After a rather smooth overnight plane ride across the Atlantic, which involved almost no sleep, and to train rides with one slightly delayed (from Peterborough to Oakham), I made it to Oakham School for the start of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s 9th Biennial Conference about 45 minutes late. I arrived on campus and went right to the building where the plenary sessions are usually held (I have been here before for the 2008 and 2010 conferences), but was surprised to see nobody around and the doors locked. Then I made my way over to the building where registration takes place to find a program for the weekend and discover the opening lecture was in “Wilson Auditorium,” which I had never heard of before. I ran into a staff member at Oakham who guided me to a new building on campus, which is quite nice, and there I was able to find Jim Forest’s opening talk in progress.
His keynote address, titled “Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton,” was very interesting and I was sorry to have missed the first 15 minutes or so due to my late arrival. The talk was followed by afternoon tea, the biennial business meeting of the TMSGBI and evening prayer before a wine reception and conference dinner took place. I was able to get in a shower and a change of clothes before the business meeting — after being awake for nearly 30 hours at that point and in the same clothes I had left the USA in, I was ready for a refresher.
At dinner Paul Pearson, the director of the Thomas Merton Center and Archives located at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, delivered the first annual Donald Allchin Memorial Address. The theme, drawn on the insight of the late Canon Allchin and inspired by Merton’s Raids on the Unspeakable, focused largely on one such manifestation of “the Unspeakable” today — Racism. It was incredibly powerful and Paul wove together anecdotal and scholarly wisdom together to highlight the continued injustice of racism, particularly in the United States. I hope it is published in The Merton Journal (the UK periodical for Merton studies) in the Fall.
Today, Saturday, includes another keynote address, this time by Liz Carmichael, followed by concurrent sessions. My paper is this afternoon. More information is to follow.
Despite the unavoidable jetlag, I am tremendously grateful to have the opportunity to be here again. There is a very special feel to this biennial conference, which brings together Merton scholars from all over Europe and many from North America. It’s also a wonderfully ecumenical gathering, perhaps even more so than the ITMS conferences on alternate years in the US, which draws several hundred more attendees. Last night at the banquet, for example, I sat at a lovely table with a Roman Catholic priest from Milan, a priest of the Church of Sweden, several Anglicans including one priest of the Church of Anglican, and a British Methodist minister. We were from all over England, Europe and the world.
I will certainly keep you posted with future dispatches from the road! Peace and good!