St. Luke’s Fontainebleau

The appointment of a new chaplain at St. Luke’s Fontainebleau brings a long interregnum to an end. The evening before the licensing, those most closely involved in the new appointment (parish reps, archdeacon and bishop) gathered together with the new priest and her husband for a celebratory meal. Appointments in our Diocese take a long time. We had interviewed Elisabeth at the beginning of the year, and we were all thrilled finally to have got to the point of marking her formal beginning at St. Luke’s.

Elisabeth Dean is Australian by background but has lived in France long enough to be a French citizen. She brings the best part of three decades of ministerial experience to her new role. She has been an incumbent in semi-rural and inner-city areas. She has valuable experience with the Australian safeguarding authority. And last month she moved with her husband Nöel to the beautiful and historic town of Fontainebleau.

It was a delight to meet Nöel, who is a loyal and supportive spouse. He brings his own experience as a senior paramedic… hopefully that won’t be needed at St. Luke’s.

St. Luke’s has been well served by several different locums who have stayed for longer or shorter periods. But the arrival of a new chaplain will give a sense of stability, more consistent pastoral care and the possibility of establishing new vision. So Elisabeth’s arrival was truly an occasion of great joy. A new chapter opens in the history of St. Luke’s. And from a diocesan point of view, I must say there is particular delight in appointing a woman to an incumbency position.

Fontainebleau has historic links with Napoleon. Today it is famous as the home of the leading business school, INSEAD. There are many professional people and young families at St. Luke’s, and we appreciated the contribution of young people to our worship.

We welcomed ecumenical guests, as well as supporters from Elisabeth’s former chaplaincy (St. Andrew’s Pau, in the South West of France) and from St. George’s Paris.

Please join me in praying that Elisabeth will have great wisdom and insight as she begins her ministry at St. Luke’s, and that the Lord will go before her helping her to form good and strong relationships. May the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace – be the hallmarks of her ministry and of the community of St. Luke’s into the future.

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Brexit: The View from the Bishop’s Office

The Brexit end-game is upon us. It’s time for cool heads and steady nerves. Over the summer the pace and atmosphere of the Brexit negotiations here in Brussels have changed remarkably in a positive direction. For quite some time the greatest negotiations appeared to be those of the British Government negotiating with itself. But since the fateful cabinet awayday at Chequers, our continental partners at last have a clear and realistic voice speaking for Britain, and bluster and grandstanding have been largely confined to the backbenches. At the same time the tone of communications from the chief EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, appears to have become less rigid. For some time he has been adamant (taking his cue from the guidelines given to him by the leaders of the 27 Member States who will remain after Brexit) that Britain’s only option was to adopt off-the-shelf one of the trade relationship deals currently applying to neighbouring non-EU countries or major economic players elsewhere in the world. He was warning that Mrs May’s ‘red lines’ meant several of these were off the table. ‘No cherry picking’ was the constant refrain and ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it.’ But now there is talk of an ‘ambitious partnership’ which ‘has no precedent’. Although speaking to German car manufacturers last week he warned that delays for checks as car components criss-cross across the Channel could not be ruled out at present.

Yet, at the very moment when the likelihood of an amicable deal being concluded is at its greatest, with both sides seeming to have the will to go the extra mile, the media on both sides of the Channel is awash with information about a broad range of unpleasant consequences in the event of a ‘no deal scenario’. This is very unsettling for all those of us who felt reassured by the agreed text of the vast majority of the Withdrawal Treaty – which gives rights for British citizens currently living on the continent broadly equivalent to those that currently apply to everyone through EU freedom of movement rules. But, of course, these rights and safeguards only come into force if there is a completely agreed Withdrawal Treaty before Brexit takes place.

Of the reasons why (beyond purely the limited time left) both sides in the Brexit negotiations have chosen this time to reveal their contingency plans for a no deal situation, one can only speculate. It could be to signal that they have the option to walk away from the negotiating table and therefore have a stronger hand to drive a hard bargain. But it could equally well be that they wish to prepare people to accept more willingly the eventual deal, which will inevitably involve some compromise of initial negotiating positions, in a sense of relief that the awful alternative of no deal has been avoided. The clock is ticking, sufficient time needs to be allowed once a Treaty text is agreed for ratification by the British Parliament and the European Parliament. The summit meeting of Prime Ministers and Presidents fixed for 18th October in Brussels has up to now been seen as the deadline for agreement, although there is talk beginning of a possible extra summit meeting in November devoted to Brexit alone.

