Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Diaries of an Ecumenical Steward #2

Diaries #1 is now updated with the full version of the report I wrote for my parish magazine, and it's more than three weeks since we returned from Sibiu, even though it still feels like yesterday and I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders from time to time why we can't just drop all this termtime faff and get back to stewarding! Certainly to judge by the messages coming through from my fellow steward friends, there is a strong feeling that we don't want to let go of what we learned and built up in Sibiu. So I think it's about time for some more 'everyday' memories from EEA3. Cut with the churchy speak, it's time for the postcard chat!
My journey began with meeting Yee and Gordon at Heathrow–and proceeding to waste an hour or so on the other side of security, during which we contemplated the various things on offer (Harrod's Caviar or some Swarovski, anyone?) before boarding our BA flight to Bucharest. We'd chosen seats (online) with extra legroom, so we had a very comfy flight indeed and I was excited to discover that Romania was really quite a lot further away than I'd imagined. A few hours later, we were in Bucharest airport contemplating finding a decent, non rip-off taxi, in strange currency and with a significant language barrier. We succeeded, thanks to a little help from Gordon's travelguide, and ended up at the hostel which had changed its name and lost our booking but (thankfully) had a room for us. Bucharest didn't top my "fab cities" list. We didn't have time to see it all, by any means, but what we did see was still very much something that could be, or maybe had been, lovely–but wasn't. That said, it was great to take a guided tour of the parliament building (second largest in the world)–incredible. And the transport was very cheap and worked. At 3.30, thanks to Gordon's superb organization via a travel agent, we boarded a train bound for Sibiu. Five hours later (having used almost all my pocket tissues–the first of many loos without paper!) we alighted to find a very smiley bunch of people clad in yellow "volunteer" scarves and waving a colourful "EEA3" flag–a great relief! They were our first Romanian buddies, and we were very grateful indeed for their help in getting us to our hostel. Once there, we installed ourselves in our rooms and started to get to know people–unfortunately we'd missed the first 'get to know each other' session by arriving just too late, but soon people began to arrive back from that. Apart from Stefano, who had arrived on the train with us, the first friends we made that first night were three Romanian students, Alex, Alex and Razvan, who were living at the end of the corridor and who immediately introduced themselves and even began to teach me a bit of Romanian!
Days 1-3 of the Stewards' programme were largely spent at the Orthodox Theological Faculty, which was our base. 20 minutes walk to breakfast from the hostel became much more enjoyable once we arranged little meetings at the front door. The faculty was, as it happens (certainly did in much of Sibiu this year), a building site–they got it just about presentable by the time the main delegations arrived, but not for us!–and we were all desperate to know what our tasks would be for the main assembly, but all of this was put aside while we enjoyed getting to know one another, shared 'hopes and fears' about the week, prayed together, sang together, drank coffee together, ate ice cream together, laughed about never properly having appreciated toilet paper before, and admired a market of traditional pottery in Sibiu's main square. Our evenings were spent "culturally" telling each other about food, drink and customs from our various countries. Before long we'd bonded as one big family and could hardly imagine that this routine was going to get shaken up by the arrival of the "others".
Yet shaken up it was indeed, as Wednesday saw us all divided into different teams posted around the town to register delegates arriving for the assembly. In my role as Head Steward for the VIP team, I was coordinating a team of six other stewards working to register the most "important" delegates at their hotel. Sound simple? Sadly not quite so–the hotel was still being decorated on wednesday morning, the "office" from which the VIP section was being run was still without phone or working printer, and the databases available to us never had the right lists with the right names in the right place at the right time. Despite these hurdles, we got through the day and even made friends with a few of the arriving VIPs. That was the toughest day but the next was to bring us plenty of fresh challenges as the conference got underway. We needed to be in three places at once, registering those not yet kitted out with badges, seating the others in the tent, and manning the office and vVIP lounge. Part of the stress of that day was simply not knowing where we'd be most needed at any given moment, so needing to run back and forth from tent to hotel–and not being allowed through the quick entrance because the president of Romania was there. Sigh. Part was just having to force the press away from the main stage. Sigh. Still, amongst all of this was a sense of really helping–no joke, the thing could never have happened without our team–far better that way than being bored! The remaining days of the conference were somewhat less stressful and we had more time to listen to the speakers and discussions, to chat to each other, even to laugh at our job ("list" was enough to give the secretary and I the giggles). It was still cold and wet at times, and very tiring, but not as daunting as it had been. Meals, when we had time for them, were a chance to exchange experiences with stewards from other teams, and to have intellectual discussions. Breaktimes sometimes meant wandering through the streets with another steward discovering all sorts of things we'd never have imagined about each other. In the evenings, after our "home groups" we relaxed together at the Youth CafĂ© or back at our hostel, had a little 'stewards' party' and attended a TaizĂ© service. The end came far too quickly: after celebration of the birth of the virgin and two final Assembly Plenaries, the conference cumulated in a lovely celebration of light in the main square, that was televised live around Europe and in which many of us were able to participate (I read some bible verses in English, for example). No sooner was that over, than it was the big Goodbye for those of us who were (for some reason known only to…no one) leaving at crack of dawn the next day. And thus the assembly was over and we would take home with us all of these memories and far, far more…a wonderful feeling of having made great friends across the continent, our special songs in our heads and a warm feeling in our hearts like a sunny ray of the light of Christ. We were sad to leave Sibiu, our friends, our jobs, but determined already that we would indeed meet again.

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