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.