Cheshire Kelsey

Life in the Church Camps under Metropolitan Anthony

I was asked to speak about how the church camps  could have reflected Metropolitan Anthony’s  vision even though he was rarely present at them. These are my thoughts based on the three years I helped in them, 1984- 1985 at Bore Place in Kent, and 1988 at Wern Watkin in Wales.

Metropolitan Anthony never stopped reminding us that that  ‘no one can turn towards eternity if he has not seen in the eyes or on the face of at least one person the shining of eternal life.’  He himself spent his life wrestling to become transparent to that shining –  to the divine love – and it was this love shining in turn through him that inspired and changed so many who had met or known him. He had become in his own way like the priest he encountered in the French camp of his youth, a man whose heart overflowed with a mysterious love which everyone could share and which was never withdrawn, no matter who you were or what you had done.

Once you have encountered such a love, even if you can’t comprehend it – as he himself couldn’t until many years later – it none the less  remains part of you, silently doing its true work. This was the case for the people running the Church camps under Metropolitan Anthony : each of them,  in his or her own way, had known something of the love that  so often shone through him, and  had begun to internalise this love. I still remember how this could be felt as an invisible but palpable life and presence in the camp. And people carried within them their own personal shinings.  Some, like Anna Garret and Deacon Peter  Scorer  as he then was,  had known Metropolitan Anthony  for most of their lives, and his way of encountering the world had become part of them. Others had arrived later, but all brought something of his vision  into the life of the camp.

Life in the Camp was a  microcosm of the body of Christ, a continual encounter with God and with one another, and a continual challenge. Reflecting on Metropolitan Anthony’s vision of that challenge in later years, Deacon Peter wrote:

‘We should believe in the human person with the same faith as we believe in God – just as absolutely, resolutely, passionately – and should learn to begin to see clearly in the human person the image of God, a sanctuary which we are called to lead back to life and to glory just as an icon restorer is called to return a spoiled icon to its former glory…’

Again and again in his own words Metropolitan Anthony  urged us to do the same:

‘If we only looked at one another knowing that in this person…the dawn of  life… of eternity  is at work; that this person is a place where God is alive.’

What was essential to this, underpinning  everything, was the gift of freedom: freedom as  the only condition which could allow love to be  not a mechanical obedience but what it truly is, a living encounter freely offered and received.  Again in Metropolitan Anthony’s words:

‘God recognises to man, to whom He has given freedom, the right to use his freedom the way he chooses, and this is where the justice of God is far beyond the justice of the Pharisees and the Scribes and the Lawyers…. That is not the point to say: ‘you are what you are and you can stay as you are’, but  ‘I recognise you, your validity as you are’…. God does not love the sinner or the  righteous person in view of what he will be when he will be different. He does not love Him on condition that he will undertake to change. He simply loves him as he is, not because of what he is, but in spite of what he is. He loves him entirely. And in a second stage He will call him to change  –  well, He will love him into change perhaps – He will confront him with the real and perfect man, as a challenge to being below the mark. He will call him to become what truly he is.

For Metropolitan Anthony this freedom was a declaration of trust: trust that the image of God in a person was ultimately stronger, deeper than the darkness and frailty that worked against it; trust that  a person could  make decisions that  failed, even that were destructive, because even  failure was the opportunity for new  light  to shine on the darkness, unveil it and  show another way forward.  In this spirit Metropolitan Anthony left people free to develop life in the camps guided by what had been planted in their hearts, by the image of God within them.  More often than not this freedom allowed his vision to unfold creatively, organically, to be more  present in his absence than it would have been in his presence.

In practice this freedom, and the acceptance without judgement of every person as he or she was, could be felt as a guiding aim – almost  an atmosphere  – that filled the camp.   Alongside the challenges of every new day there was ongoing exploration and dialogue, creativity and joy. In the kitchen, Anna Garrett reigned as cook, ‘Anna of the honest eyes’ as she was known in her youth, in whom still waters ran very deep, emanating a wisdom and kindness rarely spoken  but which palpably filled the kitchen tent. In the children’s activities people worked together and everyone had a voice. The schedule was not rigid but free. All of this was in harmony, consciously  or  unconsciously, with Metropolitan Anthony’s vision of structures: forms which should express the relationships of love,  freedom  and holiness within the Holy Trinity;  forms which should make room for  the  holy spirit to flow freely  and to act.

That spirit  more often than not did flow freely, and often unexpectedly. There was mischief:  the two Deacons, Alexander and Peter twirling their censers over  their heads in a full circle without spilling the burning charcoal – a sight to see;  Anya Platt aged twelve  trying to scale the kitchen wall to bribe me for special hand-outs, and the daily ritual of shooing her away; youth leaders in  the dead of night hiding my car inside  a tiny tent,  a vanishing act  which was  my rite of passage into the life of the camp.

There was also beauty: Peter and Irina one late evening spontaneously singing Russian songs,  their voices overflowing into the deepening twilight, filled with yearning and melancholy,  sorrow and joy, tragedy,  despair,  love,  wonder –  whatever could be felt in the fire and depths of the heart.

And there was joy: Patsy holding high in one hand a beautiful pole with floating ribbons fashioned with  the help of the children, and with the other hand leading  us all into the Farandole,  the joyful serpentine chain-dance which  on this occasion celebrated, as though it were a victory,  the  end of two weeks of uninterrupted rain.

And Bishop Anthony did visit one day. He arrived before lunch, joined the children in the tent dining room, and was amongst them as though he were one of them.  He liked nothing better than being able to be just an ordinary person. Following lunch he sat in a circle with the senior camp  leaders, and afterwards hiked up his skirts  above his knees to play volleyball.

At one point he told a story  from an earlier time in France when he had worked with children. The children were playing a game of  cops and robbers, and when a  child was shot  he or she would have to fall down and pretend to be dead.  One young child was so terrified of dying, even though it was only a pretended death, that he couldn’t  join in the game.  Metropolitan  Anthony, (Andre as he would have been then), said to the boy: ‘Let us play in the game together. I will stay by your side, and whenever  you are shot I will fall down  and die in your place.  So you won’t need to fall down and die, I will die your death for you.’ And so they did this, and again and again Andre died the child’s death, and again and again  got up and was alive. And the child began to see, and to feel, that he wouldn’t die, until finally  he had the courage to fall down and die his own  pretend death. I have always loved this story. In his own way, invisibly, inwardly, this is what Metropolitan Anthony was doing most of the time: carrying a  burden  which another couldn’t carry, in  solidarity with that person.

Vespers  began at the end of what had been a long and full day The children were  tired , as Metropolitan Anthony  must also have been. Inside the chapel there was a sense of lassitude, and also of warmth as the late afternoon light filtered  through the gaps in the tent.  By the end of Vespers there was an unusual stillness as the children  came up one by one to the cross. Metropolitan Anthony blessed each child as though he or she at that moment was the  only person who existed in the world.  With an extraordinary delicacy, he had  for each  child a different response: gentleness or humour, intensity or lightness of touch, compassion or joy.  His whole being seemed to be nothing but listening, seeing into the heart of each child, seeing  into their depths as some of them perhaps had never before been  seen. A sense of great peace filled the tent.  It seemed to embody these words of his about the Little Prince:

‘We  may see with the eyes of love, with a pure heart that can see God and His image in people – even in those where His image is diminished through layers of appearance and counter evidence –  to the true, deep, secret self of man. For it is as the fox tells the Little Prince: “We can see truly only with the eyes of the heart; what is vital is invisible to the eye.” ‘