Back in August 2016, I posted a piece entitled ‘A Year in the Life of the Bishop in Europe’, a round-up of my comings-and-goings with some reflections for the end of the academic year. Now early in 2017, I think it worthwhile to complete the task with a review of the last few months of 2016.
Last summer, many people across the diocese were facing some terribly challenging happenings: the migration crisis, Brexit, terrorism. Those challenges are still with us. Yet, with and despite the confusing and worrying times in which we live, my basic Christian outlook remained gratitude for the examples of growth in unlikely places, signs of hope and fresh life. Snapshots from Riga, Budapest, Vienna and others illustrated for me 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 same abiding hopefulness sustained me equally in the latter half of 2016. Here are some highlights:
In September, I was glad to be able to preside at confirmations in Belgrade, ably hosted by Fr. Robin Fox. The visit was a joyful one, but it also gave me the opportunity for a long and helpful meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej.
This meeting with our Orthodox friends wasn’t the only ecumenical encounter as I joined fellow Anglican bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a special meeting in Rome of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). Being paired with Bishop Johan Bonny, Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp, prior to our joint commissioning by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby, was a wonderful sign of our desire to work more closely together in witness and joint mission as part of the ongoing fruit of our Churches’ relationship.
Back in Belgium, in was a pleasure to celebrate the commissioning of two new archdeacons in the diocese. Paul Vrolijk was made the new Archdeacon of North-West Europe at a gathering of the Archdeaconry Synod in Drongen. He took over from Meurig Williams following Meurig’s move to become the new Archdeacon of France.
November took me on into Switzerland, where there was a truly joyful confirmation service in Vevey. The previous evening we had baptised two of the candidates in sub-zero temperatures in a hot-tub overlooking the Alps.
Over on the other side of the diocese, in Ankara, was the biggest confirmation group so far. Over 50 Iranian refugees were presented as candidates at St. Nicholas’ Church, and I was deeply moved by the poignant personal stories they shared with me.
December closed with an invitation to preside and preach at Holy Trinity pro-cathedral in Brussels. After a year of many unsettling events, it was a special time to preach a message of hope to a packed-out church on Christmas morning, remembering the hope that comes with the birth of Jesus.
I write this now in the second month of 2017, at the end of a week in which I have licensed a new chaplain in Poitou-Charentes, confirmed 11 adults and young people in Brussels, interviewed ordination candidates in London, and helped select a new chaplain in Athens. All of these activities are concerned with building of the body of Christ – either directly in the ministry of word and sacrament, or indirectly through the recruitment and appointment of the church’s ordained clergy. Thank you to all who pray for me, as I endeavour to support others in their walk with Christ.