Monday, 12 December 2011

Shush! I have become an ecumenical bureaucrat

So it has happened. I have become an ecumenical bureaucrat. I suppose I'd like to think I'm a rather unlikely bureaucrat, (though I am a good administrator, that's not the same thing). I suspect my ecumenical skills lie more in ecumenical enthusiasm and ecumenical activism. Maybe I'm a bit of an agitprop ecumenist - both in the sense of agitation and propaganda and in the sense of theatre - wanting to tell the story.
Today in my newly acquired role as bureaucrat I took part for the first time in a national bilateral dialogue meeting between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran and Reformed churches in France. Together with Franck Lemaître o.p. I am "co-secrétaire" to the group. Today I learnt the ropes by looking over his shoulder as he typed over the minutes of the last meeting to begin to create today's minutes! He's obviously an old hand at being a bureaucrat, he also has perfect handwriting and seems to know instinctively when to take notes and when to let the discussion just flow on. Very interesting - and of course writing the notes does give you power to some extent. One of the problems I have at the moment is that years of consecutive interpreting between French and English means that I naturally tend to take notes in the language other than the one being spoken. So I had to make a conscious effort to just take notes today - there isn't too much in English in my jottings, though I did have to shake myself back to the task in hand once or twice: "stop thinking about how to translate that and concentrate on the content".
The group meeting today was newly constituted and set to begin a fresh round of dialogue based on looking at previous ecumenical accords in France relating to marriage and baptism, with a view to providing more up to date guidance - given how much society and the churches have changed over the past 40 years there is real need for this. So there was quite a bit of brainstorming going on, it was a lively and good natured meeting and a privilege to listen in and even contribute to such a group.
One thing that the group also wanted to think about from the outset had to do with "reception" - how will we get the fruits of our reflections and writing to those people who will find it useful. So we are trying to build some thinking about communication into the dialogue from the outset which can't be a bad thing, and may also have some impact on the shape and content of the dialogue. The hope is that the group will be able to work fairly quickly on the tasks it has set itself.
One of the main reasons for this is that the previous "comité mixte" ended up meeting for around ten years and produced the report pictured here "Discerner le Corps du Christ". This time the comité really hope to meet for less time and to write a shorter report. Seems like a perfect project for an ecumenical activist turned bureaucrat to act as secretary in such circumstances. I started the day rather worried that I wouldn't be up to the task and ended thinking what a real pleasure it had been.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Ouff! So, perhaps now back to the blog ... of ecumenical springtime ...

