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.

Palm Sunday in Ankara

All our chaplaincies are unique: but St. Nicholas Ankara is more unique than most! To begin with, it is the only building we have that lies entirely within an embassy compound. Though perhaps not the most beautiful building to look at from the outside, it is set in lovely grounds with commanding views over the city of Ankara.

Just 100 metres down the hill stands the impressive Residence of the British Ambassador.

Having a building on someone else’s land only works with the goodwill of the landowner. And we are very fortunate that Ambassador Sir Dominick Chilcott (front centre) and his wife Lady Jane Chilcott (front left) are friendly and supportive. To mark my arrival at St Nicholas, they organised a dinner for members of the Church Council in the splendid public rooms of the Residence. This was greatly enjoyed by all. Good links between our churches and diplomatic communities are very precious to us.

People gathered with excitement for our confirmation service on Sunday morning. Many of the congregation have to travel many hours by bus to get to church, so I was impressed that the group of confirmation candidates assembled to meet me at 9:00a.m. That is quite early on a Sunday morning for most of us. Having said that, the local muezzin had woken me shortly after five…

St. Nicholas Ankara is made up of two groups: the bigger group are Farsi-speaking Iranians. The smaller group are English speaking ex-patriots. Holding both groups together in a single community is a real challenge.

So I was delighted when we were able to appoint The Revd. Mohammad Eghtedarian as chaplain. He is one of the very few Farsi-speaking Oxford trained Anglo-Persian Anglican priests. His appointment was made possible through a partnership with ICS and CMS. Relocating Mohammad, Maryam and their family from Liverpool to Ankara, finding schooling for the children, and getting Turkish residence visas sorted was a long and sometimes stressful project, but we got there.

This is Mohammad’s first incumbency, so we are working together to help him with the big step up from a curacy at Liverpool Cathedral to incumbency in Turkey.

Sometimes when I meet with a Chaplaincy Council, it proves hard to escape concerns about money or buildings or the lack of young people. By contrast, my conversation with the Council at St. Nicholas was almost entirely about their passionate concern for outreach amongst the Iranians. I found it truly remarkable that people who are away from home themselves, have the energy to focus not so much on their own needs but on the needs of the refugees.

The fruit of this concern is shown in the picture above: a wonderful all-age array of Iranian confirmation candidates. In terms of the largest confirmation services I have ever taken, Ankara now holds first and second place. St. Nicholas is playing its own, prominent, role in the growth and nurture of Farsi-speaking Christian faith that we witness across Europe.

Please do pray for St. Nicholas: for Mohammad and Maryam, for wardens and council shortly to be elected at an annual meeting, and for all involved in the community’s governance to exercise, wise and careful oversight of this embassy-based chaplaincy engaging in a remarkable work of outreach in the capital of Turkey.

Celebrating 40 years of St. James Voorschoten

St James was planted 40 years ago from St. John and St. Philip The Hague. It serves the prosperous and delightful towns of Wassenaar and Leiden, as well as Voorschoten itself. Cycleways, parks and daffodil-clad waterways abound. This is the Netherlands at its most attractive and charming. I feel an especial sympathy for this area because I lived in nearby Rijswijk when I was little, whilst my father worked for Royal Dutch Shell.

The main international employers in the area include Shell, the European Patent Office and the European Space Agency. Consequently, a high proportion of the congregation are highly qualified engineers, scientists and lawyers. This is a very able and talented community.

St. James meets in the premises of the British School of the Netherlands. There is much to be said for meeting in a school. The main hall provides a suitable worship space. Classrooms make for excellent Sunday School rooms. And the welcoming atrium provides an ideal venue for after-church coffee.

Good relations between the church and the school mean that on special occasions there is the opportunity to use the school catering facilities: ‘Mike’s Place’. On the Saturday evening, a large number of current and past members gathered for a celebratory dinner. People feel very attached to St. James, and one former youth worker had travelled from California to be with us.

There is a long association between European Christianity and the brewing of beer, and it is good to see this being continued in Voorschoten. Niels (above) runs his own craft brewery, which began in his father-in-law’s garage. He served us ‘Crooked Spider’. This excellent brew takes its name from a spider who fell into a vat of beer, became drunk and clambered out of the vat walking crookedly.

After a good dinner there followed an evening of – surprisingly energetic – line dancing.

St. James prioritises work with children and young people. I was very impressed by this room laid out with age-appropriate craft activities for the children.

Sunday was a celebratory Confirmation service with candidates from Rotterdam and The Hague as well as Voorschoten itself.

This is what some of the young people said:

‘St. James means being connected to God, learning more about my faith and feeling more connected. I find Youth great to talk about my faith and learning more about it. It is a really nice place to be.’ – Chloe

‘St. James means inclusion to me. The Youth is great for learning about God at our level and the church is good as well. It’s an excellent worshipping community to be part of.’ – Tim

People come to St. James from many different traditions. Worship is recognisably Anglican, informal and generously inclusive. Creating a good atmosphere for worship in a school hall isn’t easy, but St. James’ manages to offer something that is beautiful, uplifting and inspiring.

St. James is a youthful community. 80% of its members are 50 years and under. They are busy, professional people and their families. St. James creates an oasis of peace and spiritual life to sustain folk in demanding workday lives. It is a church that is serious about discipleship, committed to children and young people, and mission-orientated. Under the skilful leadership of their chaplain, Ruan Crew, it is a happy and nurturing place.

I thank God for St. James Voorschoten, which is a community that encourages me. I was glad to celebrate with them their 40th anniversary and pray that they will continue to grow and develop ways of reaching out further in mission and service.


