Sacred Space – Fr Michael Lapsley Keynote Speech

01st October 2018

Renowned South African priest and social justice activist, Fr Michael Lapsley spoke to the conference on the tremendous healing power of telling your story.

Fr Michael lost both hands and the sight in one eye as a result of a letter bomb in 1990 and set up the Institute for Healing of Memories to help people detoxify the trauma of their lives through telling their stories.

In his talk, he urged English Cathedrals to be the “hospital for the soul” as their congregations increased, and those on the edge of society felt drawn to find refuge and solace within them.

“What would it look like for all our cathedrals to become places for all to express their brokenness – across all the divides not one on one; but in collective ways.

“Collective processes connect us…it makes those in need, feel less alone…and in so doing; become each others healers,” he said.

He painted a picture of the times in which we live: wealth concentrated in fewer hands than before, greed having its day, a time when we see the largest number of refugees in human history, a time when the arms manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank; a time of growing Islamaphobia…

“Even this week we are seeing the consequences of extreme weather… Climate justice has become an imperative for the survival of our species…,” he continued.

“And in this context, what is God’s dream for all the English Cathedrals and how can we all participate in God’s dream,’ he asked.

He acknowledged that cathedral congregations were increasing…while those in the parishes were dropping and acknowledge this could be as the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, had suggested: “the radical openness of cathedrals” .
But he said there would be a complex range of every contradictory explanation for this

“Of course, there may be a complex range of every contradictory explanation for this; including the fact that people are not seized by questions like the meaning of life or who created order,’ he added.

He talked about how cathedrals were becoming home for the unemployed, the homeless, refugees, undocumented migrants; the mentally ill.

He said:

“I am sure there is a wide of reasons they come into our cathedrals – but also the search for solace and comfort; to seek balm for their wounds and to get in touch with the divine.

“When a stranger comes into the cathedral and asks to speak to someone it’s because they simply want to be listened to

“What I would like to speak about is the vocation of cathedrals to be radically inclusive; to be, or to become safe and sacred spaces where journeys of healing can take place and be fostered.

“All people have a story to tell and every story needs a listener – our work is about creating safe and sacred spaces where people can deal with how their past has affected and infected them psychologically; emotionally and physically – trauma is either transformed or transmitted.

“How has the past of your country affected your life?” he asked.

He made reference to the moral and spiritual injury suffered by Coventry Cathedral and how we should not underestimate how this country has been affected by unending wars; just and unjust.

And asked how the experience of your parents and grandparents has affected you?

“More and more has been written about intergenerational trauma –victims go on to become victimisers..healing does not happen..

“Childhood trauma; gender based violence..We need to face what patriarchy has done and continues to do to women as victims and men as perpetrators; not least in the household of God.
“Are cathedrals places where sexual minorities feel welcome,” he asked.

“When the(Arena) bombing happened this cathedral (Manchester) became the place where people could come and cry, hug each other; share their pain, experience human solidarity

“What would it look like for all our cathedrals to become places for all to express their brokenness – across all the divides not on a one to one way, but in collective ways..

“Collective processes connect us…they make us feel less alone and in so doing, we become each others healers,’ he said.

You can watch a film telling his story here.