Ray Davey, one of the principal founders of the Corrymeela Community, passed away 16 April 2012 at the age of 96.
One of the elders among Christian peacemakers on this island, Davey was a Presbyterian chaplain at Queen’s University Belfast when he and a group of students formed Corrymeela in 1965. He was its leader for 15 years.
Fr Michael Hurley SJ, principal founder of the Irish School of Ecumenics, died at this time last year (a year and one day earlier, 15 April 2011) and David Stevens, another former leader of Corrymeela, died in May 2010.
I never met Davey, but returned recently to some of his writings when preparing a paper for the Political Studies Association conference, ‘Reconciling the Past? Religion and Politics in Northern Ireland’s Post-Violence Transition.’
One of my main arguments in the paper is that the conceptions of reconciliation developed over the course of the conflict by Corrymeela, the Irish School of Ecumenics, and Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland – especially their emphasis on building relationships – could be fruitfully revived to encourage debate about reconciliation in the public domain.
In the paper I wrote of Davey and Corrymeela’s early years:
[Corrymeela’s] founding was pre-Troubles and it can be understood in part as a response to wider European trends, which emphasised the breaking down of denominational barriers and the value of committing to Christian community (as opposed to merely attending church). Davey had been an army chaplain, a witness to the fire-bomb destruction of Dresden, and prisoner of war in Italy during World War II. Like others in Europe, he was disturbed by the churches’ inability to prevent or even prophetically speak out against the ravages of the World Wars, seeing the churches as deeply implicated in the destructive political projects of the nation-state. David Stevens (2008) recalls that Davey was influenced by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose opposition to Nazism earned him a martyrs’ death in 1945. Stevens compares the ‘difficult issues’ raised by working ‘with paramilitaries in Northern Ireland’ to Bonhoeffer’s involvement in a plot to kill Hitler, seeing these as challenging circumstances in which Christians are called to act courageously even if ‘we cannot guarantee that good will come of our actions or that things will turn out well’ (2008:11). Davey also was influenced by Pastor Tullio Vinay of the Waldensian Church in Italy, a founder of the Agape community in the Italian Alps, which Davey visited. Davey describes his time at Agape as a ‘healing of memory’ of his own wounds of war, and relates how he was inspired by Vinay’s efforts to serve the poor of Italy (Davey 1995: 98). Vinay was asked to speak at the opening of the Corrymeela centre in Ballycastle in 1965, of which Davey writes (Davey 1995: 103-104):
One phrase which he used when he visited us in Ireland still stays with me. “Love”, he said “can never be theoretic.” This to me was what his theology was all about. It was something that was not just learnt or discussed or just preached, it was something that was lived, something that was done. … I remember him talking about “being contagiously human” and that seemed to me to be an apt description of Vinay himself. I think of his tremendous compassion for people of all sorts and his indignation when there is injustice and his lovely humour and his ability to challenge and not threaten those he meets. His theology is centred in his Christology: the Christ who is Lord and at the same time Servant.
Davey’s conviction that ‘love can never be theoretic’ still stands as a challenge to Christians and all people living on this island to implement – rather than simply talk about – reconciliation in practical ways.