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Many members of AIF will know the word Corrymeela, and associate it with reconciliation in Northern Ireland. From 26-28th May 1990, Corrymeela was the place where the Sixth International AIF Conference was held. Interchurch families from Northern and Southern Ireland, from Scotland, England, France and the USA gathered in a breathtakingly beautiful setting at the northernmost tip of Northern Ireland. We were there to consider a subject which perhaps shows how far we have come since the first international conference ten years ago, for instead of concentrating on our problems and difficulties, and the technicalities of baptisms and first communions, we took as our theme spirituality, and in particular the ecumenical spirituality which develops in an interchurch family.

We were fortunate in our two main speakers. The Revd John Morrow, leader of the Corrymeela Community, spoke about spirituality out of his own experience of being a Presbyterian minister and leading an ecumenical community in extremely difficult circumstances. He told us we should think of spirituality in terms of asking ourselves what we need for our journey. What is our bread? He spoke of a spirituality of listening, and reminded us that dialogue is possible only where there is real listening, and that this is as true of marriage as it is of the relationship between our churches. He invited us to be not only a bridge between the churches, but also a question mark to them. They should see us - and ask questions. But we should not forget that bridges are made to be walked on, and that this can be a painful experience.

Fr George Kilcourse was visiting us from the USA for the second time. Since the Lingfield conference two years ago he has succeeded in getting the American AIF off the ground, and I have no doubt English AIF will soon be outnumbered. He inspired us with his vision and confidence in us, as well as through the worship he led in the Croi, Corrymeela's chapel.

The vision of an interchurch family, he said, was larger than that of the churches we come from. This is our gift to the churches, but our anger and frustration must also be our gift and we must offer these as gifts too, generously and graciously. We must stretch the imagination of the churches (suggesting they are suffering from the crisis of a starved imagination). He said that AIF couples have Easter instincts; we are a manifestation of koinonia, of true community. He asked us to allow our bond with our churches to be not a chain, but an umbilical cord, through which life passes.

In commenting on the interchurch families he has known, he said that he was impressed by our solidarity, by our refusal to be divided. We must continue to be who we are, and must go on not doing what divided us. We must recognise our identity, and claim it. He accepted that there was the possibility of holy anarchy in what he was saying, but spoke of a creative tension, and the fact that chaos was needed before creation could begin. The Spirit, he said, would animate.

It is easy to be deeply moved, even exhilarated, at conferences like these. But we were solidly based at Corrymeela. Reality surrounded us, and the security checks at Belfast airport were no figment of the imagination. I believe it is good for us to hear this side of the argument now and again. Several delegates felt they had to point out that we are not saints, that marriage is as difficult for us as for anyone else, and that we do not choose the path we are on - we must take it for the sake of our family life. We do not want to be put on a pedestal because we do not feel worthy of the position. But both George and John Morrow were amused at our anxieties. They told us that we did not have to do anything, we had only to exist, and brought us back to the theme of spirituality by their talk of being, not acting.

The conference was not all deep discussion. We visited Ireland's version of the 'eighth wonder of the world', Giant's Causeway, and those of us who went prepared to scoff at the pebbles came back marveling at the columns of basalt. We enjoyed some of the best weather I'll wager Northern Ireland has ever seen, and we took part in a Ceilidh which wore out anyone who had strength left from the discussions to take part.

The worship, as always, was wonderful. The children sat on enormous beanbags around the altar, first communion was celebrated for Emma and Sarah, and we experienced koinonia as I'm sure ARCIC intended to define it. A personal highlight for me was singing a hymn in Irish at the Church of Ireland service with which we ended the conference, but Corrymeela's service book was international enough to provide the French version of 'Thine be the glory', which we sang with great enthusiasm. 1992, when the next international conference will be held in Scotland, will hold no fears for us.

So where do we go from here? Each international conference is like a stepping stone on our journey. George was telling us gently that we have not yet succeeded in sharing our experience fully with our churches. We, too, are the people of God, and we must share what we have, generously and graciously. What we have is the experience of a truly ecumenical life. An ecumenical spirituality is as natural to us as the air that we breathe. Our churches have only yet caught glimpses of that spirituality, and of that vision.

As always, we looked for practical applications. We cannot share our experience personally with every individual priest, minister, and congregation, much less with bishops and other church leaders. But we must take our responsibilities seriously. Our next conference in Scotland will gather together our stories, the experiences of our families. In England, we are going to try to gather these stories into a book, and you will be hearing more about this project soon. When we meet next as an international conference in 1992, we hope to have responded to George's challenge. We hope to be able to share our experience more fully with our churches.

Mary Bard

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