A visit to our chaplaincies in Greece

We began planning our visit to Corfu and Athens a long time ago. There are many interesting features of chaplaincy life and ecumenical relations in Greece, and it is a long way from Brussels, so we allocated six days including travel. Our visit was wonderfully arranged by the Area Dean of Greece, Fr. Leonard Doolan, and the Chaplain of Corfu, The Revd. Jules Wilson.

On arrival in Athens, Leonard took us to a reception at the new Swedish Church Centre. In the centre of the photo, the local Greek lawyer who has done so much to give our church in Greece a recognised legal structure, and centre left, the Lutheran Pastor Bjorn who is a good friend and colleague to Leonard. The Swedish Centre is on several floors and offers social space for their church and educational space for the teaching of the Swedish language. This Centre provides an inspiration for what we would love to create for our own Anglican Church in Athens.

From Athens, we took an early morning flight to Corfu. You can see here the impressive colonnaded church of St. George, which functioned as the Anglican place of worship during the 19th century British Protectorate. When Corfu joined mainland Greece, this building was given to the Orthodox, and the Anglicans moved to the centrally located former Ionian Parliament building.

The Parliament was bombed in the Second World War, and the damaged building was handed back to the Greek State. But Anglicans retained use of the rear of the building, which includes the present worship space, a flat and social space (above). The chaplain (Jules Wilson) and Council have ambitious plans to turn this space into a café, for which they have been given diocesan Mission Opportunity Funding.

Churchwarden Pauline Argyrou (second right), presented an excellent history of the Anglican Church of Corfu. The Chaplain, Jules, then shared his Strategy and Vision. He recalled what Holy Trinity Corfu had aimed to do 4 years ago, reviewed how far these aims had been fulfilled, and then offered a set of priorities for the next five years, with actions needed to meet them.

I was deeply impressed by the energy of the Council, the strong role that lay people have played in the life of the church over many years, and their great sense of hope and confidence for the future.

The chaplaincy and ICS are involved with satellite congregations and missions around the island of Corfu. In the winter the coast doesn’t look so inviting, but that changes in the summer when Corfu welcomes a thoroughly international constituency of seasonal residents and holidaymakers.

One of Holy Trinity’s ecumenical partners is the Greek Evangelical Church. They run the multi-purpose ‘Lighthouse Community Centre’ beautifully equipped with soft furnishings and indoor games as well as a smart conference room that provides a place for people to meet and relax, or hold concerts or more formal gatherings. The striking lighthouse mural was painted by the wife of a former Holy Trinity Chaplain.

At the other end of the spectrum of church traditions, Holy Trinity also enjoys excellent relationships with the Greek Orthodox Church. I was honoured to have an audience with His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios of Corfu. The Archbishop seemed genuinely interested to learn more about the Anglican Communion. We talked about our shared concerns for the environment and the vital importance of deep and trusting relationships between churches and their leaders in an increasingly dangerous and fragmented world.

One of the great possibilities of an episcopal visit is the chance to gather church leaders together. Our assembly included: the Roman Catholic Archbishop His Excellency Joannis Spiteris (on my right), the Orthodox Vicar-General Themistocles (on my left), and (facing me) the British Vice-Consul and the Greek Evangelical Pastor Miltiades. We intended this meal as an opportunity to say thank you to those partner churches who have been so kind and helpful to Holy Trinity over the years.

Returning to Athens, our programme included a visit to Hestia Hellas (meaning ‘Greek Home’). This is the small charity that provides counselling and support to sufferers from trauma and PTSD which was the subject of my Lenten Bishop’s Appeal last year. Hestia Hellas has provided important help to Greek people who suffered traumatic losses in the terrible fires in Mati last year. It now focuses mainly on families and children who have suffered trauma through the experience of being refugees or migrants. The psychological impacts of migration are often neglected, and I am very impressed with the team of professional people and volunteers working across cultures and languages in often very difficult circumstances.

There was space in our programme for a day trip to Patras to see the Anglican Church of St. Andrew. This is a sturdy, granite stone building which is home to a now small fellowship of faithful Anglican worshippers. The building needs significant investment. I celebrated Holy Communion for the community and took the opportunity to hear their serious concerns for the future of this building and their church community.

Athens is the home of Greek Orthodoxy, and it was a privilege to be given an audience with His Beatitude Ieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. His Beatitude presented me with a silver icon depicting St. Paul at the Areaopagus. In exchange, I presented him with a modern icon of St. Sophronios, who was the Abbot of an Orthodox Monastery in Essex, ‘glorified’ by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the end of last year.

