South West Area
gather at


Duccio's Last Supper

Together for prayer, reflection and friendship ...

Maison Diocesaine d'Accueil, Merville, France
Monday, 1st June until Friday, 5th June 2009

A report of the week by Fr William Agley
Parish Priest of St Mary and St Pauls’ Cray
and OGF Committee Member

At the beginning of June, the second of the Clergy Gatherings in Merville took place. While this was the turn of the clergy of the South West Area of the Diocese, the whole Diocese was well represented in this large group of priests and deacons (70+). Well represented also were the religious ministering in Southwark, and clergy from overseas who are currently ministering here.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and it was wonderful to see the clergy enjoying each other’s company and working, reflecting and praying together. Each day was permeated with prayer - Morning, Evening and Night prayer were said in common, Mass was celebrated daily, and time was spent together before the Blessed Sacrament each evening. There was also plenty of time for fellowship of the less liturgical variety, as everyone enjoyed the abundant offerings of the Merville cuisine. Some took time to visit local sites, and many enjoyed time together in what was known as the Café Bar.

The schedule for each of the Merville Weeks is the same, and the week began with a welcome from the Archbishop, together with his reflections on ministry in our society at this time, with the challenges and opportunities that these present.

This time, the spiritual input was given by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. He took as his theme - Being Between a Rock and a Hard Place. He recognised that clergy live on the edges, in the sense that, while being part of the Church, we are living and working in an environment involving people of all beliefs - and none. He went on to look at how we can flourish there, without either retreating into a ghetto or being assimilated by the society in which we live and work. He also gave enlightening input on leadership and hope.

Once again Fr Paddy Sweeney - from the Archdiocese of Dublin - spoke on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In a presentation entitled When Stones Get in Your Shoes, he looked at various difficulties the clergy can face in their ministry. The title of his presentation highlighted that clergy can all experience difficulties, which are not in themselves crippling, but can become so if they are not addressed - like stones in your shoes. He examined a number of these stones in an insightful and humorous way, as well as giving some helpful tips on removing them or, better still, keeping them out in the first place.

On the Thursday afternoon, Bishop Paul Hendricks spoke, giving some of his own reflections on Priesthood and the Eucharist, which had been developed by what had been said during the week.

The accommodation at Merville was very comfortable, and the hospitality of the staff was, once again, excellent. The whole group enjoyed a delightful dinner out on the Wednesday evening in a hotel nearby, which more than rose to the occasion. The highlight of the evening had to be Fr Michael Murphy’s after-dinner speech. The Thursday evening entertainment in the Café Bar revealed hidden talents of many of the clergy, and offered music, singing and story-telling from various countries and continents.

The Merville experience was a wonderful one for everyone who took part. Everything that happened during the week reminded the clergy that they belong to a close brotherhood, and fraternal ties were  created, renewed and strengthened. There can be no doubt that this time spent together will be a source of blessing for the clergy and for the Diocese as a whole. After the final week in October, we can all look forward to seeing how the experience will enable our Diocese to grow, and to bear fruit in the future.


A report of the week by Margaret Philpot
OGF Team Member

It was a slightly daunting prospect to be one of four women spending five days with 72 priests, including an archbishop and two bishops, in a former seminary somewhat off the beaten track in northern France. We were part of the eight strong OGF team acting as "Marthas" at the event, but also attending the talks.

The atmosphere of the seminary had its effect on some of the men as they arrived on Monday. On seeing me, my Parish Priest was heard to comment (humorously) on the strangeness of seeing "ladies" in the corridor. But somehow the smoothness of the organisation of the week, thanks mainly to Mgr Gerry Ewing and Anita, the rhythm of prayer throughout the day, the excellent food and wine, the friendliness of the clergy and the inspiring talks, made for a beneficial time for all of us.

I am left with several personal thoughts after the talks by the Archbishop, Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP and Fr Paddy Sweeney, mainly, I suspect, because of their relevance to me and to anyone attempting to live the Christian life: the challenges arising from secularism "to live on the edges, like leaves on the tree" (Fr Radcliffe); an equally challenging model of leadership illustrated by an unusual way of looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the need to live in the present; "Man is born to live, not to prepare to live". Fr Paddy Sweeney's theme "Stones get in your shoes", including such issues as loneliness, aging, impotence in the face of family turbulence, and seeming failure, obviously struck home to the audience, who produced an additional ten "stones" to Fr Paddy's list of thirteen. I was reminded of some of the difficulties of the solitary life of the priest. Many of the laity however share similar burdens in life, even if we don't live alone. Fr Paddy suggested "supportive conversation" as an aid to clerical problems. I felt that this support could have been elaborated on, and I was more than a little sad that the idea of collaborative ministry was not developed in this context.

Reception on the Monday evening

In the Conference Room before Fr Timothy Radcliffe's talk

Fr Timothy Radcliffe at the lectern

Fr Timothy Radcliffe with Fr John O'Toole, Director of the Christian Education Centre

Conversation outside

Fr Paddy Sweeney

In the Conference Room before Fr Paddy Sweeney's talk

Mgr Gerry Ewing wires Fr Paddy Sweeney for sound

The group photo

Archbishop Kevin checking the photo

Fr Paddy Sweeney, Archbishop Kevin and Bishop Paul

In the sacristy before Mass

Mass in the chapel

Fr Alan McLean at the organ

Mass in the chapel

Lunch on the final day

Exuberance at the end of the week

Waiting for the coach to Lille where they boarded Eurostar to St Pancras International