Celebrating 10 Years of St. Thomas’s Church, Kefalas, Crete

A Bishop in Europe is someone who travels on business to places that most people visit on holiday. That is true at least for the area around Chania in Crete, which has proved in recent decades a popular place for English-speakers to retire. Helen and I were invited to Kefalas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of St. Thomas’s Anglican Church.

The story of St. Thomas’s began with Tony and Suzanne Lane deciding to settle permanently in Crete in 2001. The first services of worship began in their home with 6 people gathered around the dining room table. The numbers attending grew, and the congregation moved out, at least in the summer time, to the patio adjoining Suzanne and Tony’s swimming pool. But numbers continued to grow, and the patio became too small. So Tony bought a plot of land adjoining the house which contained old olive trees and a former threshing floor. On this land, he had a small chapel built, modelled on Greek mountain chapels and constructed from local stone. To avoid legal complexities he funded it himself, and it was built as a private chapel. The church was appropriately dedicated to St. Thomas, the patron saint of architects and builders.

Next to the stone chapel, Tony built a ‘tabernacle’, which today forms the area where Sunday worship takes place. Tony was formerly a boat-builder, and he welded the impressive steelwork which provides the frame for the canopy draped over the ancient threshing floor on which the congregation is seated. It is remarkably beautiful. The worship space fits snugly into the rocky landscape. It is surrounded by olive trees and cactus plants, and facing west you look out onto the impressive White Mountains.

In preparation for our visit I read some of the correspondence documenting the fascinating history of the infant church. Did it want to be Anglican? Not everyone agreed. And what form of regular worship should it adopt? Of course, people had different views. The Reverend Mike Peters, a longstanding friend of Tony, was invited to come as chaplain, and he helped the young church establish an identity.

So, in July 2007, 10 years ago, the chapel was blessed by Mike Peters. A little later it was formally consecrated by Bishop Geoffrey Rowell. There is a letter written on 10th August 2010 from Bishop Geoffrey to the Orthodox Archbishop Irenaeus, which proudly recalls:

“Your Beatitude,

You have, I know, heard from Canon Malcolm Bradshaw in Athens, about the progress of the Anglican Church of St. Thomas Kefalas and about the ordination of Fr. Tony Lane to the priesthood. It was a great joy to me on an earlier visit to consecrate the chapel of St. Thomas. I am most grateful for your continuing interest in the life of this new Anglican congregation and for the support you have given to it. It means so much to us to have that support as a real sign of ecumenical friendship.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+ Geoffrey Gibraltar.”

Our thanksgiving service was conducted in this ‘church without walls’. It looks such a peaceful setting. But appearances can be deceptive. The olive trees around the church are home to (what sounded like) a small army of chirping cicadas. Our opening hymn, ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’, took on new meaning through being accompanied by a great company of insects. I was grateful that a sound system had been installed so my sermon had some chance of being heard.

Very sadly, the most recent chaplain, Canon Philip Lambert, has had to return to the UK at short notice owing to the serious illness of his wife, Fran. This inevitably cast a shadow of sadness over St. Thomas’s 10th anniversary celebrations. Philip and Fran were very much in our prayers over the weekend.

Over coffee there was opportunity to meet Tony, one of the original 6 church members. Tony had served in the military for 35 years. He ran a Cheshire Home in Cheltenham and then taught accountancy in Cornwall before retiring to Crete. He was particularly attracted to climbing the mountains. Sadly, due to a back injury four years ago, he’s no longer able to do this. St Thomas’s enables Tony to find English-speaking fellowship.

After morning worship, we shared in a celebratory lunch at a local tavern. No birthday is complete without a cake. Tony and Suzanne Lane enjoyed blowing out the candles on the cake at an outdoor supper party. In the background is Fr. Leonard Doolan, the new senior chaplain in Athens who has pastoral responsibility for the ministry in Crete.  We wish Fr. Leonard much wisdom and grace as he, together with Archdeacon Colin Williams, helps St. Thomas Kefalas into the next phase of its life and ministry.