On the penultimate night of our stay in Athens, the British Ambassador organised a dinner in my honour for 25 guests including senior clergy, the Chief Rabbi, the Mother Superior of a Convent and some distinguished writers and academics. I was privileged to be seated between HE Metropolitan Gabriel of the Church of Greece and HE Metropolitan George of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. It was a truly remarkable evening characterised by a rare degree of warmth and friendship.

Our visit concluded with a Confirmation Service at St. Paul’s Athens for Amelie Tyler from New York, Magdaline Imarhiagbe (Greek and of Nigerian heritage) and Chatur, born in Athens and of Sri Lankan descent.

After the service I met with the Council of St. Paul’s and was hugely encouraged by their report on the positive developments in the church over the last couple of years and their sense of confidence in the future. One element of note is the use of Mission Opportunity Funding to enable the church to be open to visitors during the week, to everyone’s delight.

This was a rich and fulfilling visit. I am extraordinarily grateful to Her Excellency Kate Smith for her warm welcome and hospitality to Helen and me. I was humbled by the welcome I received from a great range of Greek church leaders. And I was thrilled to see what a great job our amazing chaplains, Leonard and Jules, are doing in leading their communities in Corfu and Greece. Thanks be to God.

Celebrating the Warmth of Anglo-Brussels Friendship on the Eve of Brexit

This week ending 31st January 2020 has been the final countdown to Brexit. But how best to mark these events? The Mayor of Brussels had the splendid idea of throwing a party to celebrate the longstanding friendship between the citizens of Brussels and the United Kingdom. The invitation was open to anybody, and I was delighted to go along.

The venue was one of the most splendid in the whole of Europe: the Brussels Grand Place. The Mayor had gone to the trouble of arranging a light show in red, white and blue. In the square itself, Belgian marching bands alternated with British folk and dance music.

Belgians have a quirky sense of humour. The Grand Place was decorated with typical British artefacts like red telephone boxes, sentry boxes and a London taxi. And here are two famous London characters who turned up specially for the event: Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes.

Guests were welcomed into the amazing Gothic Hall of the Brussels City Hall, where drinks and sandwiches were served to all comers: members of choirs, business organisations, community groups – hundreds of people representing the 7000 British who live in Brussels.

The Mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, gave a warm and encouraging speech. He referred to the many ways in which Brussels had been linked with the UK over the centuries. He paid tribute to the 250,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who had been killed in the Ypres region during World War 1. He expressed admiration for the game of rugby which he had played as a youth (you can see he would have been a formidable member of a pack). And he looked forward to continuing cultural, economic and educational links between Brussels and the UK in the future.


At this time, many British people feel sadness, regret and vulnerability. The outreach to our community from the Mayor of Brussels and his staff was remarkable. Actions like this make a difference. They truly help British people in Europe feel we are still welcome and wanted. I was interviewed by TV station RTL in a short piece which you can find here.

The love and warmth towards the UK at this Brussels City event was plain for all to see. It was equally evident in the speech made in the European Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement by Ursula von der Leyen. She said, with sincerity: ‘We will always love you and we will never be far’.

The EU and its member states regret the UK decision to leave; so do I. But I believe now is the time for the UK to move on from the recent years of division and discord and to seek the best possible partnership with our European friends for the future.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Malta

Each year the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches chooses a national council of churches who will produce the materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year it was the turn of the island of Malta. Local Christians had been working for two years to produce the materials that would be used all over the world. I was delighted to be invited to Malta to take part in their events.

Christians Together in Malta and Gozo had chosen as the Week’s theme the reading from Acts 27 & 28 which recounts Paul’s shipwreck off Malta, and the subsequent hospitality he received from the islanders.

The main act of worship took place in our Pro-Cathedral of St. Paul, Valletta, and I was honoured to be invited to preside at it. I’m used to these sorts of mid-week events being attended by the faithful few with a serious interest in ecumenism. But our service was packed, with about 400 people of all ages and backgrounds attending. The collection at the service was given away to people affected by the earthquakes in Albania.

St Paul’s is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, and the Cathedral is engaged in a large-scale building renovation and restoration. The project was initially budgeted at €5m, but has since doubled in cost to €10m. €1m has been raised by the excellent fundraising teams in London and Malta. Several more million is finding its way to St. Paul’s from a European Union heritage grant. As a result of donations received and promised so far, Chancellor Simon Godfrey has recently been able to sign a contract for £3m worth of work for the restoration of the tower and spire. Very soon, the famous Valetta skyline will be exhibiting a spire clad in scaffolding!

