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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, July 23, 2003
    Jo Tufnell - Facing the Enemy
    I've blogged before about Jo Tufnell. Roy Gregory awakened me to this woman's remarkable story, and when I discovered that she was scheduled to speak at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, Bishopsgate, earlier this month, I told him about it. Here are Roy's impressions of that event...

    Jo Tufnell's journey of healing and reconciliation began with the death of her father, Sir Anthony Berry MP, in the IRA 'Brighton Bomb' in 1984. Jo has visited Northern Island on many occasions and has worked with groups of victims and former combatants. In November 2000 she met Patrick McGee, the IRA man convicted of killing her father. They developed a friendship and work together towards peace in Northern Ireland. The story of their meeting was the subject of an Everyman investigation on BBC TV.

    Not that many were there at St Ethelburga's. About thirty I would think. I had not been to the Centre before and found it most moving that it was built on the spot of the old church destroyed by an IRA bomb in Bishopsgate in 1993. The building was a wonderful mixture of restored brickwork in a modern setting. I was impressed by the new stain glass window depicting St Ethleburga picking up the pieces of the old window destroyed by the bomb and actually incorporating some of the old glass in the new window. The outside of the building onto Bishopgate has been restored to its original look. It is now dwarfed by skyscraper monsters made of glass in the middle of the city of London. It was a beautiful setting to hear such an amazing story.

    I found Jo Tufnell's honesty and intensity inspiring. She was quiet and shy and a completely non-celebrity celebrity if you know what I mean. Her emotional suffering was still apparent both in her manner and what she said. I did wonder at one stage whether she has endured more suffering by going the route she has by so often reliving the trauma - but then that to be her journey and she doesn't appear to have any choice. I suspect she would always be honest and intense about everything and would have lived like that whatever circumstances came her way. She spoke of her ex-husband as 'being unable to support her' and I suspect she would be challenging to know as a person.

    She just told her story much of which I had heard before from the video but I found the intensity even more so in the 'flesh' than on the TV. She came across as very much a 'wounded prophet' who was still struggling with the feelings of befriending her Dad's killer and sometimes full of self doubt and fear. This appeared to be overridden by this need to know 'why' and somehow make her Dad's death mean something.

    I found the group, who I presume were mostly from the peace centre, interesting. She obviously valued their support and she mentioned that some had helped her a great deal. I did, I think, detect an inward sigh at times when they wanted to extrapolate her experience and find principles for other places of conflict. Most asked questions, preferenced by a bit of adulation, in a rather long-winded way making their own speech. They did seem to want a hero and she seemed not to want to be one. I found it refreshing that she kept returning to her own journey and trying to walk that and kept saying that her only role was to help others walk their journey. She did often speak about creating a place of 'emotional safety' for people to tell their stories of involvement in trauma as part of their journey. She very politely and patiently replied to someone asking about her future 'relationship' with Patrick McGee that she 'had enough struggle having him as a friend'.

    There was an interesting exchange with a curate who had served in NI as a soldier and felt Patrick McGee had been 'let off' by still clinging to believing in the justice of what he did. She dealt with this very well returning to the individual's walk and attempts to understand the enormity of the distance others might have to travel. She mentioned that for some IRA and Loyalists to see their past actions as wrong had taken them 'to the edge' and they needed to have a strong inner self to do that.

    It was interesting to see how often she dragged us back to not blaming outside of ourselves but seeing our own stuff inside as part of the problem. She spoke amazingly of coming to a least to understand why her Dad was a 'legitimate target'. This mutual understanding did seem to be at the core of her own work. Not so much forgiveness but understanding.

    I was pleased I went, not so much for any insights into peace and conflict, but to experience a person dealing with trauma and trying not to blame. It was inspirational to see a shy and somewhat fearful individual doing courageous things in spite of herself. She said she prayed but she wasn't sure to what but somehow hearing her was a spiritual experience of being in God's presence mediated by a human being trying to love. She said sometimes how hard it was to realise that the person that had caused her family such pain was a friend and that it seemed to get worse not better. Last year she said that she was shocked to realise that if Patrick died she now would have to grieve for him.

    The irony of ironies - more pain now for the person who was responsible for the first. An insight into something of the nature of the cost of love and forgiveness.