Séjour en Suisse

It was one of the hottest weekends of the year so far. Temperatures in Switzerland had been in the mid-thirties. So, whilst regretting my lack of tropical clerical dress, I packed my lightest travel pack and headed off the on the rebranded ‘Swiss’ airline to Zurich.

I was met at the airport by the chaplain, Paul Brice, and we were soon whisked by efficient Zurichois train and tram to the chaplaincy apartment. The extensive cold drinks on arrival were very welcome, as was the fan that kept up a refreshing breeze in my bedroom overnight. For breakfast the following morning, Hananiah, who teaches herbal medicine, had prepared a trade mark muesli which was, I think, the most delicious breakfast cereal I have ever tasted. To a yoghurt base, had been added a variety of fruits, cereals and seeds, plus some fresh raspberries grown on the apartment garden. I could not have been better set up for the day-long Archdeaconry Synod to come.

Swiss Archdeaconry Synod chaired by Archdeacon Adèle Kelham.

The character of each of our synods varies greatly from one archdeaconry to another. The Swiss synod is, as you would expect, the most efficient. Representatives rise early – in some cases very early – to travel across Switzerland in time for 09:30 coffee and a 10:00 start. Agendas are well constructed and under Adèle Kelham’s firm but appropriately humorous chairing, the business was discharged expeditiously.

I was kindly given an hour to present, plus half an hour for questions. I chose to speak first about the diocesan strategy and how I saw it evolving. In such a dispersed diocese as ours, central planning has its limits. We can’t work out the strategy into a detailed multi-level implementation plan, in the way one might in the corporate world. Instead, we offer a strategic vision in which each level of the diocese is invited to reflect on how an overall framework can inspire and guide their work.  I discerned refugee ministry and safeguarding as two emerging priorities for the diocese. I then shared some of the many ways in which the five elements of the strategy are being worked out centrally.

I moved next to three ‘topical issues’: human sexuality, Brexit and religiously-inspired violence. It was the first of these which sparked the greatest interest and reaction, so we returned to it at the end of the meeting. This gave opportunity for an open discussion, with some representatives expressing the pain and anguish that the church’s present position caused them. Many of us remarked, however, how much easier it was to discuss these sensitive issues after we had shared in a Eucharist and a meal together. Context, setting and process are indeed important. The meeting closed – on time, of course. We said our farewells and I travelled with other representatives south to Lausanne and then to Nyon.

The evening was spent sharing pizza with a lively group of confirmation candidates at the home of Carolyne Cooke, chaplain to La Côte. It was a pleasure to see the strong rapport that youth leader Caleb had with the youngsters. But it had been a long day, and by 10:30 I was glad to collapse into bed at the home of Trevor and Dorothy Davies.

Over breakfast the following morning, I had opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Trevor. Trevor had been HR Director at the World Council of Churches for 11 years, a role in which he had met and entertained a plethora of senior Christian leaders from across the world. Moreover, he told me how, after he left Holy Trinity Geneva, his home had been the base of the emerging ‘Crossroads’ church, which is now a significant presence in many European cities. I learnt that my former colleague Carlton Deal, now pastor of ‘The Well’ in Brussels and inspirateur of the pan-European ‘Serve the City’ movement, had been youth pastor at Crossroads Geneva. It is a small world.

Dorothy and Trevor Davies.

The Sunday morning began with the re-licensing of Carolyn and her colleague Julia for a further five years of ministry. This was an unambiguous delight, as their ministry is so hugely appreciated by the people of Divonne and Gingins – the two centres in which La Côte chaplaincy meets.

The service of baptism and confirmation was a united service for the two congregations. I was struck, as I often am, by the diversity of the candidates: a fine group of teenagers growing up in a relatively privileged but not unchallenging expatriate lifestyle; two young mothers (one of American and one of African origin); and a pair of Iranian refugees, who had arrived in Switzerland after traumatic journeys from a homeland where their lives, as Christian converts, had been under real threat.

Our candidates.

The after-service vin d’honneur enabled me to renew acquaintance with two old friends. John Philips used to be in Brussels, where he held a senior position in Public Relations and Communication with the External Action Service. After a period in West Africa, he is now in Geneva working with the International Red Cross/Red Crescent. Mike French went to the same school as me. He used to be chaplain at Holy Trinity Geneva. He now has responsibility for South America and Muslim relations for the World Lutheran Federation’s humanitarian and development arm ‘World Service’. Geneva is a remarkable hotspot for able and talented people working in fascinating international roles.

