St. George’s and St. Paul’s Lisbon

The 12th May was a special Saturday in Lisbon: it was of course the final of the Eurovision Song Contest and the first time the contest had ever been staged in Portugal.

Immediately on our arrival, Helen was swept off by Ginnelle Sawyer (wife of Frank Sawyer, the Chaplain of the Greater Lisbon Chaplaincy) and her daughter Maggie for a tuktuk sightseeing ride around the city.

My own visit to the Portuguese capital began in the British Cemetery attached to St. George’s Church – equally romantic in its own way! The cemetery dates back to the early 18th century. Non-Roman Catholics traditionally had the right to be buried here, although nowadays practising Roman Catholics are also admitted and, indeed, there are ‘residents’ from other nations too. The most famous grave is that of the novelist Henry Fielding. But there are many other fascinating monuments: for example, an obelisk commemorating Boers who fled the British in South Africa and settled in Portugal having arrived via Mozambique. It is also the final resting place of the English hymn writer Philip Doddridge. Much European history could be studied with reference to the graves here, and I was delighted to learn that a cultural project is shortly going to be underway to provide more research information and easier access to the cemetery.

St. George’s Church is one of the diocese’s largest buildings. We sang evening prayer together. Here a large group share in a dramatic reading of 1 Corinthians 12 – illustrating Paul’s image of the body of Christ by everyone reading in his/her own native language. The effect was deeply moving – and something many of our chaplaincies could try for themselves.

St. Paul’s Estoril is also a large though contrasting building – modern, light and airy. We gathered on the Sunday morning for baptism and confirmation.

Michael Allaway missed out on baptism as a baby because his father had been seriously injured in a traffic accident. He was nearly baptized at the age of 11, except that a bomb fell on his home town of Reading killing many people, so the baptism never took place. Irrespective he went on to have a highly productive life, including inventing a special bed used to help hospital patients avoid pressure sores. At the age of 84 he is still working …and he has finally been baptized!

Our four confirmation candidates – Ginnelle, Michael, Wojolomi and Jeremy gather with chaplain Frank Sawyer, newly inducted worship leader Pamela Patten and colleagues after the service.

I particularly liked this typically Portuguese blue tiling that adorns an inner courtyard at St. Paul’s.

Whilst world attention was focused on the Eurovision contest and its songs celebrating romantic love, we had gathered to celebrate a different kind of love. This is the love which is made known in acts of loving kindness, in the love of people different from ourselves, in the overcoming of barriers of language and nationality. It is a love which endures and will finally triumph when people from every tribe and nation and race will gather around the throne of the Lamb; when the lion will lie down in peace with the lamb and when God finally wipes away every tear from our eyes.

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Ascension Day in Bruges

Ascension is a major public holiday in Belgium. In Bruges, it coincides with the annual ‘Procession of the Holy Blood’, which is the most important day in the city’s civic and religious calendar, attracting between 60,000 and 100,000 visitors. This year, I was delighted to be invited to assist with the celebrations as the guest of the Bishop of Bruges, Lode Aerts.

The day began well. Fr. Augustine Nwaekwe met me at the railway station. As we walked together into town, a small car pulled in ahead of us. A lady jumped out, and with great excitement announced that she was from New Mexico and that she had seen auras of blessing hovering over us both. Was she a prophetess? Well we returned her blessing, and continued on to the residence of Bishop Lode.
Bishop Lode is young, contemporary and humble. He was also extraordinarily welcoming and hospitable. As you can see, he even shared his pastoral staff with me – after all, he said, we are both shepherds.

The day began with a beautiful solemn mass in Saint Saviour’s Cathedral. It is a large medieval building, and it was packed.

The following lunch was the warmest Flemish hospitality, with excellent food and convivial conversation. Yes, you could truthfully describe this as ‘The Feast of the Ascension’.

After the coffee and petit fours, Bishop Lode invited guests to sign the visitors book. He noted that one of the previous signatories was Cardinal Mercier (a Belgian hero of mine) and another even better known was Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II).