Even before the cabinet charm offensive of visiting national leaders of the 27 continuing EU member states began, there were signs of a willingness by at least some of them to perhaps be more flexible towards the UK position, now that it at last had one! They have to balance up the need on the one hand not to set an attractive precedent for other member states to be tempted to follow, particularly with the rise of Eurosceptic populism in a few of them, and on the other hand a wish to avoid, if at all possible, the negative consequences for their own countries of the EU block’s second largest economy crashing out of the Union in an unregulated way.

The EU Prime Ministers and Presidents have their next meeting in two weeks’ time (Sept 20th) in the current presidency state Austria. Although this is billed as an ‘informal’ meeting there will certainly be discussion of Brexit at some stage with a report back on the negotiations from Michel Barnier. Options for reaching a deal with the UK will be spelt out and leaders will need to let him know how much room for manoeuvre they are willing to give him in order to conclude the negotiations.

Please pray for both sides in the negotiations, at the level of officials (under the radar) as they are seeking to find a constructive way forward. But the final decision rests in the hands of the national leaders. May they act with wisdom and proper concern for the well being of all their citizens.

Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc

I love holidays! You could say that writing about a holiday on a blog is a dangerous mix of business and pleasure. But ministry is about the whole of life, and periods of rest and recreation are an essential part of living well. God’s creative work concludes with Sabbath. And human beings are made not just to work but to share in God’s own enjoyment of the natural world.

For me, a holiday has to involve a complete break from office, emails and computer screens. That is in line with ‘resilience’ theory too. This summer, I decided to go for something more strenuous than usual: the Tour du Mont Blanc trek. I have done quite a bit of walking. At school I did adventurous training in snowy mountains with the cadet force. In our 20s, Helen and I did a shortish trek in the Annapurna Mountains. But I now get dangerously close to the age of 60: the Mont Blanc tour is a serious trek and this certainly felt like a bracing challenge.

The Tour du Mont Blanc circles the Mont Blanc massif. It normally takes 10 days and covers a distance of about 180km with a total of 10km of ascent/descent – somewhat higher than Everest. Also, you are supposed to train for these things. Belgium is famously flat. And the only noticeable ascent and descent in my daily routine is one flight of stairs to bed.

But for a Bishop in Europe the Trek has huge appeal. The Alps could be considered the central geographical feature of Western Europe. In walking around this massif you feel at the heart of the continent. And the Trek winds at high level through three of our archdeaconries: France, Italy and Switzerland. It negotiates the stunning high passes and cols that separate (or link) these three countries.

Many people do the Tour in pairs. My son James and I decided we would do it together. With James living in Glasgow and me in Brussels we don’t see as much of each other as we used to, and we get on famously. This was something we knew we would both enjoy. And it was a father-son bonding experience. But the walking is strenuous. And the summer heatwave meant it was hot even at altitude. So we didn’t actually talk to each other much when we were walking as walking itself needed all our effort.

That, I reflected, is one of the significant things about a mountain trek. It is continuously demanding and totally absorbing. Much of the time it was physically uncomfortable. After Day 2 our feet were liberally covered in blisters and we had used up all our first aid plasters. Arriving at the top of a col or a summit gives a sense of euphoric pleasure. Suffering and release from suffering. It is not surprising that Buddhist spirituality seems prevalent and explicit in some of the mountain lodges. A good number of solo trekkers were engaged in pushing boundaries, aiming to discover who they are or what they could achieve under pressure.

There were, though, great opportunities for sociability. The mountain refuges were hospitable and offered surprisingly excellent food and drink. We met and chatted with people from all over the world: Europeans, Chinese, Americans.

So what does one learn from this kind of experience and what are the virtues it fosters?

Endurance. Not everyone completes the trek: trekkers have knee problems, medical illness, and personal fallouts. On the second night, I lay in bed wondering if we would manage it – the walking was a lot tougher than I had envisaged. And James had already developed a knee problem.