People’s March, London

Last Saturday, I participated in the People’s March in London. I took part to show solidarity with those who feel a deep sense of frustration that their voices are not being listened to by those in Government who are leading our country right now. And who, I have to say, seem to have no plan beyond Plan A, the Theresa May deal. That’s very worrying given that Parliament shows very little sign of wanting to follow Plan A. And the People’s March is an excellent example of how we can demonstrate peacefully in support of causes close to our hearts.

The same is true of the petition to Parliament. On Saturday afternoon, it had gathered 4 million signatures. I now see this morning that figure has exceeded 5.8 million. In the space of 3 days… and taken together, the March and the Petition are very much a ‘movement of the people’. The time for mantra-like repetition of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is long gone; and everyone who cares about the future of the UK is of course asking what Brexit should mean on paper, in process, and in practice.

I voted to Remain in 2016. I would dearly like the UK to stay in the EU. So would the vast majority of people in our European Diocese, given a vote. At the same time, Brexit must entail reconciling and healing majorities and minorities that have expressed themselves and continue to do so. I make no apology in this blog for engaging directly in the political choices that are before the UK’s lawmakers in the House of Commons.

I support a second chance, if we want to make another choice for our country.

What I do mean by that? It is patently obvious that we need a Plan B. In addition to two landslide defeats of Plan A, the Speaker of the House, John Bercow indicated yesterday that a 3rd vote substantially the same as the first two defeated motions would not be admissible in terms of Parliamentary procedure.

I remember debates in the early 2000s when several EU member states including France and Netherlands rejected a new proposed Treaty for a European Constitution. And I remember that the former French President, Giscard d’Estaing, said “there is no plan B”.

He was wrong.

There had to be to respect the democratic wishes of millions of people. And the EU then developed a revised agreement that ended up becoming the Lisbon Treaty.

What does this show? The EU does listen; and I think the EU has listened all the way through the Brexit talks process with the UK.

But we find ourselves in a similar place now in the UK, in the sense of needing a Plan B.

The indicative votes are an important signalling step

That’s why these indicative votes in Parliament yesterday are a very important signalling step on the future direction we could take as a country. As Archbishop Justin has said on social media yesterday, it is easy to criticise our MPs.

Taking seriously the indicative votes at Westminster is critical. Leaving aside views on the Theresa May deal, without an alternative plan the House of Commons has nowhere to lead us to. The outcome will inevitably be exit without a deal on 12 April if there is no other UK plan; yet no fewer than 400 MPs voted against no deal yesterday evening.

But a well-developed and thought through Plan B is going to take time, both to construct a national consensus and negotiate it with the EU27.

As I indicated in a Church Times interview today, I believe that Government should not extend Article 50, but revoke it. I know views differ sharply on this point.

Language is so vitally important in political debate. On Brexit, it has gone way beyond the vocal into the vituperative and visceral. Here’s an example:

Instead of saying “revoking Article 50 is betraying the people who voted for Brexit”, how about saying:

“As a country, we need now to take a pause and a deep breath given the state we’re in. Brexit is fundamentally about our future national direction as a United Kingdom. Decisiveness and durability are far more likely to come from a considered examination of the multiple options we have.”

As Church leaders, we should encourage politicians and people to engage in this prayerfully.

I sense clearly that because the debate has focused so narrowly around one deal or no deal, that has not happened. And politicians are not serving the British people as they should by not telling them what else could be within reach.

If we are not staying in the EU, I am clear that we have to find a way to settle within a European orbit.

– I want to see a durable proposition for the UK that preserves our economic prosperity by access to a single market of 500million consumers. There is already mounting evidence of a Brexodus among UK-based companies moving their operations to the rest of the EU.

– I would want a solution that preserves peace, unity and prosperity on the whole of the island of Ireland.

– I would want to keep customs arrangements as simple as possible for consumers and businesses by remaining in a customs union with the EU.

– And I would want the UK to be able to continue to trade globally outside the EU as well as with our EU neighbours.

We are not Norway. Our economies are different. But the principles of a negotiated agreement between neighbours close to the EU (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein) are the same.

A bespoke relationship that the UK could negotiate within, and as a variant of an EEA/EFTA type model, seems to me to offer a landing zone for the future of the UK in relation to the EU. It is this kind of mid-way proposition that deserves serious consideration. Other alternatives are collapsing around us. That’s why I support a pause in the process regarding Article 50.

I note also that some of our politicians are putting their spin on Exodus, for their Brexit ends. As I said on social media this week, I strongly object to Boris Johnson’s misuse of Exodus in the Telegraph article he wrote. Britons are not slaves, the EU is not Pharaoh and Mrs May is not Moses.

And references to ‘Grand Wizards’ in our political discourse are also deeply unwelcome. I am appalled to see British politicians styling themselves in this way. We must keep Ku Klux Klan resonances out of Brexit. This is particularly concerning since it refers specifically to the so-called 4 year “reconstruction era” of KKK in the late 1860s. I see the story has rightly attracted condemnation.

Vickie Sims signing the agreement with the Italian State

I end this blog on a positive, uplifting note.

Whilst the UK’s current relationship with the EU may be drawing to a close, we have entered a new phase in a key European relationship in our Diocese: we signed an agreement with the Italian State giving the Church of England official recognition at a formal ceremony in the august setting of the Palazzo Chigi, or Presidential Palace, in Rome this week.

This is the culmination of many years of effort, including by Vickie Sims as Archdeacon and Paolo Coniglio of the association of the Church of England in Italy. It is also due to the support of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, including Jill Morris, currently HM Ambassador to Rome, and her team.

This latest example of practical co-operation reaffirms our commitment as a Church to stay on the continent of Europe, whatever Brexit may bring.