I went on a Episcopal Church clergy retreat in Lisbon from Monday to Wednesday. The theme of the retreat addresses, given by The Revd Stuart Hoke, a retired priest who had been a professor at General Theological Seminary in New York, was addiction. He spoke about growing up in the household of an alcoholic father and later himself coping with alcoholism. He explained how he had become a recovering alcoholic through the help of the twelve-step, AA, programme. One of the clergy present, a psychiatrist, commented that this approach was more effective than any medical treatment.
I found the retreat illuminating and instructive, not least for the company of my thoughtful fellow clergy. One striking thing that emerged was that the Lusitanian cathedral where we worshipped and met hosted AA and other voluntary meetings involving over 300 people each week. The Lusitanian bishop (the Lusitanian church is part of the Anglican Communion) regularly visits the groups and the relationship has been very fruitful. He said he had learnt much from his encounters and that, following his gesture of friendship, quite a few had begun to worship with his congregation. This remark made me and many others present realise that we should make stronger connections with AA and related groups that our churches host. In Nice, nine groups meet each week. I have always found them friendly and appreciative of the welcome we offer in the Hall. This is something we should value and see as part of our outreach.
When I returned from Lisbon, we had film night. The film was Godspell, which is based on St Matthew’s Gospel, the gospel set for Sunday readings throughout they year. Conscious that I would be back close to the start time but wanting to have the regular Wednesday Eucharist anyway, I celebrated the Eucharist in the Hall. This was an interesting innovation and provided an appropriate preparation for watching the film.