Χάρη και ειρήνη

Meditating on the Magnificat

The following is a guest post containing a recent sermon by Annie Bolger, one of our 2016/7 Church of England Ministerial Experience interns. She was placed at St. Martha and Mary’s church, Leuven. Annie grew considerably during her time with us and recently gave her final sermon as an intern, reflecting on what that time has meant to her and her sense of vocation. In the sermon below, on the Magnificat, you can read something of her story. I am delighted that Annie will be continuing with an exploration of vocation to ordained ministry in the coming year.

When I was invited to preach, Jack [chaplain in Leuven] suggested that I use any passage that expresses some lessons learned from my year as an intern at St. Martha and St. Mary’s. As I reflected back on an experience which has been formational on many levels, I chose to illustrate the year through the prayer that we just read, the song of Mary, the Magnificat.

I want to talk about this prayer, and about prayer itself, and about how my sense of prayer & place & voice has been cultivated as I have been among you in this internship.

Much can be said about this beloved prayer, the Magnificat. In structure, it reflects the composition of Jewish psalms. The first stanza displays a characteristic feature of Hebrew poetry—synonymous parallelism: “my soul” mirrors “my spirit”; “proclaiming the greatness” mirrors “finding gladness”; and “the Lord” mirrors “God my Saviour.” The prayer is expressed with symmetry and grace.

The prayer also demonstrates contrasting parallelism: the proud are contrasted by those who fear God, the mighty by the humble, and the rich by the hungry.

There is scholarly debate regarding whether the historical Mary actually prayed this prayer, primarily because the words echo several ancient Jewish psalms, including the Song of Hannah, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1–10. I find myself bristling at this debate, not because I cannot perceive how this prayer may be a simple reiteration of a more ancient Psalm. This is certainly plausible. I bristle because the Gospel writer portrays Mary as the author of this prayer and in so doing, makes her the theological interpreter of her contemporary events. The Mary who prays the Magnificat is the Mary who recognizes and occupies a place in redemption history. This Mary understands two things — place and voice — and these are the themes that have emerged from my year as an intern.

One element of this internship has been the structure of praying the Daily Office. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Daily Office in the Anglican tradition consists of Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline before bedtime. The Magnificat is prayed every day during Evening Prayer. At the beginning of the internship, I had a dutiful approach to praying the office. I saw it as a sort of checklist item: “I prayed today.”

My checklist item, “I prayed today,” implies that prayer happened because I did it. As the year progressed, and I started to learn more from my experiences, from my supervisors, from my spiritual director, I began to see prayer as a process that was taking place with or without me. Prayer is constant: all of creation is crying out to God, all of the saints and angels are praying continually, the Holy Spirit is ceaselessly interceding for us. Eventually, I began to hear the hollowness of my checklist item — “I prayed today” — and my concept shifted to “Prayer is happening, and I took my place and I lent my voice.” Place and voice. The dual themes of my internship.

Mary speaks of place on the Magnificat when she says “He has looked with favour on his lowly servant… the Almighty has done great things for me.” During one of my first internship meetings with Jack, he made the observation that life has crushed me in various ways, and he said, “Now you’re in a place where that is no longer the case. This year may be about stepping out and moving forward from that past.” I stepped into my role as intern timidly. I wasn’t quite sure what was mine to do. It took me some month or two before I felt comfortable serving at the altar, before I introduced myself as an intern to guests or visitors. But Mary, whose life was rendered perplexing in unwelcome ways by her calling, immediately has the spiritual acumen to see that God has lifted up the lowly and has filled the hungry with good things. She understands that God is doing that: like prayer, which is happening, God is lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry, and she sees that she has been invited to take a place in that great work, to stand with the lowly and the hungry and the crushed and be part of the great things that God is doing. I learned from her prayer that taking my place, naming my vocation, is likewise a mature and gracious way to take part in what God is doing.

Mary speaks of voice when she says “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Two particular opportunities were given to me as intern: 1) leading our home group and 2) participating in our prayer ministry. In home-group this year, by increasing collaboration, we learned quite a bit about one another and how to build a trusting community. The crowning triumph of the year together was to take turns each week voicing our personal journeys of faith.