Patience with your fellow traveller and especially in the heat. I couldn’t manage the ascents as quickly as James; but he hobbled on the descents with his poorly knee. And one night, a large man in our dormitory snored so loudly that the thresholds shook.

Simplicity. Trekking forces you into a simple rhythm which doesn’t involve much more than walking, eating and sleeping. And happiness is a shower at the end of the day. Coming back down into Chamonix (with so many cars and so much stuff in the shops) was genuinely a shock.

Courage. In modest amounts. A thunderstorm threatened when we were at the top of our highest point (Mont Fortin); the descent was steep and could have been treacherous had we not managed to get down before a heavy hailstorm arrived.

Humility. So many people seem so fit! And some people race the whole of the route in 48 hours.

Gratitude. On the one hand, trekking sharpens one’s awareness of the smallest pleasures and comforts – a well-fitting plaster, a change of clothes, a cold drink. On the other hand, you are surrounded by the most incredible, majestic, breathtaking scenery – inhabited by armies of butterflies, gorgeous alpine flowers and colonies of marmots. Trekking brings you back to the simple realities of life as well as putting you back in touch with the natural world.    

And finally… I learnt during the Trek that there are type 1 pleasures and type 2 pleasures. The type 1 pleasure is enjoyable at the time you experience it – a good meal for example. But a type 2 pleasure may not be at all enjoyable at the time. However, it is an experience which – when you look back on it – fills your heart with pleasure and strengthens you for the road ahead. Trekking is a fine example of a type 2 pleasure. I hope the memory of my Tour du Mont Blanc will strengthen and inspire me for the coming term and academic year.

New Chaplain for St. Mark’s Versailles

My last visit of the academic year was to St. Mark’s Versailles to license The Revd. Dale Hanson as Chaplain. I knew Dale when he was vicar of St. Nicholas’ church, Durham (UK). He moved with his wife Pat to Hong Kong at the same time Helen and I moved to Brussels. We stayed in touch, and I was delighted when he expressed willingness to come to Paris last year, where he ministered at St. Michael’s during its vacancy. Dale now begins a new ministry as Chaplain of St Mark’s Versailles with St. Paul’s Chévry. He brings notable gifts of teaching, congregational leadership and pastoral care.

Versailles is an ICS-linked chaplaincy. Richard Bromley (left), ICS Mission Director, preached at the licencing. He invited St. Mark’s to consider what image might best represent the chaplaincy – a fellowship holding hands, a community gathered around the Bible, a well around which thirsty people gather, a boat offering refuge…?

The licensing featured the customary procession of symbolic gifts. Being the last Sunday of July, the atmosphere was especially summery and informal as this image indicates.

In the social time after the service, I had opportunity to speak with one of senior members of St. Mark’s. Mrs. Jacoblev (née Stewart) had married a Franco-Russian of noble background in Paris. He came to faith through the ministry of St. Mark’s. She described to me how, with some humility, he joined a group of children to be admitted to his first communion. Mrs. Jacoblev has long been widowed, and St. Mark’s is an important source of fellowship for her.

St. Mark’s Versailles traces its history back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. For many years it sought an appropriate home. Eventually, in 1986, a plot of land with a collection of buildings was purchased with donations and loans from members of the congregation and help from ICS. In the 1990s the building of a new church centre was begun. The building was eventually finished and dedicated by Bishop David in 2013. It is a beautifully light and spacious worship and social centre of which the community is justly proud.

Dale’s licencing marks a new ministerial start for St. Mark’s. He provides hope and stability for the future. He will, I hope, sustain a loving, Spirit-filled and outward looking community that inhabits and uses the lovely buildings at St. Mark’s to their full extent. Do pray for him and Pat as they settle into their new life and vocation in Versailles.

 

 

Summer Confirmation at Christ Church Düsseldorf

This was my last Confirmation of the academic year and an appropriately sunny and festive occasion.

Here are some pictures giving a sense of the atmosphere.

