Report, St Albans Conference 2010,

Archdiocese of Western Europe : Ecumenical Patriarchate

St Albans Conference 2010

Once again the Deanery Conference was held at All Saints’ Pastoral Centre, London Colney. There were approximately 90 participants. Appropriately, in view of our recent traumas and upheavals, this year’s theme was: Healing and Transformation in Christ : From Darkness to Light.

1. Loss, Grief and the Process of Healing.   Fr John Breck
Loss can take many forms. It can be intensely personal, as in the case of a divorce or the death of a loved one. Even less serious losses can trigger severe grief (children leaving home, the ‘empty nest’ syndrome, retirement, feeling forgotten, loss of a sense of purpose in life). Loss is also associated with the uprooting process, as in the case of large ethnic groups which were displaced, disowned or exiled during the last century. Such loss is intergenerational. Second generation children of such groups lack both a personal and a national identity. Something similar has occurred recently within the Deanery: the loss of the London Cathedral, the calling in question of our ecclesial identity, etc.

As with the Gerasene demoniac  who threw himself at the feet of Christ, the first step we need to take is one of recognition and acknowledgement. The second step is equally important.  How do we surrender the situation into the hands of God? The answer requires first that we accept our powerlessness over the matter: the fact that we cannot change things except in ourselves.

Here we need to remember that each of us belongs to a common universal ‘royal priesthood’. The primary task of the priest is to offer. In this case it means holding ourselves and our communities up before God, acknowledging our hurt, confusion, anger and loss. It means recognising that everyone involved, including ourselves, has in some way contributed to what has happened, consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly.

Out of offering can come forgiveness: forgiveness that frees both us and those who have offended us. To say, ‘I forgive you’ is to affirm that by the grace of God we have passed beyond rancour and resentment. We may continue to suffer feelings of loss and regret and may well accept to live with our structural separation. What we should not accept is to live alienated from one another by a refusal to forgive. Like the Gerasene demoniac after he was healed, we have a mission, which can only be fulfilled if we are permeated by the spirit of forgiveness: namely, to proclaim the wonderful works that God has done for us, and the boundless mercy he has poured out upon us.

2. Christ healing the emotional life: through conflict to wholeness.  Frank Johnson
Frank began by stressing Christ’s compassion for human suffering. The Gospel healings are a validation of creation: an affirmation of the body and the material world. Healing is also achieved by the body of the Church caring for its members – virtually all of us have need of that support from time to time. However, for the Church to fulfil its role effectively our spirituality must be compassionate, not condemnatory.

Frank made the point that anger can be therapeutic. It is better to be angry than to suppress our feelings, which then work inwardly. The absence of anger is frequently associated with anxieties, neuroses and mental illness. It is sometimes said that one should not be angry if it is anything involving oneself. But is this really helpful? If you treat self badly you are likely to treat others badly, and the aim is to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Why do certain situations cause us to be angry? One needs discernment of what is in oneself (psychological baggage) and what is not.

In discussing how to deal with situations of conflict, Frank mentioned four positive qualities which can help us to find our way through periods of crisis. These are: (1) a really sound understanding of the faith – not simplistic rules, which can be a barrier to understanding; (2) some direct experience of God; (3) developing a sense of responsibility and decision making; (4) an ability to prioritize. The crucial thing about these four points is that they help us to become self-reliant. As Frank remarked: ‘Some of my best work could have been destroyed if I hadn’t assisted the patient to break from me.’

3. Forgiving and being forgiven      Fr David Gill
The road to forgiveness is complex and difficult. On the one hand we must not deny or suppress what we are feeling. We have to be patient and allow our feelings to settle. If we suppress our suffering the trauma is still there and will come out in some other way, often with severe consequences. On the other hand, and as we begin to recover from the initial trauma, we must be careful not to stoke our feelings. We also have to be aware that hurts inflicted by another person may reactivate earlier conflicts buried within our psyche.

There is a stage when we have to be aware of what our part may have been in the breakdown which has taken place. This self-examination, which is essential for healing, leads to repentance on our part and a better understanding of others.

In due course we have to seek reconciliation with those with whom we feel aggrieved – preferably face to face with the person, but if this is not possible then reconciliation has to be in our own heart. This should be a cause for great sadness. Nevertheless it is good for anger and hatred to resolve into sadness and love, even if the love is now agape rather than eros.

Above all we must want to love all who are in Christ.

4. Take heart: A Christian approach to healing    Lyn Breck
Lyn began by reminding us how Christ walked on the water and how Peter cried, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you…’ Jesus said, ‘Come,’ and Peter walked on the sea. But seeing the wind he was afraid. He began to sink, and cried out, ‘Lord save me!’  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’

Stepping out of the boat means taking risks: it means abandoning the comforts and the deceptions with which we attempt to protect ourselves. But it is the way to encounter Christ.

