Last week, Helen and I visited Christ Church Vienna (beautiful stained glass window from the church above). We had previously been staying at the ICS Conference in Beatenberg, Switzerland high up in the Bernese alps – where a foot of snow had fallen.
We decided to take the night sleeper from Zurich to Vienna. This turned out to be an excellent idea. The two berth en-suite cabin was compact but comfortable. The steward arrived with a welcome bottle of prosecco before we left and breakfast before we arrived. Compared with planes, night trains generate a much healthier psychology of travel and sense of arrival. They are still widely used in Russia and in India, and I’d love to see more of them back on the rails of Europe.
We arrived at 9:00a.m. on Saturday for a full programme of events, which began with a seminar on Brexit for members of Christ Church and other interested British nationals. This proved an excellent way of reaching out into the wider British community and demonstrating the Church’s concern. I was reminded, again, how very deeply our people feel about this subject.
I met with non-stipendiary curate Mike Waltner, who has a fascinating and demanding day job with the KAICIID inter-faith dialogue centre. After lunch with chaplain Patrick Curran and his wife Lucille, I met the confirmation candidates in the grand environment of the British Ambassador’s residence, which is opposite the church. This was followed by a meeting with the Church Council.
The Council meeting was highly encouraging. Members were invited to consider: ‘Why is Christ Church important to me?’ and ‘What do I hope for in Christ Church in the next five years?’. People spoke of a church going from strength to strength; a multi-cultural and welcoming community; a consistent, peaceful haven; a family; a home. There were presentations of different aspects of church life. Hyacinth Osterlin spoke about prison visiting. Derek Lacey introduced a programme for developing pastoral care. Alexander Rosch described the ‘soup kitchen with a difference’. On top of its commitment to these programmes, Christ Church maintains a discipline of giving 10% of its income away to mission and charitable commitments. After this, we thought about how Christ Church’s strategy and the diocesan strategy overlap – and, of course, they do in many respects. It is always a pleasure to meet a Council that is concerned with problems around how to plan for and manage growth! The formal business was followed by an excellent dinner for Council members at Patrick and Lucille’s home.
The following day began early with a radio interview for the Austrian equivalent of the BBC’s ‘Radio 4’. We then moved to church for the confirmation service. The church building, which is of modest size, was absolutely packed – some of the candidates welcoming large parties of guests from different parts of the globe.
The picture shows Kimberley, Benita, Rebecca, Sophie, Nicole, Owen and Jan. They are a fine group of young teenagers with roots in Austria, Germany, the UK, Nigeria, Ghana and Australia.
Following the service we had lunch with Christian Hofreiter. Christian worked with the leadership team of St. Aldate’s Oxford, took a Ph.D at Oxford University, has permission to officiate in our diocese and works full-time as a Christian apologist for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (see here). He is a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Apologetics, and he conducts university and parish missions in different parts of the continent. If you are looking for someone to lead a mission at your church or undertake a student outreach event I commend him warmly.
Our visit was action packed and full of meetings and memories to treasure. It was evident that the work involved locally in planning this visit was huge, for which we were deeply grateful. More generally, the health and vitality of Christ Church is a great tribute to Patrick Curran, who has been chaplain since 2000. Christ Church is eloquent testimony to the value of a long and faithful ministry.
For a long while, Patrick juggled the work in Vienna with being Archdeacon of the East – an inhumanly demanding combination which he kept up for more than a decade. The people of Christ Church were obviously delighted to have their much-loved chaplain back full-time, and understandably so. Patrick is now taking a sabbatical. Few clergy could deserve it more than he does.