Une Entente Cordiale

by Gerry Lynch last modified 12 May, 2016 04:40 PM

Wiltshire Benefice finds much in common on visit to Normandy parish

“Joyful, enlightening, generous, fantastic, marvellous, accommodating, development, gastronomic!”

These words summed up the visit of a group from Whitton Benefice (six villages near Marlborough, including Ramsbury) to the Parish of Notre Dame des Bois in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Évreux in Normandy, with which Salisbury has been twinned for decades.

The Revd Candice Marcus, Team Vicar of the Whitton Benefice, said the visit, which she helped to organise, “was most enjoyable and very thought-provoking”, marked by warm welcomes and a feast of good Norman food and drink!

A group from Notre Dame des Bois had visited Wiltshire in 2014, and Candice noted once again the similarities between the communities, both in rural areas with small villages. In Notre Dame des Bois, one full-time priest serves 17 churches; Whitton, with the equivalent of two full-time priests serving 6 churches, seems almost well staffed in comparison!

In such a context, the ministry of lay people is essential to maintaining a strong Christian witness, so the first item of the formal programme enabled both sides to share their experiences. In both the Church of England and the French Roman Catholic Church, in rural communities especially, lay people lead in aspects of ministry including reaching out to young children and families, developing faith and preparing people for confirmation, preparing people for marriage, preparing and taking funerals, pastoral work locally and solidarity with the wider world.

With structures set to change soon in Whitton, the way in which Notre Dame du Bois organises itself with its Equipe d’Animation Pastoral (a small team responsible for overall management) had pertinent lessons for the English delegation.

On Sunday, the visitors were privileged to take part in an “informal, joyful and wonderfully accessible” celebration of the Eucharist – being invited to read the lesson, say prayers and to help lead the singing.

On Monday, the guests from Whitton took part in a special service in the local church in Pinterville linked the Pope’s declaration of a year of Jubilee, mercy and forgiveness. There, they considered the principle of pilgrimage, of Jesus as the door through which we enter the kingdom of God.

The visitors also had the chance to see some local sights – visits to Monet’s house in Giverney with its beautiful gardens, to Rouen Cathedral, and to the modern and peaceful Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc in the city.

Both the Wiltshire and Norman friends learned a great deal and laughed a great deal together. At the departed a blessing was sung (in English) for each other:

May God’s blessing be upon you now; may you know of his great love for you.
May God’s blessing be upon you now - right where you are.

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