Similarly, this semester, Jane [an ordinand in Leuven] and I have offered prayer ministry after the Lord’s Supper for those who desired personal prayer. In this context, it was not unusual to hear someone say the words, “I have never said this to anyone before…”. In this year together, some of us have used our voices as never before, myself included.

The dual themes of place and voice culminated in our dynamic worship last week, in which I felt privileged to take my place, literally and metaphorically, near the cross and give voice to the stories of women who have been the victims of violence — to give voice to my own story of being silenced.

So on a final note, I want to offer sincere thanks to each of you for welcoming me to take the place of an intern here and to exercise my voice. In this community of warmth and welcome and kindness, I have been able to flourish. It has been a sincere honour to journey alongside you all at M&Ms. I ask you to continue to journey with me as I look forward to the year ahead: I will remain here at M&Ms. I have been encouraged to continue my discernment process, which may include some short visits to other parishes to round out my experience in the Church of England, and will also include some big interviews for which I will need time to prepare and for which I ask your support and your prayer.

Someone from the congregation approached me after dynamic worship last week to hand me a note which said, “Silent no more, never again.” And isn’t that what Mary says, when she declares that from this day all generations would call her blessed? She is saying that she has filled a place in redemption history and she can no longer be silenced. I can think of no better way to conclude this CEMES internship than by voicing Mary’s psalm once more. Will you pray with me?

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.




General Synod – July 2017

The Summer Session of General Synod takes place at the beautiful York University campus, with activities and meetings on either side of the central lake. It is a lovely environment.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of time to enjoy the lake…as members are mostly meeting together inside the rather hot and airless exhibition centre.

I hadn’t intended to write a blog on the Synod experience. But, reading accounts in the press which seem to introduce a fish-eye lens level of distortion, I felt impelled to give my own perspective.

The wider scene was introduced on the opening Friday afternoon when, after prayers and a report from the Business Committee, we were invited to debate a motion from the Archbishops entitled ‘After the General Election, a still small voice of calm.’ At one level, this motion seemed a rather predictable call from the Church’s leaders to pray for the UK’s politicians. But the context makes this more than usually important. The Archbishops referred to ‘a critical time in the nation’s history’ with people facing ‘unprecedented questions about the future’. The Brexit vote, and (in a very different way) the Grenfell Tower fire have laid bare sharp divisions in society. Government is weak, confidence in in public institutions is low, people are fearful. The nation is, frankly, not in a good place. And so the established church has a particular and important role in healing, unifying and praying….if it can rise to the task.

One of the things that would most effectively undermine the church’s mission would be a serious split over issues of human sexuality. Over the course of the long weekend, the Synod was bowled two difficult questions that would (again) test the church’s unity. Neither motion came from the bishops: one was a private member’s motion on ‘conversion therapy’, the other was a motion from Blackburn Diocese on ‘Welcoming Transgender People’. Both motions could be viewed as totemic of the relative influence of different groups or proxies for other issues. And, of course, both could be spun.

I have to say I found myself rather uncomfortable debating ‘conversion therapy’. The ethics of therapy offered to gay/lesbian people (and all the more transgender people) is something which challenges even those who are experts in their field. Only a very few members of synod have this kind of expertise. And I was nervous discussing a subject in the adversarial style of a full synod which bears upon issues affecting individuals and families so deeply and personally.

In the event, I think we managed to discuss the issue with openness and compassion. Two amendments had been proposed, both of which in my view significantly improved the original motion. One was defeated, the other was accepted. The final motion endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding signed up to by all the relevant professional bodies, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It can be found here. This MoU, describes ‘efforts that try to change or alter sexual orientation through psychological therapies as unethical and potentially harmful’. The motion was passed overwhelmingly.

The second issue in the sexuality area was a motion ‘recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church’ and calling on the House of Bishops to ‘consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition’. During this debate we heard several stories of people who had transitioned between gender identities, and of the mental anguish that gender variance can cause to an individual and their family/community. There was considerable debate as to how to best to respond. I felt the Bishop of Worcester expressed well the mind of the Synod when he said: ‘Our response needs to be loving and open and welcoming and the passing of this motion would be a very important factor in that.’ The motion was duly passed by a big majority.

