How and when did you get involved with the European Network of Healthcare Chaplaincy?
In 1998, I first attended the 5th Consultation for Hospital Chaplaincy that took place in Rome, during which I presented a small paper on Orthodoxy and pastoral care to the sick. In Rome, we all agreed that more efforts needed to be made in forming more of a united European identity. Much to my surprise, at the conclusion of the Consultation in Rome, I was asked by the participants to organize and host the next consultation. Returning home, I immediately contacted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, asking for permission to do so. Enthusiastically, he agreed and asked that it take place at the Orthodox Academy in Crete.
Organizing the 6th Consultation was not an easy task. I had very little contact information of the participants that had attended the past meetings, emails accounts were then “in the making” and unavailable, so, all correspondence had to be done by way of what we call today “snail mail” (regular post services). Believe me, things moved along like a snail, very slow. In spite of the organizing difficulties that were encountered, the meeting took place and twenty-three representatives from fifteen chaplaincies arrived on the island of Crete at the Orthodox Academy for the 6th European Consultation of Hospital Chaplaincy.
The two years time lapse between the 5th and the 6th Consultation were decisive for Europe’s constitution as a united economic community. So it was that we were faced with the challenge of uniting as chaplaincies within this greater unity of nations. It was time of form a European Network for Health Care Chaplaincy! After great pains and speculations, this was done in that historic meeting in Crete in 2000. At the end of the meeting, I was asked to head the organizing committee that would form the “Standards for European Health Care Chaplaincy” and propose the administrative structure of the new Network to the participants of the 7th Consultation that was to take place in Turku, Finland.
In January 2002, Fred Coutts of Scotland, who had taken on the making of the ENHCC website, Kirsti Aalto, who was responsible for the organization of the next Consultation and Micheal Möller-Herr of Germany met me in Constantinople (Istanbul) at the Ecumenical Patriarchate for three full days of work to write up the draft of the “Standards Document”, which was presented in June to and approved by the participants of the 7th Consultation. Here, we also proposed a layout of the organization of the new Network, which was accepted. It was here that I was officially elected as the first Coordinator of the ENHCC for two years. Here I felt that I had taken on an overwhelming task.
Our next meeting was in Dublin, Ireland. It was a euphoric meeting to say, full of genuine friendship and a since of bonding, opened by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. During this, the 8th Consultation, the new Constitution of the Network was proposed and approved. At the end of the Consultation I, again, was unanimously re-elected for another four years of service, as the new constitution designated. I felt so embarrassed with everybody’s expression of trust and enthusiasm, but this, though, gave me reassurance and an incentive to continue.
The growing concern for palliative care in Europe, particularly expressed to Anne Vandenhoeck and myself in our meetings with the officials of the EU in Brussels in 2005, gave us the incentive to form a “Statement on Palliative Care and Health Care Chaplaincy in Europe” at our 8th Consultation in Lisbon, Portugal, organized by our robust and hospitable Fr. Nuno, who sang to us throughout the whole event! Working with Fr. Nuno, who constantly reminded me that his did not know how to speak English, was a joy.
Two years later, we went to the far northeast of Europe, gathering in Estonia, being warmly welcomed by Nataan Hammer, the long time representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia to past consultations and our creative photographer. This, the 9th Consultation, accentuated that the ENHCC was developing into a family of European care-givers. This was also fostered by the fact that Naatan’s talented and extensive family assisted in the organization of the Consultation. But this Consultation for me was a difficult one. According to the Constitution, I was either to step down as Coordinator or to be re-elected for another two years. In the Committee Meeting that was held in Belgium a year before the 9th Consultation, I proposed that I step down, seeing that I had been involved in the organizing the Network essentially since 1998 (a ten year period). The members of the Committee were reluctant and asked that I reconsider. Once again, before the beginning of the Consultation, I restated to the Committee my desire to step down, only to be told by the members that they felt that I should stay on to lead the Network into celebrating our 10th Anniversary at the following Consultation. I brought this question before all the participants of the Estonia Meeting, and, it was unanimously agreed that I should be re-elected for two more years. Dedicated to the Network, I accepted.
Our 10th Anniversary was organized by Fr. Edward Lewis, the head of Hospital Chaplaincy of the Church of England, and Debbie Hodge, of the Free Church of England. It truly was a royal event! It was here, that I passed on the reigns of leadership to Anne Vandenhoeck of Belgium. For me, this was a moving moment. A great deal of my life and energy over the past twelve years, since 1998, had been invested in forming the foundations of our European Network. Now it was time to pass that responsibility on to those that could take our organization to new horizons. In Dublin, I had nominated Anne, who I had singled out as being talented and energetic, to become a member of the Network Committee. Since then and throughout the years, we had developed a very close relationship, sharing our thoughts and concerns about pastoral health care. In London, I was moved to nominate her as the new Coordinator and overjoyed that she was unanimously elected. In her, I am confident that all that has been done throughout the past years will continue so that the Network will grow and will remain strong in the favour of God (Luke 2:40).