The Reverend Mike French & John Philips.

The morning’s events were followed by a most delightful lunch with clergy and churchwardens under a magnificent oak tree in the gorgeous garden of Julia and Philippe Chambeyron. It had been a very full weekend after a long working week, but a delicious al fresco lunch in good company overlooking the Jura Mountains felt like more than ample compensation!

The Reverends Carolyn Cooke & Julia Chambeyron; lunch under the old oak tree.

A Glorious Day at Maisons-Laffitte

Holy Trinity Maisons-Laffitte was built in the 1920s to meet the needs of English-speaking stable-lads and trainers who came to work at the local racecourse. Today the church community has an electoral roll of about 130. Many of the congregation are younger professional families on short-medium term assignments. Others are long term members – some married to French people, some in the process of naturalising as French citizens. The lovely grounds of the church provide an excellent space for social events and for children to play.

Beautiful surroundings for Holy Trinity church.

I was impressed by the children’s ministry at Holy Trinity: three groups each with three pairs of teachers making 18 volunteers overall. The church is also hoping to appoint a paid family and children’s worker in the future. Here, at the end of the morning service, the ‘Fireflies’ (3 to 5 year olds) are preparing to hand out bookmarks they have made reminding the adults to pray for the groups and their teachers. What a good idea!

The ‘Fireflies’ present their bookmarks.

During my visit, it was good to get acquainted with two of the senior members of Holy Trinity – Pat and Marguerite. Pat has been a church member for 66 years! She could remember her first chaplain who had been a prisoner of war in Japan.

Pat & Marguerite.

In the afternoon, we confirmed a large number of youngsters – with local Maisons-Laffitte candidates being joined by candidates from St. Michael’s Paris. Some of the younger Tamil siblings are pictured here – beautifully dressed for the occasion.

Dressed for the occasion – candidates for confirmation.

The confirmation itself was a big event. Perhaps 160 people crowded into Holy Trinity. When there was no more space in the church itself, people sat on chairs outside. It was a beautiful afternoon, with warm sunshine – and sparkling wine and strawberries to follow! A fine alternative to the final of the French Open taking place the same day in Paris.

Baptism and Confirmation candidates, with the Reverend Olaf Eriksson (far right of picture) from Maisons-Laffitte and the Reverend Dale Hanson (far left of picture) from St. Michael’s Paris.

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell R.I.P.

The news of Bishop Geoffrey Rowell’s death is a source of sadness and sorrow to many, including me personally. I first met Geoffrey in 2005, when I joined the Diocese in Europe. I experienced him as unfailingly kind, warm and hospitable. He stayed at our home in Belgium on a number of occasions. I recall with affection long conversations over a bottle of whisky late into the night. When I was appointed his successor, he was wonderfully encouraging and helpful. Geoffrey valued highly his friendship with his clergy, and those of us who served as his priests and deacons will miss him dearly.

For 12 years as Diocesan Bishop, Geoffrey embodied the Diocese in Europe in his own character and personality. He managed to remain a serious academic whilst also carrying out a demanding pastoral ministry. He was a great ambassador for a traditional, catholic, Anglicanism. He maintained an enviable quantity and quality of correspondence with ecumenical partners and friends. He travelled with remarkable energy and stamina. He inspired loyal devotion in those who worked most closely with him.

Many of us wondered how he would cope with the transition to retirement, but he seemed to handle it marvellously. His home in Fishbourne was beautifully furnished and served as a workshop for his continuing academic projects. It is sad that, after a demanding European ministry, he did not have long to enjoy retirement. His passing feels as if it marks the end of an era. We commend him to his Lord, praying that he will rest in peace and at the last day rise in glory. 

+Robert Innes

4th Bishop in Europe

Anglican-Old Catholic Youth Pilgrimage

The following is a guest post by Josh Peckett, CEMES intern at Holy Trinity Brussels, in the Diocese in Europe. He has been on a 10-month placement in Brussels while exploring his vocation, and recently attended this pilgrimage.

Between 25th & 28th May, 21 young people from various Anglican and Old Catholic churches across Europe came together in Echternach, Luxembourg.

The aim was to meet and talk, worship and enjoy time with one another. Out of this we hoped to share our vision for the future of our two Churches. Much work has been done formally over the years by senior members of the Churches, but we wished to explore how building relationships between young Christians, across national borders and church boundaries, might further unity between us.