I hope that gay, lesbian and transgender people feel reassured and encouraged by these votes. Neither vote changes the church’s doctrine – and those fearful that orthodox teaching is slipping should be reassured that the membership of the current House of Bishops makes the prospect of doctrinal change remote. But they do signify steps towards the ‘radical new Christian inclusion, founded in scripture, tradition, reason and theology’ that the archbishops have promised.

There were many good things during the Synod. A debate on ‘presence and engagement’ reminded us of the national church’s commitment to areas of the country where other faiths are in the majority. Workshops on ‘Renewal and Reform’ highlighted 5 different areas in which the national church is supporting evangelism: the workshop I attended on digital evangelism was outstanding. The annual reports of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops Council – both of whom are doing excellent work – were welcomed and received. But the most effective debate for me – and the one on which I had opportunity to speak – concerned a motion on ‘the cost of applying for [UK] citizenship’.

This motion was initiated by the central Birmingham Deanery, was approved by Birmingham Diocesan Synod, and was duly debated by the General Synod. Synod was told that the cost of applying for citizenship application in the UK is 1,282 GBP for an adult and 973 GBP for a child. These fees are on top of the costs of applying for indefinite leave to remain. They include not just the administrative costs but a substantial element of ‘profit’ made by the Home Office. The costs are prohibitive and act as a bizarre discouragement to social integration.

In my speech, I drew attention to the vastly lower costs charged by other European countries – less than 200 Euros in Belgium. I described the stress of making these kinds of applications, even for people who have financial means and education. And I said I thought that the ratcheting up of costs by the Home Office in the last few years was simply disgraceful.

The motion was carried with 310 votes in favour, no votes against and no abstentions. This, for me, was the synodical system acting at its best: a local deanery spotting an area of deep injustice, giving it national profile and enabling it to be raised within government. Sir Tony Bawdry MP, former Second Church Estates Commissioner, helpfully offered to give a transcript of the debate to the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.

On my way home, at the end of the Synod, and re-entering the public life of Britain, I bought a copy of the Times. One article spoke of the ‘collapse of business confidence’. Another article predicted significant falls in living standards as the country is now living above its means. Picking up a copy of the London Evening Standard, the front page carried a warning from the Royal College of Radiologists about the supply of cancer treating radioactive materials once Britain leaves the relevant EU authorising body. These are hugely challenging times for the United Kingdom. The Church of England in England has a particular vocation to bring the message and love of Christ to the nation, to challenge unjust structures and to help rebuild a sense of national destiny. I hope and pray that our internal disagreements about sexuality don’t hinder this task. The Synod brings together so much talent, lay and ordained. At its best, the General Synod models an open and respectful process of debate, raises the profile of the church and further its mission. I felt that at the York Synod we were indeed sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and Christian mission was carried forward.

Séjour en Suisse

It was one of the hottest weekends of the year so far. Temperatures in Switzerland had been in the mid-thirties. So, whilst regretting my lack of tropical clerical dress, I packed my lightest travel pack and headed off the on the rebranded ‘Swiss’ airline to Zurich.

I was met at the airport by the chaplain, Paul Brice, and we were soon whisked by efficient Zurichois train and tram to the chaplaincy apartment. The extensive cold drinks on arrival were very welcome, as was the fan that kept up a refreshing breeze in my bedroom overnight. For breakfast the following morning, Hananiah, who teaches herbal medicine, had prepared a trade mark muesli which was, I think, the most delicious breakfast cereal I have ever tasted. To a yoghurt base, had been added a variety of fruits, cereals and seeds, plus some fresh raspberries grown on the apartment garden. I could not have been better set up for the day-long Archdeaconry Synod to come.

Swiss Archdeaconry Synod chaired by Archdeacon Adèle Kelham.

