Remembrance Sunday in Sittard

I write this having just returned home from one of the most beautiful and well-orchestrated remembrance events I have ever attended.

On 11th November 1918, the opposing sides in World War I signed an armistice that marked the end of hostilities on the Western Front. From then on, that day, the 11th of November, was kept as a day of Remembrance and marked as a public holiday in many European nations, including Belgium where I live. In Britain and many Commonwealth countries, the acts of Remembrance were later transferred to the nearest Sunday.

The Netherlands was neutral in World War I. It keeps its national Memorial Day and Liberation Day on 4th and 5th May. But in Sittard, in the South Netherlands province of Limburg, where some of the fallen of WWII are buried, there is a long-established tradition of observing the November Remembrance Sunday.

2017 is the 50th year that the Sittard War Graves Commission, the Mayor and the community of Sittard has joined with the NATO Allied Joint Force Command at neighbouring Brunssum for a service at St. Peter’s, Sittard, followed by an Act of Remembrance at nearby Ophoven War Cemetery.

The event is a model of co-operation between different churches, different countries, military and civic authorities and ordinary citizens.

The ecumenical service was hosted by the Roman Catholic Dean, Mgr. Wilbert Van Rems. Dominee Irene Pluim represented the Dutch Protestant Church, and our Reader from Eindhoven, Jan Waterschoot, and I represented the Anglican Church. I preached on John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’

Music was provided by a superb local brass and wind band – the Philharmonie Sittard and the St. Peter’s Choir and Organ. Most of those buried in the Sittard Commonwealth war graves are Scots, so it was particularly appropriate to have two pipers from the Coriovallum Pipe Band.

After the Church service we were taken by coach, with a police escort, to the cemetery. As always, the cemetery was beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Located in a peaceful housing area, the calm of the cemetery belies the bloody reality of the fierce Allied battles in this border region.

Children were invited to lay a red rose on each of the 239 graves. Wreaths were laid by representatives of many different organisations, including a Colonel from the German Army.

After the Act of Remembrance, we were taken back to Sittard for refreshments. Speeches were made by, amongst others, the Chair of the Sittard War Graves Committee and Major General Karl Ford, representing the NATO military presence.

During the reception, the local military wives choir sang the prayer ‘Bring Him Home’ (from Les Misérables).

Having just laid roses on the graves of so many young men, the words seemed particularly poignant and appropriate:

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.


New Bells for St George’s Ypres

St George’s Ypres was built as a place of remembrance following the horrors of World War 1. The church building included a bell tower, given by the Knott family in memory of their two sons killed in the Great War. But, back in the 1920s, there was no money to buy a set of bells. So the bell tower has been used mainly as a store room and dumping ground.

The sun rises over the bell tower of St. George’s Ypres.

Ten years ago, Mr. Alan Regin, Steward of the Rolls of Honour of the Council of Bell Ringers, had the idea of equipping the tower with a full set of change ringing bells. Alan carried the project forward during the ministry of three chaplains – Ray Jones, Brian Llewelyn and now Gillian Trinder. A trust was formed which raised the large sums of money needed. Skilled workmen were found to refurbish completely the ringing room. And John Taylor & Co., the last remaining bell foundry in England, was commissioned to cast the bells. The bells were delivered to Ypres at the end of August and on Sunday 22nd October I had the privilege of dedicating them.

St. George’s Ypres was packed with local people, members of veterans’ organisations, and bell ringers from all over the United Kingdom.

The service included some stirring traditional hymns, and a reading from the Book of Numbers 10:1-10 – ‘the silver trumpets’. I had not previously noticed that Moses’s silver trumpets had two uses, just like English church bells have had – to summon people to assembly and also to warn of impending war.

After the sermon, Andrew Wilby, the Managing Director of John Taylor and Co. Bell Founders in Loughborough, presented a token bell rope to The Revd. Gillian Trinder as a sign of the new ministry at St. George’s Church. We then heard a delightful ‘touch’ rung on a set of handbells, newly presented to St. George’s by Mr. John Coles.

The set of 16 handbells were cast by James Shaw of Bradford in the nineteenth century and were once owned by John’s grandfather, Charles Coles, himself a wonderful ringer. They have recently been restored by Steve McEwan of Whitechapel Handbells and will now be housed in the ringing chamber of St. George’s for use by local and visiting ringers.