The Confirmation candidates: Cecilia Moesle, Ozilim Ikegwu, Ifechukwu Ikegwu and Daniel Kolstoe
with me and chaplain Stephen Walton.
After the service, we moved into the church grounds for some social time.
Ozilim and Ifechukwu’s mother Antonia had prepared a Nigerian banquet.
Two large cakes completed the sense of celebration.

Christ Church is blessed with lots of outdoor space, shaded by trees, with views over the Rhine. It is a wonderful venue for a summer party.

The gospel reading for the day concerned another and very different kind of party: the event at which Herod and Herodias contrived between them the slaughter of John the Baptist. Not an appropriate text for a confirmation service!

So instead, we looked at the New Testament reading: Ephesians 1:3-14. I encouraged the candidates to know themselves as ‘chosen by God’; ‘adopted into the family of Jesus Christ’ and to understand that they were ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit’.

Ephesians 1 is a glorious hymn of praise. It encourages and inspires us to praise God and to give thanks for all the blessings of this earthly life. During the service we sang a paraphrase of Ephesians 1, written by Geoff Bullock, which makes a good song of thanksgiving for the lovely summer many of us are enjoying:

Oh the mercy of God, The glory of grace
That You choose to redeem us, To forgive and restore
And You call us Your children, Chosen in Him
To be holy and blameless, To the glory of God

[Chorus]
To the praise of His Glorious Grace
To the praise of His Glory and Power
To Him be all Glory Honour and Praise
For ever and ever and ever A–men

Oh the richness of Grace, The depths of His love
In Him is redemption, The forgiveness of sin
You called us as righteous, Predestined in Him
For the praise of His Glory, Included in Christ.

Oh the Glory of God expressed in His Son
His image and likeness revealed to us all
The plan of the ages completed in Christ
That we be presented perfected in Him.

World Council of Churches celebrates 70 years

Photo: Courtesy of Albin Hillert/WCC

120 Christian leaders, lay and ordained, gathered recently in Geneva to celebrate the 70th birthday of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC was founded in 1948 at a time when Europe had been bitterly divided by war, and the whole world was deeply conscious of the need for reconciliation on all fronts. Initially a mostly pan-Protestant body, though the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and some Orthodox churches were founding members, it welcomed the wider Orthodox community into its number in the 1960s. It is now a fellowship of 346 churches present in 110 countries committed to unity, justice and peace. The Geneva meeting of its governing body (the Central Committee) was the high point of its 70th anniversary celebrations.

As the new Church of England representative on the Central Committee, taking over from the Bishop of Chester, this was my first full meeting. I was fortunate to be tutored by seasoned expert Canon Leslie Nathaniel. Nonetheless, my over-riding impression was of the immense difficulty of navigating such a diverse and strong-minded group of individuals through a full agenda of complex and sensitive topics. But we got there. With the help of skilled moderation and careful preparation from the staff, we generated official statements on issues ranging from the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, to violence in Columbia, to the situation in Gaza and Jerusalem. And we ended with a sense of joy and deepened fellowship at a service led by our very special guest, Pope Francis.

One of the major subjects addressed during the meeting was the question of the venue for the 2021 WCC Assembly. This is a huge event, bringing thousands of people together from all corners of the earth. Two proposals had been tabled: Cape Town and Karlsruhe. A very professional film presentation plus a passionate speech from Professor Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the German EKD, led to an overwhelming vote in favour of Karlsruhe. As Bishop in Europe I was thrilled by this decision. It will provide a marvellous opportunity for European Churches, including the Church of England, to support the German church in staging an assembly at another time in our history when European unity is under threat from rising nationalism.

Each day began with inspiring worship with music from the ‘world church’: Singapore, Zimbabwe, Tonga, Taiwan, etc. There were some deeply memorable events during the week-long meeting. We heard the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, preach in the Reformed Cathedral of St. Peter’s Geneva. We were addressed by Revd Myong Chol Kang, Chairman of the Korean Christian Federation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) sharing a platform with the Revd Hong Jung Lee, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (South Korea). And we heard from the Director of the nuclear disarmament pressure group ‘ICAN’ – closely related to WCC – who proudly showed us their 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

Does any of this make a real difference and how seriously should the Church of England engage with it? These are serious questions. I regret that WCC does not represent more of the charismatic, evangelical and Pentecostal churches, especially since these are the fastest growing traditions today. There was a time when such groups might have been right to suspect the WCC of being ‘liberal’. Today, it could well be described as ‘radical’ with its keen commitment to justice for the poor, racial equality and opposition to gender-based violence. But with a 25% Orthodox membership and a ‘consensus’ rather than majority voting system, there was not the slightest chance that anything looking doctrinally ‘revisionist’ was going to make it through the various committees.