The character of each of our synods varies greatly from one archdeaconry to another. The Swiss synod is, as you would expect, the most efficient. Representatives rise early – in some cases very early – to travel across Switzerland in time for 09:30 coffee and a 10:00 start. Agendas are well constructed and under Adèle Kelham’s firm but appropriately humorous chairing, the business was discharged expeditiously.

I was kindly given an hour to present, plus half an hour for questions. I chose to speak first about the diocesan strategy and how I saw it evolving. In such a dispersed diocese as ours, central planning has its limits. We can’t work out the strategy into a detailed multi-level implementation plan, in the way one might in the corporate world. Instead, we offer a strategic vision in which each level of the diocese is invited to reflect on how an overall framework can inspire and guide their work.  I discerned refugee ministry and safeguarding as two emerging priorities for the diocese. I then shared some of the many ways in which the five elements of the strategy are being worked out centrally.

I moved next to three ‘topical issues’: human sexuality, Brexit and religiously-inspired violence. It was the first of these which sparked the greatest interest and reaction, so we returned to it at the end of the meeting. This gave opportunity for an open discussion, with some representatives expressing the pain and anguish that the church’s present position caused them. Many of us remarked, however, how much easier it was to discuss these sensitive issues after we had shared in a Eucharist and a meal together. Context, setting and process are indeed important. The meeting closed – on time, of course. We said our farewells and I travelled with other representatives south to Lausanne and then to Nyon.

The evening was spent sharing pizza with a lively group of confirmation candidates at the home of Carolyne Cooke, chaplain to La Côte. It was a pleasure to see the strong rapport that youth leader Caleb had with the youngsters. But it had been a long day, and by 10:30 I was glad to collapse into bed at the home of Trevor and Dorothy Davies.

Over breakfast the following morning, I had opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Trevor. Trevor had been HR Director at the World Council of Churches for 11 years, a role in which he had met and entertained a plethora of senior Christian leaders from across the world. Moreover, he told me how, after he left Holy Trinity Geneva, his home had been the base of the emerging ‘Crossroads’ church, which is now a significant presence in many European cities. I learnt that my former colleague Carlton Deal, now pastor of ‘The Well’ in Brussels and inspirateur of the pan-European ‘Serve the City’ movement, had been youth pastor at Crossroads Geneva. It is a small world.

Dorothy and Trevor Davies.

The Sunday morning began with the re-licensing of Carolyn and her colleague Julia for a further five years of ministry. This was an unambiguous delight, as their ministry is so hugely appreciated by the people of Divonne and Gingins – the two centres in which La Côte chaplaincy meets.

The service of baptism and confirmation was a united service for the two congregations. I was struck, as I often am, by the diversity of the candidates: a fine group of teenagers growing up in a relatively privileged but not unchallenging expatriate lifestyle; two young mothers (one of American and one of African origin); and a pair of Iranian refugees, who had arrived in Switzerland after traumatic journeys from a homeland where their lives, as Christian converts, had been under real threat.

Our candidates.

The after-service vin d’honneur enabled me to renew acquaintance with two old friends. John Philips used to be in Brussels, where he held a senior position in Public Relations and Communication with the External Action Service. After a period in West Africa, he is now in Geneva working with the International Red Cross/Red Crescent. Mike French went to the same school as me. He used to be chaplain at Holy Trinity Geneva. He now has responsibility for South America and Muslim relations for the World Lutheran Federation’s humanitarian and development arm ‘World Service’. Geneva is a remarkable hotspot for able and talented people working in fascinating international roles.

The Reverend Mike French & John Philips.

The morning’s events were followed by a most delightful lunch with clergy and churchwardens under a magnificent oak tree in the gorgeous garden of Julia and Philippe Chambeyron. It had been a very full weekend after a long working week, but a delicious al fresco lunch in good company overlooking the Jura Mountains felt like more than ample compensation!

The Reverends Carolyn Cooke & Julia Chambeyron; lunch under the old oak tree.

A Glorious Day at Maisons-Laffitte

Holy Trinity Maisons-Laffitte was built in the 1920s to meet the needs of English-speaking stable-lads and trainers who came to work at the local racecourse. Today the church community has an electoral roll of about 130. Many of the congregation are younger professional families on short-medium term assignments. Others are long term members – some married to French people, some in the process of naturalising as French citizens. The lovely grounds of the church provide an excellent space for social events and for children to play.