At the end of the service, a (very) few of us proceeded to the beautifully refurbished and panelled ringing room, dedicated to Bertram Prewett, a renowned bell ringer who perished in the Great War. These lovely words were used:
“In the faith of Jesus Christ, we dedicate these bells.
May they proclaim Christ’s message of love and salvation to this parish;
May they warn the heedless, comfort the sorrowing
And call all willing hearts to prayer and praise.”

The bells then rang out for the first time!

After the service, I spoke to many bell ringers who were thrilled with the new set of bells. I was also introduced to the chairman of the Sir James Knott Charity. The charity exists mainly to give grants to good causes in the North East of England (in fact I applied to it as a vicar in County Durham!). The chairman told me that because of the particular link of the Knott family with Ypres, and having in mind the ‘unfinished’ bell tower of St. Georges (built in memory of two of the Knott brothers), they had made a donation of £100,000 to purchase one of the set of 8 bells.

Following the dedication of the bells, a team of British bell ringers has offered to live in Ypres for 6 months in order to train up local teams of ringers in the art of bell ringing. Moreover, I was assured that St. George’s will now be firmly on the ‘bell ringers pilgrimage’ itinerary. These are the only ‘in use’ public set of English church bells on the European continent of which I’m aware, so they are very special!

One of the Christian creeds, the Westminster Catechism says: ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.’ Bells put that catechism into practice. They summon us to worship God, they declare the praise of God and they point to the enjoyment of God.

And I think that church bells have a very important and contemporary function. Because in our time, people mostly neglect the worship of God. They have forgotten how to praise God, and they don’t know how to enjoy God. And religion is something which, if it is tolerated at all, is supposed to be something quiet and personal and private. By contrast, a set of pealing church bells says to us: ‘Don’t apologise! We have good news to share! Come and join us! Praise God with all your heart and mind and strength! It will do you good. And it will do your community good too.’

So, as some words we used at St. George’s put it:

‘We pray that the ringing of these bells will awaken in the hearts of all who hear them, the desire to worship God in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

A Memorable Weekend in Trier

Trier is famously Germany’s oldest city. It is well known for its Basilica (below), built as Emperor Constantine’s throne room and now a magnificent Lutheran church and world heritage site. Next door to the Basilica stands the Roman Catholic cathedral that goes back in its origins to before Constantine and exhibits in its architecture a melange of styles testifying to the multiple extensions and rebuilding it has seen over its long history.

Trier Basilica
The Trier Basilica

I was staying slightly outside Trier in a place with significant history too: the Benedictine monastery of St. Eucharius and St. Matthias. The monastery is on the southern edge of the city, outside the original city walls and on the site of the city’s former burial ground – one of the oldest cemeteries north of the alps. The story of this monastery goes back some 1750 years to the very beginnings of Trier’s Christian history. For in St. Matthias’s crypt lie the sarcophagi of two of Trier’s first bishops: Eucharius and Valerius.

St Eucharius and St Matthias
The monastery of St. Eucharius and St. Matthias

But my purpose in being in Trier wasn’t so much historical as ecumenical. In the 1960s St. Matthias was at the forefront of European Anglican-Roman Catholic relationships. This monastery forged a relationship with the Anglican Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield. Bishop Stein (now buried in Trier’s Cathedral) gave permission for full inter-communion between members of these two communities. In a wave of ecumenical enthusiasm, an extensive ‘Anglican centre’ was built – though this closed due to shortage of money to maintain it.

To express their continuing close relationships, and bearing in mind that this year is the special 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, the Anglican Community of the Resurrection and the Roman Catholic Monastery of St. Matthias decided to bring together three Anglican bishops and three German Roman Catholic bishops for a weekend of prayer, fellowship and discussion.

The monks were wonderfully hospitable. It was a personal delight for me to spend a weekend in the spiritually refreshing Benedictine rhythm of prayer. I was greatly privileged to be invited to preside at one of the community eucharists. I enjoyed getting to know the monks – some of whom had livelihoods beyond the monastery – I discovered one was a judge and another a town planner.

St Matthias monastery
Supper at St. Matthias monastery

The main purpose of the weekend was dialogue between the English bishops and our German Roman Catholic counterparts. It is probably true to say that Anglican-German ecumenical attention is mainly invested in German Protestant Churches. This was my first serious encounter with German Roman-Catholic bishops – and equally, I think, their first serious encounter with Anglican equivalents.

