I was consecrated Bishop on July 20th 2014. So I have just celebrated my second anniversary. Looking back over my second year in post, and particularly this last half-year, there have been lots of heavy and difficult happenings: the migration crisis, Brexit, terrorism.
But my basic Christian outlook is gratitude. And there has been so much for which I am thankful. In fact, our diocese often seems like a worked example of growth in unlikely places, signs of hope, light shining in the darkness. So to end the academic year, here are some examples.
In January I visited St. Saviour Riga. There was deep snow on the ground. Latvia is a challenging place to be Anglican. But the church is in great heart, and I met a wonderfully diverse group of confirmation candidates.
In February I visited St. Margaret’s Budapest, and was introduced to the Catholic Primate, Cardinal Erdo. Both Anglicans and Catholics revere Thomas Becket – an English martyr who resisted the power of the King. Thus he became the symbol of Hungarian resistance to atheistic communism. The remembrance of Becket became the inspiration for a week of Anglo-Hungarian encounter and worship in the UK later in the year.
March 22nd saw the terrible bombings at Brussels airport and Maalbeek metro station. The chrism eucharist that same day at Holy Trinity Brussels went ahead in a spirit of defiance. We pledged our commitment to ministry and service whilst the bombers wrought death and destruction.
Many churches in the Netherlands are closing. But in April Archbishop Joris and I celebrated the opening of a new church plant at Amersfoort, with hundreds of people present in a beautifully modern and airy building.
Ypres is a city associated with war, death and remembrance. So it was a particular pleasure in May to share in worship at St. George’s with this visiting children’s choir, which embodied youthful vitality and sang beautifully.
We are today preoccupied with the question of how people from different cultures and backgrounds can live together. The congregation at Ghent (June) is gloriously diverse, and they are now making themselves at home in St. Elisabeth’s Church – which is probably the largest and one of the grandest church buildings in the diocese.
Our diocese often borrows church buildings, but in many places we have our own buildings and sometimes they are stunning – like the magnificent flint-faced St. Albans Copenhagen. Confirmation remains an important rite in Scandinavian countries, and the families of these young people were very proud of them.
We are often told that it is difficult to find new priests. But the Church of England is set to ordain about 950 men and women this year. Our diocese played its part with ordinations at Christ Church Vienna, St. George Paris and St Paul Athens.
All these snapshots illustrate a Christian faith which protests against the idea that life is grim and the world is getting worse, or that we must keep ourselves to ourselves in self-protection from the outside world.
The deeply religious Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammerskjold said: “It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity. It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom. It is in the ‘dark shade of courage’ alone that the spell can be broken.”
So it is in a spirit of hope, courage and faith that I join with the staff in my office in wishing you a glorious summer.
Fr Meurig, Caroline Gaumy, Bishop Robert, Lucy Paton
And for many of us, summer is a time for renewing family life. So I finish with a photo with my own family taken at my consecration, now two years ago. We wish you happy holidays!