The processions began in the afternoon. Special guests were given seats in a centrally placed ‘tribune’, so we had a grandstand view. Along with numerous brass bands, the main feature is a long series of tableaux that depict the story of scripture from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of the Resurrection.

They start with the Garden of Eden. The tree of life is in the centre, and to its left there is a dangerous looking snake…

The scene from Pharaoh’s court was one of my favourites – lots of attention having been paid to the cuneiform.

Later in the sequence, here is John the Baptist being arrested. He was followed by Salome and a troupe of dancing girls, who screamed when a servant ran amongst them with a very realistic head on a platter!

The events of Palm Sunday, the trial, arrest and crucifixion were portrayed vividly before us.

Until we came to the yellow and gold of resurrection and ascension. It was indeed a rich mixture of action, colour, drama and discourse worked out on the city streets by local people who take upon themselves the biblical characters year after year.

After the tableaux, the bishops and priests were invited to join the procession. I think we walked for about 90 minutes in our robes, visiting parts of the city I had never seen before and amidst smiling crowds of all ages.

I was told that around 200 horses take part. Following such a large number of animals around the streets was a vivid reminder that – whilst modern forms of transport cause air pollution – the hygiene issues caused by horse drawn transport were surely far from insignificant too.

But what about the ‘Holy Blood’?

I haven’t yet said much about the holy blood. At the centre of the procession is the phial of holy blood said to have been collected by Joseph of Arimathea and eventually transported to Bruges where it is stored in St. Saviour’s Cathedral. But a theological problem troubled me. If the Ascension teaches us that Jesus’s physical body has left this earth and is now exalted with God the Father in heaven, why are we venerating blood that he supposedly left behind? I was too shy to raise this myself, but Fr. Augustine kindly relayed my puzzle to one of our Catholic hosts. We needn’t worry he told us. The blood is a myth. It didn’t really come from New Testament times. But it does serve to promote veneration of our Lord Jesus, which is surely a good thing.

I couldn’t deny that. We live in a culture where very many people do not know the stories of the Bible. But this annual procession had led upwards of 60,000 people to stand for hours on crowded pavements to watch a powerful enactment of the story of holy scripture.

I returned to Brussels after a most memorable day, feeling there could be few better ways to celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, and God’s desire that people should come to know more deeply the salvation he has wrought for us through biblical history and most especially in the life, death and rising again of the Lord.

Brexit Negotiations: A new milestone is reached

Following the meeting of EU heads of Government (Prime Ministers and the odd President) last week a clear milestone has been reached in the Brexit negotiations:

  1. They received a draft legal text transforming everything that has been agreed so far (citizens’ rights, financial settlement, transition period etc) into the final form it will need to be for the formal Withdrawal Treaty. This contains 112 pages of substantive text. Of these, 74 pages are shaded totally green (I.e. full agreement between both parties’ negotiators). None are completely yellow (objective agreed but drafting changes or clarifications still required). 4 pages are completely white (text proposed by the EU on which negotiations are ongoing). There are no sections marked red – failure to agree. Agreed paragraphs on the transition period include confirmation of the end date at 31st December 2020 and the fact that UK and EU citizens will continue to enjoy full freedom of movement and settlement rights up until that date.

 

  1. They adopted negotiating guidelines for the future trade relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit. Tariff-free trade in goods seems to be the only thing firmly on offer (and that subject to ‘rules of origin’ restrictions which would exclude goods with substantial non-UK components and the UK keeping its fishing waters open to EU vessels). What is on offer in relation to trade in services is not so clear. Reference is made to ‘host state rules’ applying which is likely to mean a need to re-register your trading entity in any EU state you want to do business with and be subject to their national rules, whereas at present you only need to be registered in one EU country to trade freely with them all. The Guidelines also call for ‘ambitious provisions’ on the movement of natural persons – ie as near as possible to ongoing freedom of movement for EU citizens to come to the UK and vice versa!