As Anglicans, we had opportunity to rehearse the last 50 years of very significant ecumenical progress. There was, I think, some genuine surprise and delight from the German side at the extent of ecumenical agreements that have been reached between our two communions. Our conversations covered many topics, but particularly the question of the ordination of women. This is, of course, a major sticking point, as a papal pronouncement has declared the priesthood of women firmly off the Catholic agenda. We wondered whether John Henry Newman’s honoured place within Catholicism, and his writing on the development of doctrine might be invoked? Could Catholics and Anglicans together discover in scripture a place for the ministry of women that might go beyond and behind serious difference in our current practice? Unsurprisingly, we didn’t make any theological breakthroughs. But our differences were discussed respectfully and honestly. And the presence amongst us of an ordained Anglican woman (and former Roman Catholic nun) from Mirfield gave those discussions added meaning.

Our meeting concluded with a joint statement giving thanks for the deep sense of fellowship we had enjoyed and expressing the heartfelt desire that the ecumenical progress made between our two communions might be better known and shared. I was thankful for the very kind hospitality of the monastery and for the longstanding good relationships between Trier and Mirfield that had made this warm encounter between bishops possible.

English Anglican Bishops
English Anglican bishops John Inge, Stephen Platten and Robert Innes
German Roman Caholic bishops Reihhard Hauke, Thomas Löhr and Wilfried Theising
With Abbot Ignatius and members of the monastery of St. Matthias; and Fr. George Guiver and members of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield


Progress With Brexit Negotiations


Contrary to the impression given in many sections of the press, I am very happy to report that there is steady positive progress behind the scenes in the Brexit negotiations in Brussels. This is particularly the case in relation to preserving the rights of UK and EU citizens currently living or working in a country different from their own who were the main subject of concern at the diocesan Brexit roundtable meeting that I hosted in Brussels back in January with then Brexit Minister Lord Bridges joining us by video link. When the 4th round of negotiations in technical working groups finished at the end of September 60 individual items in relation to citizens’ rights that will need to go into the mutually binding UK-EU Withdrawal Treaty were listed. Of these 65% had already been the subject of agreement in principle, 17% were awaiting clarification of the position of the two sides or have been referred up for consideration at a higher level and for the final 18% disagreement still remains to be resolved. Looking at the issues raised in January the current state of play is as follows:-

  • Mutual recognition of national insurance contributions for healthcare, pension and benefit entitlement. This would continue for those who have already at some time before a mutually agreed cut-off date (no later than 29th March 2019) lived or worked in another country. But those moving to live or work abroad after the cut-off date would not necessarily benefit from these provisions. The actual cut-off date is in the 18% of items not yet agreed.
  • Actual receipt of healthcare, pensions and benefits in another country. Only protected for those already resident or working in another country before the cut-off date. The possibility of continued British membership of the EU Health Insurance Card (EHIC) system for incidental holiday or business travel, especially for those who have not previously lived or worked in another country is still under negotiation.
  • Moving between EU countries after the cut-off date and taking protected rights with you is not yet agreed. At the moment rights are only agreed to be protected in the country in which you are resident or working at the cut-off date. The UK wishes the rights to be extended to cover moving to another EU country, whereas the EU is currently not accepting that position.
  • Annual Uprating of Pensions. The UK offered unilaterally at the outset to continue to uprate annually pensions paid to UK citizens’ resident on the Continent by the cut-off date. The EU side has now agreed that the same should apply to EU citizens receiving pensions from their home countries in the UK before the cut-off date.