Lyn had much to say about addiction: alcoholism, drug addiction, addictive gambling, religiosity, workaholism, sexual addiction, etc., etc. The hallmark of addiction is denial. The rules are basically: Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel.

Recovery is possible but requires changing places, people, things. A crack addict cannot recover from crack addiction living in a crack house. Again we have to leave the boat.

Much of healing is about truth-telling. It is impossible to heal when we blame others. The healing process is for all of us, individually and together. Can we dare to ask the question: what are the spiritual benefits of whatever loss it is that we are now facing? Metropolitan Anthony remarked that each one of us resembles a wounded icon that we need to treat with tenderness and reverence, honouring what remains of its beauty rather than focussing on what has been lost.

Finally we have to ask ourselves: What would stepping out of the boat look like in my life? Or in our life together as a Christian community? How much conformity and comfort have we adopted as a means of furthering our own false sense of security?  Somewhere deep inside us we know that it is vital to get out of the boat, to take that risk to encounter Christ.

The Exarchate: a short explanation.        Archbishop Gabriel
One of the remarkable things about the Exarchate is that it is truly multi-national but rooted in Western Europe. It has a local dimension and responds to local needs.

The main problems are structural. According to the Greek understanding of the term an exarchate is a strictly limited form of mission. It does not allow for bishops in more than one country (hence the British Deanery). In this respect the Exarchate is a victim of its own success for it now encompasses an area of widely scattered parishes (more densely so in France) extending almost from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. Although Archbishop Gabriel did not pursue the point many of us, I suspect, found ourselves reflecting on the dangers of a situation in which ecclesiastical structures seem to take precedence over people’s needs.

This address was an appropriate opportunity for the Conference to show its immense appreciation of Archbishop’s close involvement with the British Deanery and he was treated to a prolonged standing ovation.

Conference Services
Throughout the years the chapel of the All Saints Pastoral Centre has been cherished. The first impression is one of brightness and lightness and magnificent windows. The West end round window is of glorious blue and white glass. The dark wooden choir stalls add to this effect by making a striking colour contrast.

Evening and morning prayers, Matins, and the Vigil all took place in the chapel. All these services were times of quiet and peace. This Episcopal liturgy, presided over by Archbishop Gabriel was a joyous, uplifting and memorable occasion. We witnessed the ordination of Deacon Christopher and the shouts of ‘axios’ were very loud and clear. The liturgy was also very spectacular with a long line-up of priests and deacons all in their impressive robes and this together with the wonderful choir enclosed us all in a time of majesty and prayerfulness. There was a spirit of warmth and togetherness in a quiet place away from the troubled world and where healing and transformation in Christ could start. This was especially appropriate in view of the theme of the conference.

The Party
On Sunday evening we held our now-traditional party. It was brilliant!!!
The top end of the range of really expensive wedding evening entertainment often includes fireworks, juggling, stilt walkers live bands etc. Well, no entertainment could have been better than the DIY variety we all enjoyed at the Deanery Conference. Amongst the items we had  were Telemann and Schubert sonatas of  international standard with viola, violin and piano, a superb pianist (Gregory Page, aged 14), a mother and daughter singing duet, a virtuoso tin whistle player, a group s Russian folk songs, a group singing French folk songs and a group singing Rembetika and Greek folk songs. (Who knows – there might be some English madrigals next year?)
The wine flowed freely and one of the bar staff was a monk/wine waiter/ raconteur. Mixed in with all this was Greek line dancing, a French round dance and then the really energetic Northumbrian Dashing White Sergeant. Nobody had a heart attack but no doubt bits of peelings and flakes dropped off a few aortas( or whatever happens to aortas under stress)!
It was a FUN evening and captured the feel good factor of the whole conference where there was an atmosphere of friendship, togetherness and faith in the future.

Response to the talks was overwhelmingly positive. Most people thought the number of talks offered was ‘just right’. One person added, ‘all seemed a little shorter this year and I found this helpful for concentrating and understanding.’ Another person remarked, ‘Half an hour is about right as comment, discussion and questions are fruitful.’ Of Archbishop Gabriel’s opening address one person commented, ‘A remarkable beginning to what could have been a difficult conference. Archbishop Gabriel set the tone and atmosphere of what has been a very remarkable weekend with a deep atmosphere of sharing /exchanges in a spirit of love. The best conference ever.’

Margaret Handley, Frances Thompson and Deacon Ian