This offer from the EU has been constrained to fit within the UK Government’s ‘red lines’ of what they are not prepared to include in any future relationship, such as continued membership of the EU the single market (like Norway), the EU customs union (like Turkey) or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This is graphically illustrated in the chart shown to the heads by EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier. For each of the existing models for a close relationship with the EU short of membership it gives the UK Government red lines which rule it out. The only exceptions being the current arrangements that the EU has with Canada and South Korea.

But these new Guidelines are keen to point out that if there is any flexibility from the UK side on these ‘red lines’ then more could be offered – ‘The approach outlined…reflects the levels of rights and obligations compatible with the positions stated by the UK. If these positions were to evolve, the Union will be prepared to reconsider its offer’ (para 6).

The Guidelines also reference, in their opening paragraph, the importance of progress being made on the key unfinished business from the previous rounds of negotiation, specifically the Irish border and ‘issues relating to the territorial application of the Withdrawal Agreement, notably as regards Gibraltar.’ Later in the document it is pointed out that because of regulatory divergence free trade does not mean frictionless trade. Leaving the customs union and the single market will inevitably make checks and controls ‘to uphold the integrity of the single market’ necessary. (para 4)

This document represents a considerable hardening of tone compared with earlier more general guidelines. This may reflect a degree of impatience and frustration on the part of the EU negotiating side and a clear intention to play hardball now that time is running out. They are sending a strong reminder that the EU is a rules-based club and therefore the closeness of the UK’s future relationship depends on the degree to which it is willing to abide by the rules that are mandatory for club members, even tough it will no longer have any say in how they are made. There may be a fear that to give the UK anything approaching the benefits that full club members enjoy will lead to questions being asked amongst the remaining 27 members of the club as to whether it is still worth keeping the rules if the same trade advantages can be gained by other means. The document therefore calls for ‘robust guarantees which ensure a level playing field’ to ‘prevent unfair competitive advantage.. through undercutting the levels of protection with respect to, inter alia, competition and state aid, tax, social, environment and regulatory measures and practices.’ (para 12)

As well as trade the Guidelines call for close co-operation to be maintained between the UK and the EU after the transition period is over in a number of other areas including:

  • The fight against terrorism & international crime (paras 3 & 13(i))
  • security, defence & foreign policy (paras 3 & 13(i))
  • Climate change, sustainable development, cross-border pollution (para 9)
  • Coordination of social security & mutual recognition of professional qualifications (para 10)
  • Judicial cooperation on matrimonial, parental responsibility and related matters (para 10)
  • Continued transport connectivity (para 11(i))
  • Participation in EU research & innovation, education & culture programmes (para 11(ii))

Now that these Guidelines have been issued, negotiations can commence on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU. The target is still to have the full text of the Withdrawal Agreement concluded by this October in order to allow for its ratification by all EU Member States and the European Parliament before Brexit Day on 29th March 2019. Effectively this means that substantive negotiations must conclude before the summer break to give time for detailed text drafting and legal checks, it will also have to be translated into the 23 official EU languages.

Whilst the topics covered in earlier rounds of negotiation have to be fully dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement, it is acknowledged that the future trade relationship can only be concluded in detail once the UK has become a third country for EU purposes. Before Brexit only a ‘political agreement’ has to be reached setting out agreed principles and strategy which will be appended to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Note well: I must as before give a strong health warning.  EU Treaty negotiations work on the principle that ‘nothing is finally agreed until everything is agreed’ – so if we do end up with a ‘no deal’ scenario these agreed terms cannot be relied upon. 

 

The Warmest of Welcomes to our new Syrian Families

Just occasionally one gets to do something which is a pure joy. This morning was such an occasion. With fellow religious leaders, I went along to Brussels National Airport in Zaventem to welcome Syrian families arriving in Belgium within the context of our Belgian ‘Humanitarian Corridor’. Arriving as a refugee is a difficult experience. So we were determined to make their arrival as pleasant as possible.

We gathered for a reception on the little-used fourth floor of the airport. Our guests came to the arrivals hall on the second floor and then took the lift to the fourth. Exiting the lift they were presented with roses and little gifts for the children. Their trolleys were labelled ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ to make sure they were accorded VIP status.