  • Rights of family members The protected rights of citizens living in another country by the cut-off date are also to apply to dependant family members, irrespective of their nationality and even if they are temporarily resident abroad (eg students abroad). These rights should continue after the cut-off date even if the family members concerned cease to be dependants (eg students becoming workers). Children born after the cut-off date to citizens with protected rights would also be covered by them. Certain non-dependant family members may also be eligible but only if they are resident in the country concerned at the cut-off date. The right of new family members (eg spouses) to join citizens with protected rights in a country of which they are not a citizen is currently under dispute. The EU would like them to be admitted on the same basis as family members already with the citizen before the cut-off date whereas the UK wants to be able to restrict their access on the same basis as current UK immigration laws for non-EU citizens.
  • Voting Rights. The UK would like the current right of citizens living in another country to vote in local elections there to continue. The EU currently wants to leave it at the discretion of individual EU Member States as to whether to continue to grant resident UK citizens this right. Rights of citizens living in another country to continue to vote in elections in their home country have not been covered by these discussions.
  • Definition of ‘Living in another Country’. The protected rights under discussion would only immediately apply on a permanent basis to citizens who have completed 5 years continuous residence by the cut-off date. Those with a shorter period of residence before the cut-off date would enjoy these rights on a temporary residence basis until five years residence has been completed. Absence of up to six months in any one year or 12 months for an important reason (eg childbirth) would not count as a break in continuous residence. Also those reaching the age of retirement or having to retire on the grounds of incapacity before reaching five years continuous residence would qualify for permanent residence status from that point. However, even after permanent residence status has been granted an absence from the country concerned of more than 2 years could result in a loss of status. Currently the UK is offering to give qualifying EU citizens the right of return in perpetuity if they have an extended absence, but only if the EU will grant qualifying UK citizens to right to take their protected rights with them from one EU country to another.
  • Enforcement of Protected Rights At present the mechanism for citizens to have disputes with national authorities as to whether they qualify for these protected rights settled has yet to be agreed. The EU wishes for there to be continuing access to the European Court of Justice for EU citizens resident in the UK. From the UK side there is an offer for the Withdrawal Treaty to be written into UK law and for the British Courts to be encouraged or mandated to take into account the case law of the ECJ in decisions on citizens’ rights under the Withdrawal Treaty.

union jack and EU flag

However, I must give a strong health warning that EU Treaty negotiations work on the principle that nothing is finally agreed until everything is agreed. Phase one of the negotiations also includes the border situation in Ireland post-Brexit and the so-called ‘divorce bill’ to settle outstanding financial liabilities, where progress is not as good as it is on citizens’ rights. It is only when progress on all three topics is considered to be satisfactory by EU leaders (their first opportunity to make this decision would be at the Summit scheduled for 19/20 October) that discussion can open on other issues, principally the possibility of an implementation or transition period after Brexit when the UK’s economic relationship with the EU would remain substantially unchanged, and the negotiation of a new permanent economic relationship to kick in after the transition period.

Special Note regarding Gibraltar: At present Gibraltarians count as UK citizens for the purposes of EU law (even though Gibraltar is not part of the UK). It is HMG’s intention that this citizenship definition should carry over into the Withdrawal Treaty, although final confirmation of the status of UK citizens post-Brexit will only be possible once the negotiation is complete.

A Grand New Beginning at St. Andrew’s Moscow

Moscow 2

My first official visit in the new academic year was to Moscow. I last visited the Russian capital in the mid-1980s as a guest of the Soviet ‘Intourist’. So I was eagerly looking forward to returning to see how it had changed since the Soviet era. This time I was going not as a tourist, but as Bishop to license Malcolm Rogers as Chaplain of the Anglican community of St. Andrews.Moscow 1

Of course all licencing services are important occasions, but dare I say it there was particularly excitement surrounding Malcolm’s arrival. Few cities compare with the awe-inspiring grandeur and scale of Moscow. And few have such international significance.

Anglican clergy who love Russia and speak Russian, and have the deep pastoral experience needed to build Christian community in Moscow are to be particularly treasured. At an early stage of ministry, Malcolm and Alison spent two years at the Orthodox theological seminary in St. Petersburg. Malcolm then served long incumbencies in London and Bury St. Edmunds. Family circumstances seemed right to allow a move and a new challenge. So in the summer of 2017 Malcolm, Alison and their youngest son Andrew left the UK and began a new adventure in Russia.

Moscow 3

St Andrews church is a remarkable building. Built in the late 19th century, it is an example of English Victorian church architecture that is unique in Russia. It has an impressive tower, that was used as a machine gun post by the Bolsheviks in the revolution. (I was shown some of the bullet holes that remain in the tower wall.) A primary school was built adjoining the church. After the revolution, the church was seized by the authorities and used as a state recording studio. It was returned to us as a place of worship in the 1990s following a visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to Moscow. And the recent and much awaited granting of a long lease on the building only came after the Russian Patriarch’s visit to Her Majesty last year.

