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Province gathers for Annual General Meeting
11 April 2012

On Tuesday 10th April 2012 the British Province of Carmelites began its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Aylesford Priory in Kent. The AGM is a time for the friars of the Province's various communities to gather together with collaborators from the wider Carmelite Family for a time of fraternity, spiritual reflection, and discussion about the future development of the Order in Britain. The AGM will conclude after lunch on Friday 13th April.

On the Tuesday evening approximately 50 participants gathered in the conference centre at Aylesford for a celebration of Evening Prayer devised by the brothers who are in simple vows. The participants were welcomed by the Prior Provincial, Fr. Wilfrid McGreal, O.Carm., who also passed on apologies from those unable to be present.

Fr. Wilfrid then introduced the facilitator for the meeting, Rt. Rev. Patrick Lynch, SS CC. Before becoming an auxiliary bishop in Southwark Archdiocese, Bishop Pat had served as Anglo-Irish Provincial of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, so he has great experience of the challenges and opportunities facing religious orders in today's Church. After describing his own warm relationship to the Carmelite Order in different parts of the world over his years of ministry, Bishop Pat spoke about the timetable for the gathering and introduced its theme: "A Word of Hope and of Salvation".

Bishop Patrick with Fr. Wilfrid at the AGM

The first evening concluded with the participants sharing social time together.

After Morning Prayer on Wednesday 11th April the Carmelites gathered for reflection on the Carmelite charism of prayer, community and service.

Using a Lectio Divina style of reflection, passages on the theme of 'prayer' were read aloud from the 1995 Constitutions of the Carmelite Friars (chapters 66, 77 and 79). After a period of silence the passages were read again, and participants were invited to share any word or phrase that struck them. Then in small table groups the Carmelite brothers and sisters discussed three questions:

  • How can we Carmelites improve the quality of prayer and the practice of the presence of God in our busy lives?
  • What does our contemplative tradition of spirituality tell us about having and being a listening heart?
  • How do we nurture all this using our traditional forms of prayer and finding new ways of prayer in our daily apostolic lives?
After discussion for about 20 minutes each group fed back to the wider gathering.

Carmelite friars, sisters and laity gathered for group reflection.

Bishop Pat summarised the key ideas that emerged in discussion, and then invited participants to reflect on 'community', in the light of chapters 29 and 30 in the friars' Constitutions. Again, Carmelites spent time in silent meditation, and then in small groups pondered together three questions:

  • In what ways do our Carmelite communities model the Jerusalem community we find described in Acts of the Apostles?
  • How do we respect and nurture individuals and their gifts?
  • How can we open to new forms of community life?
Again, the fruits of discussions were shared with the whole AGM, and Bishop Pat summarised some of the key points.

Feedback to the wider group.

Those present - friars, sisters, tertiaries in Province leadership, co-workers and supporters of the Province - then took part in a celebration of the Eucharist presided over by Bishop Pat. Being in the Easter Season, the Gospel of the day was Christ's appearance on the road to Emmaus, which provided much food for thought in the bishop's homily.

In the afternoon the participants turned to reflect on the question of 'service'. After hearing chapters 21 and 24 of the friars' Constitutions read aloud, and spending time in silence, participants were invited to ponder the following questions in small groups:

  • How far are we Carmelites a praying and serving community 'in the midst of the people'?
  • How do I/we live my/our prophetic calling in our Carmelite commitment to justice and peace?
  • Does our service as Carmelites speak a word of hope and salvation to the people in whose lives we share?
Again, responses were fed back in plenary session, and summarised by the bishop.

Brother Kurt (second from left) is one of the three novices at Aylesford this year
from other provinces of the Order who helped to provide
an international perspective on the discussions.

The day of group reflection came to a close with the reading of a text about Mission from a letter by Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., former Prior General of the Order. In small groups participants pondered two questions:

  • What is our distinctive Carmelite contribution to mission?
  • How do we discern what God's work is for us today?
The day of reflecting on the Carmelite charism and the shared values of the Order laid the ground for upcoming discussions at the Annual General Meeting about the future development of the British Province.

Sìne Cameron-Mowat and Thomas Condie are two Lay Carmelites from Scotland
who as members of the Third Order National Consultative Body
were invited to take part in the Annual General Meeting.

A wonderful day of fraternity and reflection concluded with Evening Prayer, supper, and recreation together.

Informal discussion between sessions.

Please keep the participants, their sharing and their deliberations in your prayers as the Annual General Meeting continues.

Photography: Johan Bergström-Allen