Amongst those in the welcoming party, were Baroness Hilde Kieboom (above, centre) – President of Belgium’s Sant Egidio community – and Mgr. George Kourie (above, right), the Patriarchal Vicar for the Syrian Orthodox Diocese of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

Our guests had begun their journey to Belgium at 2:00a.m. so they were very tired. But there was still a lot of excitement, hugging and kissing.

Drinks and nibbles were provided (and this being Belgium they were delicious) before there were some brief welcome speeches from Christian and Muslim religious leaders. In my speech I explained that I was a migrant too, that I had found Belgium a very welcoming country and that I hoped our Syrian guests did too.

We finished with a team photograph.

After the Welcome ceremony, our guests were accompanied to their new homes. All the recognised religions in Belgium have contributed to the Belgian Government approved Humanitarian Corridor Scheme. The Roman Catholics have raised half a million euros – an amazing sum! Anglicans (Diocese in Europe and TEC) have raised 16,000 euros – which is quite a lot for a small community. The money is used to house our Syrian guests and to get them started on integrating into Belgian life.

At Easter time we think of Jesus bringing new life where there was darkness and death. Our Syrian guests have left a war-torn country in which they have known suffering and trauma. Their lives were previously almost without hope. They now have a new start in the peaceful and secure conditions of Belguim. Their children will receive education and they all have a hopeful future. It is so heartening and encouraging to be able to help give these families the chance to begin a new life. It is a little parable of the resurrection.

Ordination & Confirmation in Aquitaine

An ordination is always a special event. For the weekend of 17th/18th March, Helen and I took the train to Bordeaux for the ordination of Charlotte Sullivan on the Saturday and a confirmation service in Bertric-Burée on the Sunday. We travelled on one of the new Euroduplex ‘InOui’ branded trains that cover the 528km between Paris and Bordeaux in just two hours, and the train arrived on time, to the minute.

The new high speed train serving the non-stop LGV line from Paris to Bordeaux.

A further half hour train ride to Libourne, then an hour in the car took us to the peaceful Abbaye de l’Echourgnac convent where Charlotte had been on her pre-ordination retreat in the company of our Advisor on Women’s Ministry, Carolyn Cook.

The simple and profoundly beautiful chapel at Echourgnac.

After an overnight stay with Chaplain Tony and Ingrid Lomas, we drove on the Saturday morning for nearly two hours through the beautiful wine-making area of St. Emilion to the worship centre in Bordeaux. Aquitaine includes 14 Anglican worship centres. Charlotte is to be based in Bordeaux itself, which is a major city and rather different in character from the smaller towns and villages in which the other worship centres are located.

The ordination service opened with a confident rendition of ‘My Jesus, My Saviour’ by the children’s choir. The music for the rest of the service was supported by a very good adult choir. Amongst other items, they sang John Ireland’s ‘Greater Love’, an anthem which sets out the message of the gospel as clearly and powerfully as any other English-language music I know, and finished with a spirited rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The Archdeacon of France, The Bishop, The Revd. Charlotte Sullivan, The Revd. Tony Lomas.

Charlotte’s ordination as a priest is a cause of huge thanksgiving for the Aquitaine chaplaincy, where she is much loved and respected. She was supported by family and friends and many chaplaincy members in a full church.

Later in the service we commissioned Tony Lomas as Area Dean. He will look after the clergy and congregations of South Western France. Distances are big in this part of the diocese, and I hope Tony will be able to support and encourage fellow clergy working in isolated circumstances.

After the service: a newly priested Charlotte with Diocesan colleagues and Richard Bromley representing the Aquitaine chaplaincy patron, ICS.

On Sunday we set out from Tony and Ingrid’s home to drive north this time for an hour and a half, crossing the Dordogne river valley and passing through the pine forests of Les Petites-Landes to the Bertric-Burée worship centre. If there were seven wonders of the Diocese in Europe, this might well be one of them.

The Romanesque-style Church of Bertric-Burée.