What do you think the Network contributed to your work and life?
Since 2000, the ENHCC has grown to include participants from most of all the corners of Europe. The richness of its cultural, religious and professional content has widened my own perspective of who others are and who I am as well. More than anything else, the personal relationships that I have formed since 1998 have been decisive in my personal and professional life. As I stated at the conclusion of our Anniversary Consultation in London, “the journey that started for me in 1998 has been a creative one, full of unexpected surprises and joys. I can honestly say that this journey occupied a great deal of my life.” Citing Homer’s Odyssey I said: “Many cities did I visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs did I become acquainted…” But more important, many are the people that I did meet, did I grow to love and who expressed their love to me. In the Network I learned to give and to receive. In the Network I learned to give and to receive. For all this, I feel truly blessed and am humbly thankful. At each conclusion of our consultations, I felt a little more humble. When you remain alone, you can feel that you are something great. When you are a part of something much bigger than you, you have to put yourself in a humble perspective.”
Can you share some of the most memorable moments for you in the history of the Network?
This is a hard question because I feel that every moment of the Network’s history was significant, and believe me, I lived every moment intensely from the first Consultation in Crete. The meeting in Crete was probably the most intense moment I lived, as the crucial questions of faith and professionalism came into conflict, jeopardizing the positive outcome of the meeting. How could we reach a compromise? The last night of the Consultation, I did not sleep thinking about how this could be resolved. Thank God it was, and the Cretan Declaration was formed! Another stressful moment was after the Consultation in Finland. Germany had accepted to organize the 8th Consultation and then, midway through the preparations, I was informed that this was not possibility. I felt that I was left holding the bag! It was the gracious offer of Kathleen O’ Connor that saved the day and the 8th Consultation took place in Dublin. As Coordinator, throughout these 12 years of service to the Network, there were many times where I had to use my negotiation skills to keep a sense of balance between our differences and maintain a sense of unity. The fact that this unity has been maintained it a gift of God.
More than anything, what stands out in my memory is the joy and laughter, the songs and dancing, the personal moments of honest sharing. I can add: our meetings in Istanbul with the members of the Committee, where I was able to show off my favourite city, eating on the Bosporus, watching Kirsti eat an orange as everyone else splurged in Eastern cuisine, roaming the its old streets and neighbourhoods, visiting St. Sophia and introducing everyone to the Ecumenical Patriarch. The boat ride we all took in Finland to an island where, instead of enjoying nature around us, we all sat, cheered and shouted as we watched a soccer match on TV! Then I remember when, before our Dublin Consultation began, as Kathleen O’ Connor was giving us directives on how to accept the President of Ireland, she looked at me, while telling everyone else, “You should NOT dare to kiss the President of Ireland when she arrives”; then I, in turn, said “Well everyone can kiss me instead!” And they did! The memorable trips visiting the offices of the EU with Anne, who kept accusing me of being a member of the Greek mafia and where, on another occasion, I was put, by my travel contact in Brussels, to stay in a hotel where, from my room’s window, I could see, hear and literally feel the rumble of the trains of Brussels that came by me within an arm’s reach! Again, it was in Brussels that Fr. Nuno brought a bottle of Porto wine for the Committee Members to drink. We all gathers in Fred’s hotel room to perform this high “sacred” act and at the end, we witnessed Fr. Edward finish the bottle off as Fr. Nuno screamed “Be careful, this is Porto! It is not wine!” There was the touching moment at the end of the Estonian Consultation when Nataan presented me with a beautiful banner that had a hand painted icon of Christ on it. As I mentioned before, I felt so small before such generosity and love, something that I have felt often though out my terms as the Network’s Coordinator. This icon, which hangs in my living room is always before me. Throughout the day, many of the faces of the participants come in to my mind and the loving relationships that have been formed remain deep in my heart.
Which story would you want to be retold in the future of the Network?
The whole story! The agonizing beginning, the joyful meetings and reunions, the richness that is embedded in the Network’s very makeup! We must all remember that the most important narratives are those that we have heard of how care had been offered to all those that we serve and how each one of us, who comprise the Network, have touched and effected one another in a loving way. Beyond all sentimentality, this is the real story that should never be forgotten and should never end!
December 7, 2011