Celebrating 10 Years of St. Thomas’s Church, Kefalas, Crete

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:

“Your Beatitude,

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

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Meditating on the Magnificat

The following is a guest post containing a recent sermon by Annie Bolger, one of our 2016/7 Church of England Ministerial Experience interns. She was placed at St. Martha and Mary’s church, Leuven. Annie grew considerably during her time with us and recently gave her final sermon as an intern, reflecting on what that time has meant to her and her sense of vocation. In the sermon below, on the Magnificat, you can read something of her story. I am delighted that Annie will be continuing with an exploration of vocation to ordained ministry in the coming year.


When I was invited to preach, Jack [chaplain in Leuven] suggested that I use any passage that expresses some lessons learned from my year as an intern at St. Martha and St. Mary’s. As I reflected back on an experience which has been formational on many levels, I chose to illustrate the year through the prayer that we just read, the song of Mary, the Magnificat.

I want to talk about this prayer, and about prayer itself, and about how my sense of prayer & place & voice has been cultivated as I have been among you in this internship.

Much can be said about this beloved prayer, the Magnificat. In structure, it reflects the composition of Jewish psalms. The first stanza displays a characteristic feature of Hebrew poetry—synonymous parallelism: “my soul” mirrors “my spirit”; “proclaiming the greatness” mirrors “finding gladness”; and “the Lord” mirrors “God my Saviour.” The prayer is expressed with symmetry and grace.

The prayer also demonstrates contrasting parallelism: the proud are contrasted by those who fear God, the mighty by the humble, and the rich by the hungry.

There is scholarly debate regarding whether the historical Mary actually prayed this prayer, primarily because the words echo several ancient Jewish psalms, including the Song of Hannah, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1–10. I find myself bristling at this debate, not because I cannot perceive how this prayer may be a simple reiteration of a more ancient Psalm. This is certainly plausible. I bristle because the Gospel writer portrays Mary as the author of this prayer and in so doing, makes her the theological interpreter of her contemporary events. The Mary who prays the Magnificat is the Mary who recognizes and occupies a place in redemption history. This Mary understands two things — place and voice — and these are the themes that have emerged from my year as an intern.

One element of this internship has been the structure of praying the Daily Office. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Daily Office in the Anglican tradition consists of Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline before bedtime. The Magnificat is prayed every day during Evening Prayer. At the beginning of the internship, I had a dutiful approach to praying the office. I saw it as a sort of checklist item: “I prayed today.”

My checklist item, “I prayed today,” implies that prayer happened because I did it. As the year progressed, and I started to learn more from my experiences, from my supervisors, from my spiritual director, I began to see prayer as a process that was taking place with or without me. Prayer is constant: all of creation is crying out to God, all of the saints and angels are praying continually, the Holy Spirit is ceaselessly interceding for us. Eventually, I began to hear the hollowness of my checklist item — “I prayed today” — and my concept shifted to “Prayer is happening, and I took my place and I lent my voice.” Place and voice. The dual themes of my internship.

Mary speaks of place on the Magnificat when she says “He has looked with favour on his lowly servant… the Almighty has done great things for me.” During one of my first internship meetings with Jack, he made the observation that life has crushed me in various ways, and he said, “Now you’re in a place where that is no longer the case. This year may be about stepping out and moving forward from that past.” I stepped into my role as intern timidly. I wasn’t quite sure what was mine to do. It took me some month or two before I felt comfortable serving at the altar, before I introduced myself as an intern to guests or visitors. But Mary, whose life was rendered perplexing in unwelcome ways by her calling, immediately has the spiritual acumen to see that God has lifted up the lowly and has filled the hungry with good things. She understands that God is doing that: like prayer, which is happening, God is lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry, and she sees that she has been invited to take a place in that great work, to stand with the lowly and the hungry and the crushed and be part of the great things that God is doing. I learned from her prayer that taking my place, naming my vocation, is likewise a mature and gracious way to take part in what God is doing.

Mary speaks of voice when she says “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Two particular opportunities were given to me as intern: 1) leading our home group and 2) participating in our prayer ministry. In home-group this year, by increasing collaboration, we learned quite a bit about one another and how to build a trusting community. The crowning triumph of the year together was to take turns each week voicing our personal journeys of faith.

Similarly, this semester, Jane [an ordinand in Leuven] and I have offered prayer ministry after the Lord’s Supper for those who desired personal prayer. In this context, it was not unusual to hear someone say the words, “I have never said this to anyone before…”. In this year together, some of us have used our voices as never before, myself included.

The dual themes of place and voice culminated in our dynamic worship last week, in which I felt privileged to take my place, literally and metaphorically, near the cross and give voice to the stories of women who have been the victims of violence — to give voice to my own story of being silenced.

So on a final note, I want to offer sincere thanks to each of you for welcoming me to take the place of an intern here and to exercise my voice. In this community of warmth and welcome and kindness, I have been able to flourish. It has been a sincere honour to journey alongside you all at M&Ms. I ask you to continue to journey with me as I look forward to the year ahead: I will remain here at M&Ms. I have been encouraged to continue my discernment process, which may include some short visits to other parishes to round out my experience in the Church of England, and will also include some big interviews for which I will need time to prepare and for which I ask your support and your prayer.

Someone from the congregation approached me after dynamic worship last week to hand me a note which said, “Silent no more, never again.” And isn’t that what Mary says, when she declares that from this day all generations would call her blessed? She is saying that she has filled a place in redemption history and she can no longer be silenced. I can think of no better way to conclude this CEMES internship than by voicing Mary’s psalm once more. Will you pray with me?

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Amen.

