In May 2019, the student residents of Barat House – a Methodist / Roman Catholic student intentional community house at the University of Roehampton – embarked on a trip to Rome, Italy, with some of the University of Roehampton’s multi-faith Chaplaincy and the Heads of Digby Stuart and Southlands Colleges, to explore ecumenical links. Here Ginny Jordan-Arthur, Catholic Chaplain at Digby Stuart College, reflects on the trip.
The summer has fast arrived, though it feels like we’re only just slowing down from our whirlwind trip/pilgrimage/exploration/conference/retreat to Rome and the fruits of such an experience will continue to ripen as the summer moves on and we have the gift of hindsight. I have given the trip so many descriptions as it really did feel like it ticked a number of boxes. As the Revd Nicola Morison and I started to shape the trip we had no idea the breadth of experience we would be able to squeeze into just a few days. However, we had wonderful people waiting in Rome ready to offer us hospitality, thought provoking insight and possibly the most knowledgeable tour guide in all of Rome.
The group comprised of our two Heads of College: Dr Christopher Stephens (Southlands) and Dr Gulliver Ralston (Digby Stuart), myself and Nicola as the college chaplains, Sabiha Iqbal our Muslim Chaplain, both Chaplaincy Community Workers, who are also the residential leaders in the intentional community house, Ruth Asfaha and Bill Topping and then six of our residential students. As most of our students were coming to the end of their final year it felt right that this was a time for retreat, a chance for them to reflect together on the joys and challenges of living so intensely with each other for the past year. At the same time it provided a chance for them to gain some insight into how different Christian traditions are working together as they head out to join new communities away from the university. It was also for many a first trip to Rome, so a chance to take in the amazing architecture and history was eagerly anticipated. For the wider team we also saw this was a great opportunity to reflect on the purpose of nurturing an ecumenical community and to hear about the work that our providing bodies (Catholic and Methodist) do together, to reflect on our shared journey and the desire for unity.
We arrived in Rome mid-afternoon after a very early start from Roehampton and with the shortest of turn arounds we were out of the hotel door and navigating the tourist-filled streets of Rome as we headed up to the Spanish Steps and to a small chapel next to the Trinità dei Monti church. Our first stop on this pilgrimage was to visit the original Mater Admirabilis, a fresco painting that can be found in every Society of the Sacred Heart founded school, including Digby Stuart College. Here we sat in a small chapel, in front of a painting that has become very familiar to all in the community house and started to reflect on why we had come. We were joined at the chapel by Revd Dr Tim Macquiban who was not only a wonderful host, taking us from here onto Ponte Sant’ Angelo and the Methodist Ecumenical Centre where we set up base for the weekend, but who also imparted so much information of every piazza and church we walked past that I’m sure we wouldn’t have been more informed if we had paid a tour guide to walk us. His enthusiasm for Rome and the ecumenical work he is involved in captured the imagination of even the most wearied traveller. Tim walked us through the narrow streets down to the river and up to the roof terrace at Ponte Sant’ Angelo Church.
While at the Ecumenical centre we heard about the work of the Methodist Ecumenical Office and spent some time reflecting on the ecumenical nature of the Barat House community and the expectations laid out in their ‘rule of living’ document that each student in the house commits to. After lots of reflections we headed out for dinner where we were joined by Sr Dr Bernie Porter, Treasurer General of the Society of the Sacred Heart and ex Vice-Chancellor to Roehampton University. Sr Bernie shared a bit of her story in Rome and the work of the Society of the Sacred Heart and along with Tim shared how ecumenical ties between our churches and across our university have deep roots. After a bit more night time sightseeing we arrived at our hotel exhausted but very much welcomed to Rome.
Sunday allowed us the opportunity to join worship at Ponte Sant’ Angelo Church where we celebrated World Church Sunday and heard inspiring stories based on this year’s theme: longer tables, lower fences. The group were especially taken by the reflection shared by Fiona Kendall on the work of Mediterranean Hope in Rome. The church then extended the gift of hospitality and we enjoyed a shared lunch before heading to the Ecumenical Garden project. Here we again rested from the busyness of Rome to reflect on everyone’s time in the intentional community and what each member of the community will be taking away with them. With Tim in full tour guide mode we then had a wonderful whirlwind view of the Colosseum (outside) and San Clemente Church, as well as sampling some delicious gelato and heading back towards the river and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini Church for English Mass. Later that evening we visited La Trattoria de Gli Amici for dinner. This is a restaurant supported by the community of Sant’ Egidio where people with disabilities work together with professionals and friends who help voluntarily to offer a friendly and welcoming dining experience and another glimpse at intentional community.
Our last full day was spent in the Vatican City with again a mixture of sightseeing and reflection. We spent our morning at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity where the Revd Tony Currer, who is the Official for Relations with Anglicans and Methodists, welcomed us and spoke about the work he is involved in in creating dialogue between our churches. As a group we represented three Christian traditions (Anglican, Methodist, Catholic) and to hear about the hopes and challenges of our churches in moving towards unity was helpful in guiding us in our own reflection on an ecumenical house. Tony spoke thoughtfully about the journey our churches have been on since the Second Vatican Council and sent us away with plenty to ponder. We then headed in to the Vatican museum for the afternoon before finishing in St Peter’s Basilica. After three days of nonstop engagement we woke up on our last day to take the student community back to the Ecumenical Centre for one last session. Each of us reflected quietly on our own journeys, what roots us in our place and where are we travelling from that place. The students were encouraged to think about their own rule of life that they could take with them from their experience of living in intentional community. With the positive vibes from Tim, Bernie and Tony around ecumenism we left feeling tired but knowing we’re part of a story that has a firm foundation and based on a real hope.