Beautiful surroundings for Holy Trinity church.

I was impressed by the children’s ministry at Holy Trinity: three groups each with three pairs of teachers making 18 volunteers overall. The church is also hoping to appoint a paid family and children’s worker in the future. Here, at the end of the morning service, the ‘Fireflies’ (3 to 5 year olds) are preparing to hand out bookmarks they have made reminding the adults to pray for the groups and their teachers. What a good idea!

The ‘Fireflies’ present their bookmarks.

During my visit, it was good to get acquainted with two of the senior members of Holy Trinity – Pat and Marguerite. Pat has been a church member for 66 years! She could remember her first chaplain who had been a prisoner of war in Japan.

Pat & Marguerite.

In the afternoon, we confirmed a large number of youngsters – with local Maisons-Laffitte candidates being joined by candidates from St. Michael’s Paris. Some of the younger Tamil siblings are pictured here – beautifully dressed for the occasion.

Dressed for the occasion – candidates for confirmation.

The confirmation itself was a big event. Perhaps 160 people crowded into Holy Trinity. When there was no more space in the church itself, people sat on chairs outside. It was a beautiful afternoon, with warm sunshine – and sparkling wine and strawberries to follow! A fine alternative to the final of the French Open taking place the same day in Paris.

Baptism and Confirmation candidates, with the Reverend Olaf Eriksson (far right of picture) from Maisons-Laffitte and the Reverend Dale Hanson (far left of picture) from St. Michael’s Paris.

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell R.I.P.

The news of Bishop Geoffrey Rowell’s death is a source of sadness and sorrow to many, including me personally. I first met Geoffrey in 2005, when I joined the Diocese in Europe. I experienced him as unfailingly kind, warm and hospitable. He stayed at our home in Belgium on a number of occasions. I recall with affection long conversations over a bottle of whisky late into the night. When I was appointed his successor, he was wonderfully encouraging and helpful. Geoffrey valued highly his friendship with his clergy, and those of us who served as his priests and deacons will miss him dearly.

For 12 years as Diocesan Bishop, Geoffrey embodied the Diocese in Europe in his own character and personality. He managed to remain a serious academic whilst also carrying out a demanding pastoral ministry. He was a great ambassador for a traditional, catholic, Anglicanism. He maintained an enviable quantity and quality of correspondence with ecumenical partners and friends. He travelled with remarkable energy and stamina. He inspired loyal devotion in those who worked most closely with him.

Many of us wondered how he would cope with the transition to retirement, but he seemed to handle it marvellously. His home in Fishbourne was beautifully furnished and served as a workshop for his continuing academic projects. It is sad that, after a demanding European ministry, he did not have long to enjoy retirement. His passing feels as if it marks the end of an era. We commend him to his Lord, praying that he will rest in peace and at the last day rise in glory. 

+Robert Innes

4th Bishop in Europe

Anglican-Old Catholic Youth Pilgrimage

The following is a guest post by Josh Peckett, CEMES intern at Holy Trinity Brussels, in the Diocese in Europe. He has been on a 10-month placement in Brussels while exploring his vocation, and recently attended this pilgrimage.

Between 25th & 28th May, 21 young people from various Anglican and Old Catholic churches across Europe came together in Echternach, Luxembourg.

The aim was to meet and talk, worship and enjoy time with one another. Out of this we hoped to share our vision for the future of our two Churches. Much work has been done formally over the years by senior members of the Churches, but we wished to explore how building relationships between young Christians, across national borders and church boundaries, might further unity between us.

The Pilgrimage gathered in a hostel just outside Echternach.

A few words of background…

Old-Catholics are a group of national churches which at various times separated from the Roman Catholic Church. They are Catholic in faith, order and worship but reject the Papal claims of infallibility and supremacy. The term “Old-Catholic” was adopted to mean original Catholicism.

