hostilities that carry us.
In these matters, move us from hostility to hospitality.
Be our guard, for we guard ourselves too much.
Be our protector, that we need not overprotect ourselves.
Create in us a space, a room, a place – free and friendly space where the stranger may be welcomed
– that we may be at home in our own house
– that we may be healed of hurts we carry in the soul
– that we may know brother and sisterhood
– that we may know kindness
– that we may laugh easily
– that we may know beauty.
Nudge, guide, entice, prod. Move us to live within your will.
To the end that within this flesh, within this house in which we live, we may be at home with you, with our neighbour, with ourselves.
Thus we pray, remembering Christ who says, ‘I stand at the door and knock.’John Stott
Create in us a place of hospitality. Amen.
The second was a reflection on the language of ‘safe space’ in setting the boundaries for our time together. I have used this language in the way I describe the Open Table community as ‘safe sacred space…’ Canon Sarah Snyder, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor for Reconciliation and founding director of the Rose Castle Foundation, asked ‘Safe space for whom?’, that is, who decides what is safe, and on whose behalf? We discussed alternatives such as ‘safe-enough’, ‘brave’ and ‘resilient’ space. This was useful food for thought which I may reflect in future revisions of the mission, vision and values of Open Table.
The third was an exercise in ‘Life Mapping’ which we were invited to do on the first evening. I have done similar exercises on many occasions and have found creative resources like this helpful, but on this occasion I felt strong resistance – especially to the question on which we were invited to reflect:
How might my gifts and wounds impact on my work to transform conflict?
It was a reasonable question, but that night I could not see beyond my sense of my own woundedness, and so was unable to stay with the reflection. I have come to prefer approaches such as the Examen, which begins with reflecting on an experience of unconditional love, then what I am most grateful for, before coming to what I am least grateful for. Another method I have found helpful is Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which begins by working from strengths and positive experiences to promote resilience, collaboration and open dialogue.
The fourth was a reflection on the role in hospitality with which we most identified:
- Being a host
- Hosting together
- Being a guest
- Hosting myself.
My response to this may be related to the third stand-out moment above: I began by identifying with ‘hosting together’, as that is the role I have fallen into, at home and in church, co-facilitating Open Table Liverpool with my husband and supporting him to host others when we have guests at home. However, when asked to unpack our reasons and motivations, I realised that I really needed to be more ‘at home’ with hosting myself – to make space for my own needs so I can better care for others too.
The fifth was the Evening Entertainment Challenge – Our peer group (a small section of course participants working in similar areas of reconciliation) took the lead on hosting a story-telling session interspersed with songs, poetry, music and magic tricks! Six of us shared true personal stories which, accompanied by other creative expressions of the talent and diversity of the group, made for a very rich, interesting time together. I offered two contributions:
- an a capella rendition of one of my favourite songs – The Queen & The Soldier by Suzanne Vega – which is a modern folk ballad portraying a dynamic of non-violent resistance and speaking truth to power. Here is the original (with lyrics):
- an adaptation of the story I have shared in schools many times as a volunteer for Diversity Role Models, an educational charity which ‘actively seeks to embed inclusion and empathy in the next generation’ and aims to ‘create safe spaces where young people can explore difference and consider their role in creating a world where we all feel accepted.’ Their student workshops feature LGBT+ or ally role models who speak openly about their lived experiences, building young people’s empathy so they can understand the (often unintended) impact of their language and actions. I incorporated it with another reflection on a dream I had about two years ago, following a positive experience of a visit to a school where most students responded positively to the question ‘Do you think an LGBT student would feel safe coming out in your school?’ Here is the combined story I shared.
This was a particularly significant moment for me as it helped me to appreciate how far I have come since the beginning of module one in Coventry, when we were asked:
What about your story has informed your theology of reconciliation?
Back in January I didn’t know whether this space would feel safe, brave or resilient enough to enable me to share my story with this group. After four months of journeying together through differences, divides and hidden depths, I no longer had any reason to doubt that I could welcome my whole self here and trust that others would do the same.