During my visit I was pleased to be able to meet with Archbishop Charles Scicluna (who was the preacher at our Unity Service) along with Mgr. Prof Hector Scerri – President of the Maltese RC Ecumenical Commission – pictured above. The Archbishop is exceptionally warm and welcoming, and he kindly put on a reception for the Christian leaders and pastors on the island.

The Unity service featured a set of oars, reminiscent of the Apostle’s boat, representing different elements of the story of St. Paul’s Shipwreck.

I found it intensely moving to be sharing in this worship, hearing Acts 27 and 28 read on the island where (almost certainly) the shipwreck actually took place.

St. Luke records that the islanders treated Paul with ‘unusual kindness’, in the way they looked after him after his terrifying experiences at sea – specifically by kindling a fire to keep him warm. The Archbishop drew to our attention that the Greek word used for ‘kindness’ here is philanthropia – a word used only three times in the New Testament. It refers to the gracious, noble or simply friendly acts of civilised people towards one another.

The point is that the Maltese were not Christians, and yet still showed Paul ‘unusual kindness’. Paul stayed on Malta for some time, sharing the gospel of Jesus and conducting a ministry of healing. As a result many became Christians. So when Paul finally left, they showed a Spirit-inspired level of kindness, bestowing on Paul many honours and filling his boat with provisions.

Kindness is a virtue in which all humanity can share. And we need it as much as we ever did. For those who call themselves Christians, who are animated by the Holy Spirit, it is a virtue we can especially hope to see being developed.

‘They showed us unusual kindness’ (Acts 28:2). I am grateful to our Maltese brothers and sisters for drawing this little phrase to our attention this year. It is a phrase I will remember and endeavour to put into practice myself.

A Visit to St. Andrew’s Moscow

I last visited St. Andrew’s Moscow two years ago, on that occasion in the company of Archbishop Justin. Much has happened in the intervening time: the building restoration project has begun; Malcolm Rogers is now well established in his ministry; and the church has grown significantly both in spiritual togetherness and in numbers. So I was very keen to return.

St. Andrew’s Moscow was used as a music recording studio during the Soviet era. It was restored to use as a Church following the visit of her Majesty the Queen to Moscow in the 1994. In 2016, the Church was granted a ‘free use’ agreement with the federal Ministry of Property and registration of title rights until 2065, the maximum term allowed under Russian law. The British royal family has taken an active interest in the restoration of this church building, which is unique in Russia.

Meeting at the Moscow Mayoralty with Mr. Vitaly Suchkov (Head of Department of National Policy and Inter-regional relations) and colleagues from the historic monuments department.

With the support of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, the church building has been included in the City of Moscow restoration programme. During my visit, I met with senior staff at the Mayor of Moscow’s office. This gave me opportunity to thank the City for its huge sponsorship of the restoration of the exterior of the church. Our meeting was extraordinarily warm and friendly. At its conclusion, the City agreed to set up a Working Group, bringing together the different parties in the project to help ensure good communication and the mutual understanding of deadlines.

The major structural works on the walls and foundations will run to millions of euros and take several years, but one smaller way in which the diocese has been able to give more immediate help is through the sponsorship of a kitchenette. My Advent Appeal in 2018 was towards providing this facility which will support the wonderful hospitality for which St. Andrew’s is known. I was invited to dedicate the new cooker, sinks and dishwashing equipment which are neatly built into a large meeting room adjacent to the church itself.

The Church of England’s relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church is very important to us. During my time in Moscow I met with Fr. Stephan Igumnov, Secretary for Inter-Christian Relations in the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. We discussed a number of areas of common interest including Syria, the Lambeth Conference and the World Council of Churches (on whose Central Committee we are both members). We looked for ways in which the momentum generated by Archbishop Justin’s visit in 2017 could be sustained.

There was space in the visit for some ‘religious sight-seeing’. The British Embassy kindly provided a driver and car to take us an hour and a half out of the City to the Monastery of Sergiev Posad. The complex is part monastery, part theological seminary. To some extent this beautiful and ancient place is the spiritual heart of the whole country. The Orthodox church kindly offered us a an expertly guided tour of the fascinating museum, which displays mainly Orthodox art and the various traditions of iconography in particular.

The main liturgical event of our visit was a Friday evening confirmation service. We had 12 confirmation candidates and 4 (already confirmed) candidates welcomed into the communion of the Church of England. All were adults and mainly younger adults. The candidates wrote accounts of why they wanted to take this big step, some of which were highly impressive. During the service, two candidates gave inspiring testimonies.