 

 

General Synod – July 2017

The Summer Session of General Synod takes place at the beautiful York University campus, with activities and meetings on either side of the central lake. It is a lovely environment.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of time to enjoy the lake…as members are mostly meeting together inside the rather hot and airless exhibition centre.

I hadn’t intended to write a blog on the Synod experience. But, reading accounts in the press which seem to introduce a fish-eye lens level of distortion, I felt impelled to give my own perspective.

The wider scene was introduced on the opening Friday afternoon when, after prayers and a report from the Business Committee, we were invited to debate a motion from the Archbishops entitled ‘After the General Election, a still small voice of calm.’ At one level, this motion seemed a rather predictable call from the Church’s leaders to pray for the UK’s politicians. But the context makes this more than usually important. The Archbishops referred to ‘a critical time in the nation’s history’ with people facing ‘unprecedented questions about the future’. The Brexit vote, and (in a very different way) the Grenfell Tower fire have laid bare sharp divisions in society. Government is weak, confidence in in public institutions is low, people are fearful. The nation is, frankly, not in a good place. And so the established church has a particular and important role in healing, unifying and praying….if it can rise to the task.

One of the things that would most effectively undermine the church’s mission would be a serious split over issues of human sexuality. Over the course of the long weekend, the Synod was bowled two difficult questions that would (again) test the church’s unity. Neither motion came from the bishops: one was a private member’s motion on ‘conversion therapy’, the other was a motion from Blackburn Diocese on ‘Welcoming Transgender People’. Both motions could be viewed as totemic of the relative influence of different groups or proxies for other issues. And, of course, both could be spun.

I have to say I found myself rather uncomfortable debating ‘conversion therapy’. The ethics of therapy offered to gay/lesbian people (and all the more transgender people) is something which challenges even those who are experts in their field. Only a very few members of synod have this kind of expertise. And I was nervous discussing a subject in the adversarial style of a full synod which bears upon issues affecting individuals and families so deeply and personally.

In the event, I think we managed to discuss the issue with openness and compassion. Two amendments had been proposed, both of which in my view significantly improved the original motion. One was defeated, the other was accepted. The final motion endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding signed up to by all the relevant professional bodies, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It can be found here. This MoU, describes ‘efforts that try to change or alter sexual orientation through psychological therapies as unethical and potentially harmful’. The motion was passed overwhelmingly.

The second issue in the sexuality area was a motion ‘recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church’ and calling on the House of Bishops to ‘consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition’. During this debate we heard several stories of people who had transitioned between gender identities, and of the mental anguish that gender variance can cause to an individual and their family/community. There was considerable debate as to how to best to respond. I felt the Bishop of Worcester expressed well the mind of the Synod when he said: ‘Our response needs to be loving and open and welcoming and the passing of this motion would be a very important factor in that.’ The motion was duly passed by a big majority.

I hope that gay, lesbian and transgender people feel reassured and encouraged by these votes. Neither vote changes the church’s doctrine – and those fearful that orthodox teaching is slipping should be reassured that the membership of the current House of Bishops makes the prospect of doctrinal change remote. But they do signify steps towards the ‘radical new Christian inclusion, founded in scripture, tradition, reason and theology’ that the archbishops have promised.

There were many good things during the Synod. A debate on ‘presence and engagement’ reminded us of the national church’s commitment to areas of the country where other faiths are in the majority. Workshops on ‘Renewal and Reform’ highlighted 5 different areas in which the national church is supporting evangelism: the workshop I attended on digital evangelism was outstanding. The annual reports of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops Council – both of whom are doing excellent work – were welcomed and received. But the most effective debate for me – and the one on which I had opportunity to speak – concerned a motion on ‘the cost of applying for [UK] citizenship’.

This motion was initiated by the central Birmingham Deanery, was approved by Birmingham Diocesan Synod, and was duly debated by the General Synod. Synod was told that the cost of applying for citizenship application in the UK is 1,282 GBP for an adult and 973 GBP for a child. These fees are on top of the costs of applying for indefinite leave to remain. They include not just the administrative costs but a substantial element of ‘profit’ made by the Home Office. The costs are prohibitive and act as a bizarre discouragement to social integration.

In my speech, I drew attention to the vastly lower costs charged by other European countries – less than 200 Euros in Belgium. I described the stress of making these kinds of applications, even for people who have financial means and education. And I said I thought that the ratcheting up of costs by the Home Office in the last few years was simply disgraceful.

The motion was carried with 310 votes in favour, no votes against and no abstentions. This, for me, was the synodical system acting at its best: a local deanery spotting an area of deep injustice, giving it national profile and enabling it to be raised within government. Sir Tony Bawdry MP, former Second Church Estates Commissioner, helpfully offered to give a transcript of the debate to the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.

On my way home, at the end of the Synod, and re-entering the public life of Britain, I bought a copy of the Times. One article spoke of the ‘collapse of business confidence’. Another article predicted significant falls in living standards as the country is now living above its means. Picking up a copy of the London Evening Standard, the front page carried a warning from the Royal College of Radiologists about the supply of cancer treating radioactive materials once Britain leaves the relevant EU authorising body. These are hugely challenging times for the United Kingdom. The Church of England in England has a particular vocation to bring the message and love of Christ to the nation, to challenge unjust structures and to help rebuild a sense of national destiny. I hope and pray that our internal disagreements about sexuality don’t hinder this task. The Synod brings together so much talent, lay and ordained. At its best, the General Synod models an open and respectful process of debate, raises the profile of the church and further its mission. I felt that at the York Synod we were indeed sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and Christian mission was carried forward.