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Between the Bells: Stories of reconciliation from Corrymeela, by Paul Hutchinson

25 October 2019

Stephen Cherry reviews an unassuming memoir of reconciliation work

THIS humane and hope-filled memoir by the former Centre Director of Corrymeela will be disappointing to those who feel that reconciliation can be delivered by a carefully managed process. On the other hand, those who suspect that reconciliation is difficult, messy, and unpredictable will find their intuitions affirmed and take from the book much to sustain them.

That many such people would not be so grandiose as to think of themselves as “ministers of reconciliation” is beside the point, but also actually relevant. “Reconciliation” has been bigged up in recent decades (like “Leadership”), but, if what Hutchinson is talking about is reconciliation, then it is clear that reconciliation is not an exotic or heroic business. On the contrary, the practice of reconciliation must be something ordinary and everyday: after all, conflict is common enough.

Reconciliation is something that tests us in the moment and demands of us a generous response, just when we are fresh out of generosity. Such reconciliation, Hutchinson’s reconciliation, can be as simple as making someone a cup of tea when you have a million other things on your to-do list; as basic as listening calmly when you want to answer back defensively; as unsophisticated as offering respect and the benefit of the doubt to someone who is addressing you with anger, contempt, or hatred. Its relevance to pastoral ministry, whether in parish or institution, is huge, but readers will have to make the connections themselves. And that’s a good thing.

Hutchinson is realistic about the difficulties involved in being hospitable (there really do have to be some boundaries, but patience and tolerance are needed if others are to learn why this matters so much) and truthful about the energy-sapping nature of responding to the relentlessly varied needs and expectations of others. He is also wise and subtle (and moving) about relating with the personalities and traditions that have shaped Corrymeela since the 1960s: a metaphor for the great question how to remember and respect all that has gone before, perhaps.

He is also helpfully realistic about the inner doubts that have developed alongside his commitment to peace-building. It is in the nature of such doubts that they will feel a little different when read about than when experienced. One question that I am left with is the somewhat impertinent one whether the neglect of family which he narrates is part and parcel of the hugely generous commitment needed to be credible in his particular context, or the tendency to work too much which is endemic in people who have a sense of vocation or overriding purpose about their ministry.

That this is part of the uncertainty that the book raises is testimony to its integrity and much wider relevance.

The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.


Between the Bells: Stories of reconciliation from Corrymeela
Paul Hutchinson
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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