St. Andrews now offers a fine worship space with superb acoustics – I particularly appreciated not having to wear a microphone. Beyond the body of the church are no fewer than 26 meeting rooms. This allows St. Andrews to host a range of groups and activities: a playgroup, outreach amongst orphans and troubled young people, alcoholics anonymous, and creative arts. As one member of the congregation remarked to me: ‘our buildings are really more of a cathedral than an ordinary parish church’. Featuring on walking tours of the city, the church attracts a continuous stream of visitors, and when illuminated at night – courtesy of the city council – it looks stunning. The arrival of a priest and pastor to carry forward the work and mission of the Anglican community in such a significant building close to the heart of magnificent Moscow felt like a truly spine-tingling event.

Oh, and I must add, that St. Andrews boasts an eco-friendly garden. The brainchild of the International Protestant Church that meets on Sunday afternoons in the building, a considerable area of waste ground and rubble was cleared to make way for an attractive garden complete with two large greenhouses for growing summer vegetables. Not at all what you expect to find in central Moscow!

Moscow 4
Pat Szymczak proudly showing the Bishop the St. Andrews Garden
Moscow 5
A model of an early Muscovy Company trading vessel on display at the Old English Yard Museum near the Kremlin

One fascinating aspect of St. Andrews is its intimate link with ‘The Russia Company’. Formerly known as the ‘Muscovy Company’ it was the first of the great British trading companies founded by Tudor and Elizabethan merchant adventurers. (Today it is perhaps less well known than its ‘younger’ successors like the East India Company.) In the 16th century Richard Chancellor, arguably the first British ‘ambassador’ to Russia, journeyed to Moscow via the Arctic Ocean, White Sea and modern day Archangel – an incredibly dangerous voyage. He traded British woollen products for Russian furs. In succeeding decades, the Muscovy company gained exclusive trading rights with Russia and its merchants became the principal diplomatic contacts with Britain. Over the centuries, the trading rights were lost and the Company declined in importance. But there is still a fine ‘court’, now a museum, and in the 20th century the Russian company converted itself into a charity which supports the Anglican church in Russia. We were delighted to have representatives of the Russia Company involved in Malcolm’s appointment and present at the licensing.

Malcolm is supported by a Church Council with diverse passions and interests, from work with children, to care of the buildings, to researching the history of English burials in the Moscow non-Orthodox cemetery. I enjoyed a good lunch with the Council – pictured below at a local French-speaking Algerian restaurant.

Moscow 6

The British Ambassador to Russia, HE Laurie Bristow was kind enough to host a reception to welcome Malcolm to his new role. The Ambassador’s residence is located on the bank of the Moskva river with superb views across the river to the Kremlin. We had the great privilege of dining in the room in which Stalin and Churchill had met to discuss the post-war ‘settlement’ of Europe. In such a wonderfully historic environment, the Ambassador took the opportunity to remind us all of the long-term significance of the institutions in which we serve and our important but time-limited role in carrying the life of our institutions forward.

Building on the successful visit of the Russian Patriarch to HM The Queen and Lambeth Palace earlier this year, we were delighted to hear from Metropolitan Hilarion that The Patriarch would be happy to receive a visit from Archbishop Justin in November. This will be a major diplomatic event for the Anglican Communion. At a time of strained international political relations, it enables our church leaders to take some small steps to building understanding and contributing, in our own way, to world peace.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Malcolm has an important diplomatic role as Archbishop’s representative (apokrisarios) to the Russian Patriarch. Appropriately, Malcolm’s licensing was attended by four ambassadors – Britain, New Zealand, Namibia and South Africa. His arrival certainly opens a new chapter in the life of St. Andrews Moscow. It starts to place our work in Moscow in a key place in international Anglican concerns. Do pray for Malcolm, Alison and their family as Malcolm moves into this very significant position, as he finds his place in St. Andrews, and as he starts to engage with a very significant archiepiscopal visit soon after the start of his ministry.

Moscow 7
Pictured here, on the British Ambassador’s balcony overlooking the Kremlin are: The Papal Nuncio, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (spiritual leader of British/Russian Orthodoxy), HE Laurie Bristow, Metropolitan Hilarion (head of the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church), Canon Malcolm Rogers, The Bishop in Europe, The Archbishop of the Russian Lutheran Church, the Archdeacon and Pastor Mike Zdorow of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy.


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.