The Church itself is a Roman Catholic building. However, there is no regular Catholic mass (I was told that the Catholic priest has 30 churches to look after), and the building is let to the Anglican community. A charming house opposite the church became vacant recently so this is also leased to provide social and meeting space. The Anglicans are delighted to have a proper church building and social space at reasonable cost and without the responsibilities of ownership. Meanwhile the Mayor and the Catholic church are equally pleased that the heritage of the village is looked after by a worshipping community.

Of course, using someone else’s building has the odd drawback. Just before our confirmation service, Tony noticed that the main electricity supply was emitting smoke. The locals said this was normal – it was French electrics and we were in the countryside. Tony was not quite convinced… so we switched off all the electric heating to be on the safe side. The temperature in the church was therefore a bit chilly, but we were assured that a conversation with the Mayor the following day would see the problem attended to. How nice to have one’s building looked after by the Commune in this way!

There would not be so many small English villages that would be full to capacity for a confirmation with 7 adults candidates and two young people, with a good choir and organist to boot. But here we were with just that in a small French village!

After the service we celebrated with a fine hot lunch provided by members of the chaplaincy. We ate in the village ‘foyer’ kindly made available by the Mayor. A one-hour drive back to the nearest main TGV station at Angoulme and our visit concluded.

Team photo of nine confirmation candidates, readers and clergy.

Supplementary Postscript

Aficionados of Anglican Canon Law will be aware that Ordinations may only be conducted on certain major feast days. It may be wondered whether March 17th, the Feast of St. Patrick, has sufficient weight to count as a proper major feast. In the event, St. Patrick’s Day coincided with the last game in the Rugby Six Nations, in which Ireland decisively beat England to take the Grand Slam. Bordeaux being a keen rugby city, the anxious would have been left in no doubt that St. Patrick’s Day 2018 in Bordeaux was a major feast.

 

Visit to Christ Church Istanbul & All Saints Moda

Helen and I were invited by Fr. Ian Sherwood to spend the weekend in Istanbul. We began our time with a visit to All Saints Moda, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

All Saints was built in 1878, after the Crimean War. The building costs were largely covered by the Whittalls, one of the most famous of the great Levantine trading families.

The Whittalls’ former house.

The fine house in which the Whittalls used to live is just opposite the church. Today it is famous for another reason. It was more recently owned by one Turkey’s best-known rock musicians – Baris Manco, “The Turkish Elvis”. 

The house is now a museum to Baris Manco and contains lots of interesting memorabilia. The friendly curator is a member of All Saints.

Remembering “the Turkish Elvis”.

The building of All Saints was constructed by the architect G.E. Street, who also designed Christ Church. In a city where churches are frequently hidden, this church is open to the street and deliberately welcoming and integrated into its Muslim neighbourhood.

All Saints Moda.

In previous decades, the pleasant suburb of Moda was a favourite place for British people to make their home. Today there are few British people in the area. So, since 1996, All Saints has been the meeting place of the Turkish-speaking Istanbul Presbyterian Church.

The Reverend Dr. Turgay Ucal is the Presbyterian church’s pastor. He is shown above (far left) with me, Fr. Ian Sherwood and Yuce Kabakci who looks after a small ‘Asian-side’ Anglican fellowship. Turgay made us most welcome with an early morning Turkish coffee and brandy, plus offering us a splendid lunch later in the day.

Sunday was spent on the ‘European’ side of the Bosphorus. I was invited to confirm nine candidates at Christ Church, mostly adults in their 20s and 30s.

Confirmations in a city which spans two continents.

We were honoured to be joined at the service by Metropolitan Athenagoras, representing His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch.

We dedicated a new window at the church, before gathering for coffee and a ‘team photograph’ in the lovely church grounds.

The service was followed by a lunch at an historic restaurant that was, at an earlier stage in its life, frequented by Kemal Atatürk. A table is kept, unoccupied, in the corner of the restaurant, in his memory.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is considered the father of the modern Turkish state and remains a revered figure in Turkey.

We enjoyed a fine lunch celebrated in the company of the church council and the deputy consul general. We flew home with the excellent Turkish Airlines after a lovely and very worthwhile weekend in Istanbul.