The following day (St. Andrew’s Day), the church was cleared to provide a splendid venue for the annual Advent bazaar. The church benefits from heating provided by the Moscow City heating system, so it was beautifully warm and cosy inside as the rain and sleet fell outside. In the background you can just see a military presence: the soldiers were on hand to provide tours of the historic tower (that has military significance owing to its role in the Bolshevik Revolution) and seemed to be enjoying the bazaar as much as everyone else.

It was a huge pleasure and inspiration to be with this flourishing Christian community, which is thriving under the wise pastoral leadership of Malcolm Rogers and his wife Alison. At its main Sunday service, this building is now full, and the question is starting to arise as to whether an additional service is needed. As well as regular worship, the building supports social outreach (particularly amongst those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse), houses a large youthwork charity and provides a wonderful venue for concerts. The congregation is thoroughly international, and its work is evidently respected by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Moscow civic authorities alike. This is demanding ministry in a key location. I am thankful for all the sensitive and effective pastoral care that goes into building a city centre church like St. Andrew’s. It really is a joy to behold.

Remembrance Sunday in Ljubljana

Modern day Slovenia is a small, well-developed nation sandwiched between Italy, Austria and Hungary and straddling alpine and Mediterranean climates. It is the only one of the former Yugoslavian nations to be in both Schengen and the Euro and prefers to think of itself as central European rather than Balkan. The view from the medieval castle at the heart of Ljubljana (above) takes in the red-roofed medieval centre, the communist era blocks behind them and the forests, hills and mountains in the distance. On an autumn Sunday it is a pleasant and peaceful view, with the loudest sound being the city’s church bells.

But during the great wars of the twentieth century, the country that is now Slovenia witnessed terrible violence. In the First World War, more than a million Italians and nearly 700,000 of their opponents from the Austro-Hungarian empire lost their lives or were seriously injured in fighting in and around the Soca valley. Indeed, the small advances in territory and the huge casualties mirrored very much what was happening in Flanders, but with the added terror of extreme cold and avalanches. And in the Second World War the population suffered under fascist occupation, with the horror of mass roundups and killings. So Slovenia seemed a very appropriate place for a European bishop to spend Remembrance Sunday.

Our Anglican congregation meets in this very handsome Evangelical Lutheran church building by kind permission of Bishop Geza Filo.

The congregation has enjoyed something of a rebirth in recent months. The mainstays of the congregation had been growing older. But we have benefited from the arrival of several families connected with the American Embassy. In particular, The Revd. Dr. Taylor Denyer, an ordained priest in the United Methodist Church, is kindly officiating under the ecumenical canons and building up the congregation through her pastoral care and her networks. What was once a predominantly elderly congregation enjoys the presence of young families with children.

In the picture above, Barbara Ryder, who was for several years the Reader who looked after the congregation, together with The Reverend Taylor Denyer, prepare for holy communion. Martin Luther looks on approvingly (I like to think).

Above, Bishop Robert, The Reverend Taylor Denyer, and Bishop Geza Filo: a United Methodist minister welcomes an Anglican Bishop in the premises of a Lutheran Bishop. It was very good to celebrate our unity in Christ on Remembrance Sunday.

After the service we shared some refreshments, including these poppy biscuits baked by one of the children.

In 2019, Remembrance Sunday is as important as it ever was. Conflict is a feature of the human condition. The stories of the countries and nations of modern Europe have been profoundly affected by warfare. If we are going to understand each other as peoples, we have to listen to each others’ stories of conflicts, invasions, occupations, victories and defeats. Moreover, because war is so terrible, those caught up in it whether as soldiers or civilians are usually marked by it in the deepest way. For those of us who have had the good fortune not to be caught up in armed conflict ourselves, it remains a matter of Christian compassion and proper human respect to honour the experiences of veterans and victims, to hear and to value their stories. And to be humbled by them.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

A new ministry begins at St. Bartholomew’s Dinard

Brittany boasts some of France’s most charming coastline, with sandy bays, mussel beds and yachting harbours. It is also known for having some of the biggest tidal ranges found anywhere in the world.

The elegant town of Dinard has for many decades been a favourite resort for anglophones. When Helen and I visited, the main street was festooned with Union Jacks to celebrate ‘the British film festival’. St. Bartholomew’s church was built in the Victorian era thanks to the generosity of the Faber family and is a fine example of neo-Gothic architecture. The local congregation was full of excitement as it prepared to welcome its new clergy.

It was a particular delight for me to be licensing Gary Wilton as the new chaplain of St. Bartholomew’s. Gary and I were colleagues for five years at Holy Trinity Brussels. For the last six years, Gary has been vicar of All Saints Eccleshall, one of the largest churches in the Diocese of Sheffield. St. Bartholomew’s presents a different set of challenges in terms of building community and working with the congregation to establish a fresh sense of vision for the future. I am thrilled that Gary has decided to return to the Diocese in Europe.

