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:
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