Strangers at the Gates: Welcoming the Migrant & Refugee

The Lampedusa Cross – made of wood from broken boats washed up on the shore on the Italian island. A constant reminder of the plight of refugees.

Last month I addressed the Gibraltar Archdeaconry Synod. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak on one of the most pressing ethical and political issues of our times. When we agreed the diocesan strategy in 2015, we included striving for the creation of a just society by defending the poor, the disadvantaged and those in need. Since then, our concern for work with migrants and refugees has become a real priority. Many chaplaincies throughout the diocese are involved in this work one way or another. At a European level, the crisis over refugees has been one of the most difficult and divisive questions that the EU has had to face in the last decade.

It has mostly been assumed that responsibility for welcoming and integrating refugees is mainly a state responsibility. But one of the most interesting developments in the last few years has been the creation of humanitarian corridors or humanitarian admission schemes in which private individuals or groups work together with government agencies to enable refugees to immigrate. This model is particularly well established in Canada, which has over the last 40 years welcomed some 300,000 refugees through private sponsorship programmes. In recent years, nearly half of all refugees to Canada have been privately sponsored. About 75% of Canadian sponsors are churches or faith-based NGOs.

The community of Sant’Egidio has been a leader in this field. In collaboration with the Italian Protestant Churches it has established a humanitarian corridor from Libya to Italy. UNHCR, in dialogue with the Italian Government, identifies families living in a camp in Libya who are eligible for relocation, perhaps because they are especially vulnerable or there are children at risk. Individuals in Italy sign-up with Sant’Egidio to sponsor and receive a migrant family. Welcome contracts are entered into, and the refugees are then flown legally and safely from Libya to a home and support network arranged for them in, say, Milan.

A humanitarian corridor is also being developed in France with Catholic and Protestant partners, and there are schemes underway in Germany and Ireland. In the UK, the Home Office is very interested in this kind of arrangement and is working with the Church of England amongst others on these kinds of partnerships. Three schemes are underway: the Gateway Protection programme, the Syrian Vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme.

In Belgium, where I live, all the main faith groups, including the Anglican Church, have committed to working with the immigration ministry to bring 130 vulnerable families from camps in Lebanon into Belgium. We Anglicans are a relatively small group, so our church has committed to sponsor one family, at a cost of €17,000. Just before Christmas the first two families from Lebanon arrived at Brussels Airport under this scheme, amidst a lot of excitement and publicity. Their arrival felt like a contemporary Christmas story!

The first two Syrian refugee families benefitting from the humanitarian corridor arrived in Belgium in December 2017. News coverage here.

Jesus said, “Come you who are blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” As a Diocese in Europe we are committed to making a difference for the lives of the refugees we find in our communities. Bishop’s Appeals have supported work with refugees. The last Advent appeal supported the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, connected to our Episcopal sister church of St Paul’s Within the Walls, Rome. This year’s Lent appeal is going to our own new project in Calais. Here we are working with the Diocese of Canterbury and SPCG to fund a project officer and new chaplain to the Calais chaplaincy.

There are still many refugees and migrants in the areas around Calais and Dunkirk.

The photo above shows an Iranian family living in the woods near Dunkirk. Their story was reported here. The man is severely disabled and unable to walk or speak. The woman tells journalists that police had slashed their tents whilst clearing the woods overnight. She shows cuts in the fabric of the tent, which they have now abandoned. They are desperate to get to the UK where they think job prospects are better, but they seem to have no idea of border and migration policy.

I want to end with this thought. After Easter last year, I visited a refugee camp on the Serbia-Croatia border and was introduced to some of the children living there. The Serbs are very welcoming to refugees, because many of them know in their recent history what it is like to be displaced from your homes. These children are the future. We want the best for them, and what each of us chooses to do now will have long-term consequences. May God give us welcoming hearts to meet the strangers at our gate, and then invite them in.


The full text of my address to the Gibraltar Archdeaconry Synod is available here. In addition to the topic of private sponsorship, it deals with the confusion of definitions around ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’, explores some relevant biblical material and outlines five broad principles for engaging with the European refugee crisis.