Gillian Wilton was one of the first women priests to be ordained in the Church of England. She has particular experience as a hospital and hospice chaplain and formerly ministered at St. Paul’s Tervuren. She was given Permission to Officiate in the Archdeaconry of France and will minister alongside her husband.

Gary and Gillian were licensed on a Friday lunchtime. For a scattered community composed mainly of retired people, this worked well. The service was non-Eucharistic, and I have to say that this made for an act of worship with good length and balance. Where the circumstances are appropriate, non-eucharistic mid-week licensings are something I would like to encourage.

After the service we enjoyed refreshments in the garden, with an opportunity to meet and greet the deputy mayor and ecumenical guests. The palm trees are indicative of the delightfully mild climate.

St. Bartholomew’s is a place of real potential. It has a superb church building – spacious, colourful and well-proportioned. Its finances are strong, and it is well established in the town. I am so pleased that the community has had the desire to find, employ and work with first-rate clergy leadership. I am full of hope for what God may do in the future through the ministry of Gary and Gillian alongside the wonderful lay people of St. Bartholomew’s.

Anglican Communion Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

It was a great privilege for Helen and me to be invited by Archbishop Josiah Fearon, Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, to join an 11 Day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land for Anglican Bishops and their spouses from across the world. The Pilgrimage was based at St. George’s Cathedral Guest House in Jerusalem (above) and the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth in Nazareth.

The theme of the Pilgrimage was ‘Equipping the Church: living with differences.’ The intention was that as bishops from very different cultures and traditions walked together in the places Jesus walked, so we would better understand one another and grow together.

Our Pilgrimage was led by Canon John Peterson (above), former Dean of St. George’s College Jerusalem and former Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, and a guide of extraordinary insight and specialist archaeological knowledge. Our daily reflections were led by The Reverend Philip Jackson, Vicar of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York.

For 11 days, we walked together in the footsteps of Jesus. We visited Nazareth, where Mary heard she was to be the mother of God’s Son, the cave at Bethlehem where he was born, the places around Galilee where he taught, and the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem that he walked to his death. And by growing closer to the founder of our faith, we grew closer to each other.

We explore a cave resembling the one where Jesus was born.
Bishops and archbishops from Africa, Asia, North and South America, Oceania and Europe at Caesarea Philippi think about the question Jesus posed to Peter here: ‘Who do you say that I am?’
Helen drinks from the water at Jacob’s Well, the place where Jesus entered into conversation with a Samaritan woman. All who joined in this Pilgrimage found our faith strengthened with new insights and perspectives from immersing ourselves in the geography, history and archaeology of the places Jesus ministered.

No serious visit to the Holy Land should fail to engage with the present political reality of Israel and Palestine. Throughout our Pilgrimage, the sad and brutal divisions in the Holy Land thrust themselves upon us: the barbed wire, checkpoints and above all the wall that keeps Palestinians out of Israel proper. In the all-too-quiet town of Bethlehem (above) we heard St. Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians that ‘Christ is himself our peace, who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.’

On our final day, we were extremely fortunate to be allowed into the Dome of the Rock at the heart of Jerusalem, where we listened to the very serious concerns of Muslim leaders in the city. We were reminded of the huge challenge of building peace in Jerusalem between Muslim, Christian and Jew, and of the impact on the peace of the whole world that relations in this city generate.

Left to right: Bishop Robert (Europe), Bishop Danald Jute (Kuching SE Asia), Bishop Andrew Asbil (Toronto).

Our Holy Land Pilgrimage was an intensive and totally absorbing experience. It was very hot; our days often began shortly after 5a.m. and we worked into the evenings. Only a small number of us had English as our first language, and as most of us in the Diocese in Europe know, listening to and understanding people from very different countries and cultures requires patience and concentration.

In Jerusalem there were 30 of us together. We built strong bonds of fellowship across the things that divide us naturally and theologically. Next year, at the Lambeth Conference, there will be some 600 or more. Our hope is that the 30 of us will provide at least one significant nucleus of shared understanding.

I came away from our Pilgrimage with a completely transformed understanding of the possibilities and purpose of the Anglican Communion. At a time when so many of our challenges are global in scale (climate change, poverty, justice, peace…) I realised afresh that a truly global Communion is a precious gift indeed. Pilgrimages such as the one Helen and I experienced are costly in time, effort and money. But they are necessary if the Anglican Communion is to hold together and achieve anything like its potential.

I look forward to the Lambeth Conference 2020 with greatly renewed hope and expectation.