The Anglican Communion signed the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht in 1931. This agreement of “full-communion” has formed the basis for an ongoing relationship mediated by the Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council (AOCICC), who organised the pilgrimage.

They have participated in the World Council of Churches since its beginning and are in formal dialogue with both the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Among them the Archbishop of Utrecht holds a primacy of honour not dissimilar to that accorded in the Anglican Communion to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anglicans and Old Catholics are welcome to participate fully in each other’s worship and receive communion at celebrations of the Eucharist; clergy may act fully in each other’s churches, with proper episcopal permission. This was the first agreement of its kind that Anglicans had ever concluded.

Why Echternach?

Echternach is a small town in eastern Luxembourg. It is the place where St. Willibrord is buried. For over 1200 years it has been regarded as a holy place. Willibrord was born in the Kingdom of Northumbria in 7th century England, educated in Ireland and went on to travel across the Netherlands to teach people the Christian faith. Given his background in Britain and Ireland, and becoming the first bishop of Utrecht, Willibrord has always had a special unifying significance for Anglicans and Old Catholics. In a world in which people want to build walls and erect barriers, Willibrord might inspire us to build bridges between different nations and cultures, and stand up for what we believe: justice and God’s love for everyone.

St. Willibrord’s shrine in the basilica, Echternach.

Who gathered?

The 21 young people who gathered represented a variety of churches:


  • The Church of England (mainland England & Diocese in Europe)
  • The Church of Ireland
  • The Lusitanian Church of Portugal

Old Catholics

  • The Old Catholic Church of Austria
  • The Old Catholic Church of Germany
  • The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands
  • The Old Catholic Church of Switzerland

Also in attendance were members of the Anglican and Old Catholic clergy, older lay members, and the co-ordinators of AOCICC, bishops Michael Burrows (Diocese of Cashel Ferns and Ossory, Church of Ireland) and Dick Schoon (Diocese of Haarlem, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands). Altogether we represented countries as varied as Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland.

Participants came from across Europe.

Our 4 days together were a mixture of prayer, formal discussions, and free-time in which we could get to know each other. Early on we presented to each other about the important aspects of Anglicanism and Old Catholicism, which really allowed everyone to get a feel for the contexts from which we came.

There were workshops on topics including: ‘Writing your own spiritual biography’, ‘Faith and Identity’ and ‘Curating your identity’. In the workshop on ‘Faith and Identity’, discussion centred on what defines our identity and how identity is constructed. I thought that this was an incredibly important conversation to have when many in society across Europe are asking the same questions of themselves. These practical, often personal conversations set the theme for what we would produce next.

We spent time in groups wrestling with the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be a Christian in the context that you live?
  • What challenges do I see?
  • What visions and hopes do I have?
  • What must the Church do to address these issues?

The results of those conversations were then formed into a declaration on unity and faith in action, called the Willibrord Declaration. We offer it to AOCICC and the wider Church for consideration. It can be found, in English and German, here.

Worshipping as one.

Beyond the formal conversations, the most important aspect of our time together was the space to chat, share stories, and build friendships. If unity is to mean more than formal agreements between churches, it must involve building ties between the members of our congregations. A beautiful reflection, given on the Friday’s evening prayer, asked us to consider the abiding presence of God with all people, and reflect on the call to unity. “He will lead us all into the New Jerusalem, where there will be no temple because people will know God by themselves, and will not forget that they are one.”

My deepest thanks to all those involved in the Pilgrimage. The memory of our time together in Echternach will remain with me for years to come, and in this time of Pentecost speaking the psalms together all at once in many languages during our closing service around the lake was an experience filled with great resonance.

A Prayer for Anglicans & Old Catholics:

Merciful God, we give thanks for your grace that we, Anglicans and Old Catholics, may walk together on the way. You gave us each other and united us, to become signs of reconciliation and unity for the world. As you called Jesus, so you call also us and fill us with your love for humankind. As you strengthened Jesus with your spirit, so you also strengthen us, so that we never lack strength and inspiration, creativity and courage. Teach us to see the opportunities which you offer us, and give us trust in you, who are with us on the way, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our God for ever. Amen.