Grief to Grace – Restoring Human Dignity

It is a great privilege for me to be among you this weekend and to speak about a ministry which is precious to me and which I am convinced is of the utmost importance for these times.

Grief to Grace was introduced to this country in 2011 from the USA by Fr Dominic Allain, a priest of this Diocese and the International Pastoral Director of the programme. Grief to Grace is a five-day residential retreat for those who have survived abuse of any kind, including sexual, emotional, physical, psychological and neglect. Because we are human beings – creatures of body and soul – abuse is an assault against the whole person, and when left unhealed can result in devastating effects upon the mind, the emotions, the heart and the body. When the person who is abused is vulnerable, for reasons of age or circumstance, and unable to make sense of what has happened to them, or perhaps manipulated or sworn into silence regarding what has taken place, the trauma remains unhealed, locked inside, and has knock-on effects upon every area of life. Relationships, habits of thinking, perception of oneself, of others and of the world, the ability to be integrated into a healthy work or social life, all these and more can be hampered to one degree or another. The survivor is likely to have learned a complex of survival techniques – consciously or not – which have enabled them to keep going, but which ultimately fail, when the reality of the pain they have carried with them can be repressed no longer. Paradoxically, the very survival mechanisms which have kept a survivor going will themselves have resulted in a life restricted in various ways. The God-given yearning for affection, for healthy connection, to be truly known and cherished for oneself, may seem something reserved only for others. When the abuser has been one who should have provided love and nurture and whom one should have been able to trust implicitly – a parent, carer, family member, priest or religious, for example, the wounds are especially deep.

The good news is that help is available and healing is possible.

The trauma which survivors have carried, often for many years, and the very real shame associated with it, needs and deserves to be witnessed, honoured and grieved. Because grieving the abuse was not possible at the time it took place, it must now be grieved in order to make way for the healing and transformative work of Grace, God’s action of perfect Love in the Holy Spirit. The group process of a Grief to Grace retreat incorporates guided Scriptural meditations with exercises which incorporate subtle but highly effective psycho-therapeutic techniques to enable the grieving to be thorough and complete, and to claim and assimilate new ways of feeling, thinking and living. Because the process is so carefully structured, with each exercise over the five-day period building upon the previous one, because it takes place in an atmosphere of faith, and because the group of retreatants and team make manifest the Body of Christ so intensively, breakthroughs take place for participants which have not yet happened some-times after decades even of conventional talk therapy. The transformation of the retreatant from arriving to leaving is often wondrous to behold. The retreat team is made up of women and men, including highly qualified trauma-specialist therapists, counsellors, clergy and trained volunteers. Every member of the team has been through the retreat themselves.

Until recently these retreats could take place in this country only once or twice a year, due to lack of adequate facilities. Grief to Grace now has its own home, a beautiful retreat house in South-West London, and is able to offer six retreats each year.

If you or anyone you know might like to explore whether Grief to Grace might be suitable please contact us for more information by email or by calling 0208 154 2719.

Fr Daniel Weatherley

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