Well, this evening it seems to be happening. I seem to feel that I have at last properly arrived in my new "home" in Paris. Finally the internet is working (getting a phone line installed took two months!) and I am actually at home and well enough to contemplate blogging (I've had a nasty bout of bronchitus the past 10 days). Tonight will be the first time in two and a half months that I have slept eight straight nights in my own bed in the flat here and I'm also looking forward to spending every night between now and December 24 in the same place too. Some of the time I've been away from Paris I've of course been in that other bed which is mine (or at least partly mine!) in Ferney Voltaire, but much of the time away has been been visiting local ecumenical groups in different parts of France, on speaking engagements or representing the Fédération Protestante de France (FPF) . Perhaps I should start a special guide to overnight stays and food in some of France's religious houses. So far I would have to say that the delicious mixed vegetable and parsnip soup eaten on a stormy evening in "Douvres la Délivrande" would top my list of delicacies. (The photo of the sky is from there.)
I am also getting the opportunity to pray with other Christians in many different places and this is a particular joy. I must start taking photos of the chapels where we share in these times of silence, song, word and prayer ... sometimes of course the prayers take place just in meeting rooms too. So far my two favourite chapels have been at the Frères de la Campagne in Meaux and at the Domaine St Joseph in Lyon.
To say that my learning curve has been steep would be an understatement. Doing everything in French, especially almost everything I write, has made me hyper aware of my failings with the language and more hesitant than I might usually be. Things take longer too ... though I find writing pretty hard work in English too truth be told. The French have an amazing capacity for frontal learning in "colloques" etc and I think I am used to having more tea and coffee breaks in my life! I had also forgotten just how bad I am at learning names and how tiring starting in a new place is ... I didn't expect to miss Stephen as much as I do, but conversely I am also really enjoying time on my own in my still rather empty but getting more comfortable by the moment flat.
Part of me had hoped and expected that in starting this new job I would somehow just press a switch and the past would be forgotten or transformed. Ah well. I suppose you can guess it wasn't quite like that ... Another reason I have not been blogging. When you wake at six in the morning in tears it is sometimes better not to bore the world with all that. That intensity of grieving, welling up from the unconscious and taking me unawares seems at last to be passing. Much as I have learned about myself through it, I am deeply, deeply grateful that it seems to be ebbing. More about this time as I move forwards. But it has been good for me to be silent on the blog front for a while, though perhaps the healing would have been faster had I been writing.
Anyway as for my new job, it is extraordinary and terrifying and brilliant and hard work. I hover between feeling like a complete fraud (whatever made me think I was an ecumenist?) and thinking, yes I think I may have a real contribution to make here. Honestly though, I have been having quite a bit of fun, you could look at some of the videos my colleagues made of me here - folk seem to particularly like the bonus one. I am working with a group of extremely hard working and talented colleagues, there is a mass of great creative work going on based from the FPF. It has been balm to my soul in this new environment simply to be trusted. I had forgotten what that was like and how very beautiful it is. On this Sunday evening the thing I give thanks for most is "la confiance", it a very lovely French word and a great feeling.

So here are a few glimpses of things I would have blogged about had I been blogging ...

  • A great photo of myself and an Orthodox priest in full liturgical regalia sitting on the front row of Les Etats généraux du Christianisme both of us taking notes on our Ipads - the photographer just couldn't resist. Now we just need to see if Apple do religious sponsorship!
  • Explaining my job to a young Tunisian woman while waiting for the RER to (not) arrive. "Oh but you should become Muslim" she said. An interesting conversation on day one of my new job and her fourth day in France!
  • The shock as an Orthodox priest drove myself and my Roman Catholic colleague to the railway station in Caen on a short cut through the red light district made up of old camper vans each with a candle lit on the dashboard. Most of the women came from Africa.
  • The deeply beautiful and moving sound of over 150 bishops singing in Gregorian plain chant in front of the Grotte de Lourdes and the Roman Catholic bishops conference. I was one of only four women present.
  • Having lunch with my church president and him deciding we'll go back to work to have a coffee as the price for an espresso in the local restaurants is to say the least prohibitive and would be a sizeable percentage of our salaries!
  • Still, but still getting lost in the Gare St Lazare ... ugh.
  • Enjoying the beauty of Paris even if I have so far done nothing cultural whatsoever.
  • Must try and say something at some point about L'histoire de la virilité and all the stuff about la théorie du genre.
  • A wonderful conversation about the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle with a woman who has for over ten years been updating the country information and writing new prayers in French for this wonderful ecumenical resource. A great link between my former and new jobs and i get to join the group this week!
  • And finally lunchtime today. We ate with the brothers at the Couvent St Jacques and I felt very privileged to be at table with four very eminent ecumenists: Hervé Legrand, Michel Mallèvre, Franck Lemaître and Stephen Brown. I'd like to say that I held my own, but really I have no illusions, but strangely I didn't feel too much like a fraud, just like I might need to have a different kind of conversation to be able to make my contribution. Ok I admit it, I was completely out of my depth. I think it was at this point that I realised that living with Dr B is a bit like living with a Protestant Dominican!
Enough I'm back on the blog, still alive and beginning to find my way around my new life. I am enjoying it. And one day I will blog about the infamous line "Bar à whisky, 500 mètres dans cette direction!" For now perhaps all you need to know is that I wander around talking to folk about ecumenical springtime. It's not a bad life.