Tess Ward is a hospice chaplain and writer of prayers and liturgies. She facilitates both traditional Christian services and more personal, spiritually focussed ceremonies. Her books include The Celtic Wheel of the Year and Alternative Pastoral Prayers.
On the first weekend of February, 16 Christians and 16 Pagans/Druids were invited to Ammerdown retreat centre in Bath to take part in a Conversation called “Celebrating Planet Earth”. Ammerdown have a history of facilitating these conversations eg between Protestant and Catholic Northern Irish and other groups of people who have warred in the past. They were clearly good at it. 32 meant that significant people were not included but 32 was a wonderful number to have the kind of conversation required – neither too many nor too few. Ammerdown got out of the way except to provide delicious food, superb hospitality and a wise and quiet presence. Denise Cush, Professor of Religion and Education at Bath Spa University opened, closed and moderated the weekend very well. We had 3 pairs of talks – given by a Pagan and a Christian followed by circles of response to what we had heard. In the first pair “Addressing our Respective Fears and Prejudices”, Graham Harvey (Reader in Religious Studies at OU and author of several books on Paganism) and Steve Hollinghurst (Researcher in Evangelism to Post Culture at Church Army’s Research Unit in Sheffield) both spoke hilariously and knowledgeably about the “elephants in the room”. In the second pair, “Celtic Connections”, Simon Howell, (Team vicar in the Parish of Keynsham and Inter-Faith Adviser in the Diocese of Bath and Wells) and Philip Carr-Gomm (Leader of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) took different approaches. Simon addressed the issue of given that we know so little about the Celts is it not still important that in our imagination, they inhabit a strong spiritual place. Philip talked how Druidry and Christianity have always had shared creative history and about St Presence Community in Brittany who are Christian and Druid –and how moved spiritually he had been by receiving communion there. In the third pair ”Better Together” Liz Williams, (who writes for the Guardian and runs The Cat and Cauldron bookshop in Glastonbury) and myself spoke of the shadow in each of our traditions and of the things we share and can move forward on – a care for the environment, spiritual awareness and Liz added a dialogue of theoretical issues.
In my talk I talked about transformation and needing to meet our shadow in order to be transformed into a new and more integrated place. I invited the Christians to speak this lament with me:
O Divine One, Source of all,
who gives birth to diversity beyond our imagining.
We have failed to see your embodied presence
shining at the heart of all things
and so divided matter from spirit.
We have divided ourselves from your other creatures.
We have divided ourselves from the care of the earth.
We have divided men from women,
race from race
group from group.
We have divided creation from itself and so we have refused to become whole.
We are sorry and lament the pain we have caused in your name.
Mend our brokenness with your loving kindness
so we may open our hearts and hands to work with each other
for the healing and peace of all the earth.
Throughout the weekend we had times of “worship” celebrating Brigid and Imbolc and breathing in the outside world. Alison Eve and Paul Cudby from Ancient Arden Forest Church led these incredibly well. I loved the Ceile De chants, bannock bread and milk with Ali and tuning into our senses and breath with Paul. However, it seemed strange to me not to share out the sacred times with the Druid/Pagans as we had shared everything else. I felt I missed out there and when they offered an ending, I found the Awens (a chant from deep in the belly out invoking the divine energy of life) a truly wonderful way to end a ceremony. Of course the times in the bar were some of the best for being able to talk more.
In many ways this wasn’t a true conversation in that there was a fair showing of Pagan royalty on one side but on the Christian side, we were almost all Christians who had integrated some form of the Earth traditions into our spirituality and so were already very open to the conversation. However, the whole weekend was so warm and successful, many of us felt a need to take it forward. At the moment, the next step is not clear but we have a name – The Re-Enchantment Project.
We ended our time together in the whole weekend with the Druid’s Oath:
We swear, by peace and love to stand,
Heart to heart, and hand in hand.
Mark, O Spirit and hear us now,
Confirming this our sacred vow.