Hoping for hope

By Hanna Albrecht (From Seeds June – July 2024)

What are you hoping to gain by the end of this week?’ our instructor Colin asks us on the first day, and the silence lingers heavily in the room.

I don’t know how to answer. I’ve come here tired and exhausted.

In the last year, I’ve struggled with the lack of response the world is giving to the climate crisis. I’ve witnessed an increasing amount of hate poured out against people who are different, particularly the trans and nonbinary communities. I’ve seen the death toll in Palestine climb every day for months. I’ve wrestled with the fear that no matter how much I advocate for peace through justice, it will never be enough.

When I look around the room, I can see the same tiredness in the faces of the people around me – public health workers, diplomats, religious leaders, educators, all gathered here because they have gotten stuck, one way or another, in working for peaceful change.

‘I’m hoping for hope,’ I answer when it is finally my turn. We’ve gathered in a sunlit room at the edge of Northern Ireland, in a place that has dedicated itself to building peace and connection between people and fostering the hope that I am searching for so desperately.

For five days, we have come together in the Corrymeela Community to learn about ‘Dialogue for Peaceful Change’ (DPC), a mediation model focused on understanding the nature of conflict and facilitating mediative dialogue. We spend a day exploring our own attitudes towards conflict – a difficult one for me, as someone who loves to avoid it as much as possible!

I scribble furiously as we turn towards the neurobiological foundations of conflict on Day Two. What happens in our brains when we go into conflict with one another? How can we make sure that people stay open to being in relationship with one another, to empathise with one other?

For three days, we practise our mediation skills by working through difficult conflict scenarios from around the world. I am still tired because it’s tiring work, and the days are long. But I am no longer hopeless.

With every passing day, we grow closer as a community. When someone gets stuck, another person steps in to help out. We watch each other grow in confidence, admit our fears to one another during early morning walks along the coast, belly-laugh together during evening social times around the fireplace. And by the end of the week, it really does feel possible, sometimes, that conflicting parties can find common ground. That people can be courageous and empathetic despite pain and fear clawing at their hearts. That a new story can be told.

As part of the DPC model, we never mediate alone. That is what sticks with me more than anything else. We are not supposed to be doing this work by ourselves, we are part of a community. When I lose hope, someone else will be able to offer it to me with an outstretched hand. Which is also the way that we live out our faith, not in isolation from God and others, but in messy and authentic community, ready to tell new stories, waiting with an outstretched hand.

With grateful thanks to the communities who made it possible for me to attend this training: The URC through the Discipleship Development Fund, AUC’s Our Tribe, and a dedicated Family Group of the Iona Community.