Ecumenist and leader at Corrymeela centre

Sat, Jan 10, 2009, 00:00

The Rev Dr John Morrow:THE REV Dr John Morrow, a former leader of Corrymeela who died on New Year's Day aged 77, will be widely remembered for his significant contribution to ecumenism in Northern Ireland and much further afield.

Dr Morrow was a Presbyterian minister who exhibited many of the best qualities of his tradition - fairness, honesty and integrity and a certain cragginess and independence of thought. He made a massive contribution to the inter-church Corrymeela Community for reconciliation and followed most ably in the footsteps of its iconic founder, the Rev Dr Ray Davey.

John Morrow was born into a liberal Presbyterian and farming family in Northern Ireland. He was educated at Campbell College Belfast and at Queen's, where he took primary and master's degrees in agriculture. He decided to study for the ministry and completed his theological training at New College Edinburgh and at the former Assembly's College, now Union Theological College.

His first charge was at Seymour Hill Presbyterian Church near Lisburn, but he was no ordinary minister. He pursued a career in the difficult, and at that time controversial, area of ecumenical relations.

He was a member of the Iona Community, which greatly shaped his philosophy and Christian witness. He was one of a small group which established the Corrymeela Community at Ballycastle in the mid-1960s, just before the outbreak of the Troubles.

Dr Morrow was chaplain to overseas students in Glasgow from 1967 and from 1971, he was a student chaplain in Dublin where he helped to establish the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation.

In 1975 he became Presbyterian chaplain at Queen's University, where Ray Davey had been a founding predecessor. When Davey retired as Corrymeela leader, Dr Morrow seemed an obvious successor. He quickly demonstrated his own breadth of vision, as well as his sturdy independence and leadership qualities.

He was charming and gregarious, with a hearty laugh. He was never at a loss for words and often argued his case at any gathering.

At times he could appear somewhat obdurate, but this was born of deep principle and it was never personal or deliberately unhelpful.

"I can live with a bit of disagreement on the basis that we have to work things through," he once said. "We can't pretend that we have a common mind on everything."

In his 12 years as leader at Corrymeela, he helped to open up dialogue with the main political parties, including Sinn Féin. He developed important links with church figures in the Netherlands, including the controversial Roel Kaptein, who shared with Corrymeela some of the stimulating philosophy of the noted critic and Bible commentator, René Girard.

Dr Morrow worked with others in helping families suffering intimidation and he played a role in the foundation of the Committee for the Administration of Justice. He was also a member of the Faith and Politics Group, comprising Protestants and Catholics from North and South.

After Corrymeela, he worked in association with the Irish School of Ecumenics as a lecturer and Northern Ireland co-ordinator.

Dr Morrow was predeceased several years ago by his wife Shirley. He is survived by their children Duncan, Philip, Alison and Neil.

Dr John Morrow: born June 28th, 1931; died January 1st, 2009