The Pilgrimage gathered in a hostel just outside Echternach.

A few words of background…

Old-Catholics are a group of national churches which at various times separated from the Roman Catholic Church. They are Catholic in faith, order and worship but reject the Papal claims of infallibility and supremacy. The term “Old-Catholic” was adopted to mean original Catholicism.

The Anglican Communion signed the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht in 1931. This agreement of “full-communion” has formed the basis for an ongoing relationship mediated by the Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council (AOCICC), who organised the pilgrimage.

They have participated in the World Council of Churches since its beginning and are in formal dialogue with both the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Among them the Archbishop of Utrecht holds a primacy of honour not dissimilar to that accorded in the Anglican Communion to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anglicans and Old Catholics are welcome to participate fully in each other’s worship and receive communion at celebrations of the Eucharist; clergy may act fully in each other’s churches, with proper episcopal permission. This was the first agreement of its kind that Anglicans had ever concluded.

Why Echternach?

Echternach is a small town in eastern Luxembourg. It is the place where St. Willibrord is buried. For over 1200 years it has been regarded as a holy place. Willibrord was born in the Kingdom of Northumbria in 7th century England, educated in Ireland and went on to travel across the Netherlands to teach people the Christian faith. Given his background in Britain and Ireland, and becoming the first bishop of Utrecht, Willibrord has always had a special unifying significance for Anglicans and Old Catholics. In a world in which people want to build walls and erect barriers, Willibrord might inspire us to build bridges between different nations and cultures, and stand up for what we believe: justice and God’s love for everyone.

St. Willibrord’s shrine in the basilica, Echternach.

Who gathered?

The 21 young people who gathered represented a variety of churches:


  • The Church of England (mainland England & Diocese in Europe)
  • The Church of Ireland
  • The Lusitanian Church of Portugal

Old Catholics

  • The Old Catholic Church of Austria
  • The Old Catholic Church of Germany
  • The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands
  • The Old Catholic Church of Switzerland

Also in attendance were members of the Anglican and Old Catholic clergy, older lay members, and the co-ordinators of AOCICC, bishops Michael Burrows (Diocese of Cashel Ferns and Ossory, Church of Ireland) and Dick Schoon (Diocese of Haarlem, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands). Altogether we represented countries as varied as Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland.

Participants came from across Europe.

Our 4 days together were a mixture of prayer, formal discussions, and free-time in which we could get to know each other. Early on we presented to each other about the important aspects of Anglicanism and Old Catholicism, which really allowed everyone to get a feel for the contexts from which we came.

There were workshops on topics including: ‘Writing your own spiritual biography’, ‘Faith and Identity’ and ‘Curating your identity’. In the workshop on ‘Faith and Identity’, discussion centred on what defines our identity and how identity is constructed. I thought that this was an incredibly important conversation to have when many in society across Europe are asking the same questions of themselves. These practical, often personal conversations set the theme for what we would produce next.

We spent time in groups wrestling with the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be a Christian in the context that you live?
  • What challenges do I see?
  • What visions and hopes do I have?
  • What must the Church do to address these issues?

The results of those conversations were then formed into a declaration on unity and faith in action, called the Willibrord Declaration. We offer it to AOCICC and the wider Church for consideration. It can be found, in English and German, here.

Worshipping as one.

Beyond the formal conversations, the most important aspect of our time together was the space to chat, share stories, and build friendships. If unity is to mean more than formal agreements between churches, it must involve building ties between the members of our congregations. A beautiful reflection, given on the Friday’s evening prayer, asked us to consider the abiding presence of God with all people, and reflect on the call to unity. “He will lead us all into the New Jerusalem, where there will be no temple because people will know God by themselves, and will not forget that they are one.”

My deepest thanks to all those involved in the Pilgrimage. The memory of our time together in Echternach will remain with me for years to come, and in this time of Pentecost speaking the psalms together all at once in many languages during our closing service around the lake was an experience filled with great resonance.

A Prayer for Anglicans & Old Catholics:

Merciful God, we give thanks for your grace that we, Anglicans and Old Catholics, may walk together on the way. You gave us each other and united us, to become signs of reconciliation and unity for the world. As you called Jesus, so you call also us and fill us with your love for humankind. As you strengthened Jesus with your spirit, so you also strengthen us, so that we never lack strength and inspiration, creativity and courage. Teach us to see the opportunities which you offer us, and give us trust in you, who are with us on the way, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our God for ever. Amen.