The Public Issues Committee, of which I was a member, produced no less than 8 statements on world affairs. They were carefully – and exhaustingly – drafted, revised and agreed. Whilst from the safety of the UK some of this might have looked like vain posturing, I can testify that to those coming from the affected countries and regions, these Statements really matter. A Filipino Bishop I sat next to on the daily 07:45 coach from the hotel to our meeting room, was simply thrilled with our Statement decrying the culture of violence and ‘impunity’ in the Philippines. It would, he told me, bring great encouragement to Filipino Christians to know that their fellow believers in the ‘West’ understood, cared and stood with them in their suffering.

It was a full week of careful and attentive listening to those from different cultural backgrounds and sometimes very different theological perspectives. For example, I had not previously realised that the word ‘Renewal’, much beloved of the Church of England, is regarded with horror by the Orthodox when applied to the Church. The week really did build relationships across the world between Christian leaders who would otherwise not encounter each other. And I would dare to believe, and as the President of South Korea encouraged us to believe from his experience of Christian dialogue on the Korean peninsula, WCC is of some real value in the grand cause of world peace.

In his closing sermon to us Pope Francis said: ‘The Lord bids us set out ever anew on the path of communion that leads to peace. Our lack of unity is in fact openly contrary to the will of Christ, but it is also a scandal to the world and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature. The Lord asks for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity.’ As one of the principal organisations fostering Christian unity in the world, I came away feeling that the WCC surely does merit our prayers and support.

Meissen Commission in Brussels – A sobering but enlightening experience

The Meissen Commission (a joint Anglican-German Protestant ecumenical group) departed from its normal practice of alternating meetings in England and Germany to pay a visit to Brussels earlier this week. The delegation was jointly led by the Anglican Bishop of Huddersfield, Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, and the German Protestant Bishop of Hannover, Rt Revd Ralf Meister. Delegates had particularly asked to learn more about Brexit and the future of Europe from EU experts. The visit was hosted in the EU Representation Office of the German Protestant Church. I had been invited to attend, but sent my Attaché instead due to a dates clash with the Governing Council of the World Council of Churches in Geneva of which I am a member.

The visit started with a Sunday evening visit to the German Protestant parish in Brussels to see the church building and discuss their situation with the Pastor and Church Council representatives. On Monday there was a full day of presentations. This included extended Q&As and debate from officials representing both jurisdictions in Ireland, the European Council Brexit Task Force, the European Commission Strategy Centre and a leading Brussels think tank. In the evening the delegation met with the EU representatives of ecumenical bodies and the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, on Tuesday morning there was an exchange with a representative of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee and the official responsible for the European Commission dialogue process with churches and other religions and philosophical associations.

Delegates greatly appreciated the chance to meet so many people with inside knowledge of the EU structures and decision-making processes. They found the reality-check with the actual state of play in both Brexit negotiations and planning for the future of the EU post-Brexit sobering but challenging towards a renewed commitment to promote reconciliation and mutual understanding between the peoples and nations of Europe.

An agreed communiqué was issued at the close of the visit by Bishop Jonathan Gibbs:

“Representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Church of England met in Brussels from 17th to 19th June 2018 to consider issues relating to our shared future in Europe, particularly in the light of Brexit. We are most grateful for the excellent and informative high level contributions that we received from members of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, as well as from ecumenical colleagues in Brussels.

Their presentations and the discussions in which we took part highlighted for us the seriousness of the situation we are all facing, and our experience led us to reflect deeply on our responsibility for shaping our common future. We commit ourselves to working in Christian hope for the welfare and reconciliation of all peoples, whatever may happen regarding Brexit in the months ahead.”