A Weekend in Funchal

The island of Madeira is at the far South-West corner of the Diocese in Europe. It lies off the West Coast of Africa, and for part of its history was in the Diocese of Sierra Leone. It has a sub-tropical climate with warm weather all the year round. Work on the English Church in the island capital of Funchal was begun in 1817, so this being 2017 I was invited to help launch a bicentennial appeal as well as to confirm two adult candidates.

I was pleased to be joined on this trip by Archdeacon Geoff Johnston, pictured here in front of the distinctive neo-classical church building.

Holy Trinity church is set in a beautiful garden well stocked with flowers and shrubs, and elegant palm and banana trees. It is quite a large building and could seat 300 if the balconies were used. Though the local congregation is small, it attracts a good congregation from regular visitors to the island.

The Chaplain, Canon John Blair, and Jean his wife (third right), with members of the Church Council on John’s terrace.

One of the particular features of Holy Trinity Funchal is the British Cemetery, which offered burials to Protestants of all nationalities. Many notable and interesting people have visited or lived in Madeira over the centuries. Some came for health reasons because of the warm climate and clean air. Those buried in the cemetery include a King of Bonny, an African goddaughter of Queen Victoria and Dr. Langerhans – the German doctor who discovered the ‘islets of Langerhans’ that produce insulin.

Left: Church Archivist Cefyn, with Cemetery Gardener Carlos. Right: The very remarkable ‘British Cemetery’.

A neo-classical church, its surrounding gardens, and a sizeable cemetery all cost a lot of money to maintain. In days gone by, Holy Trinity had large congregations of wealthy residents, but that, sadly, is no longer the case, so a special appeal for funds is needed.

The main ‘launch event’ for the appeal was a magnificent banquet for over 100 people.

Churchwarden Richard Colclough, and my wife Helen, sit next to Madeiran Region Vice-President and Finance Minister Pedro Calado at the gala dinner.

Holy Trinity’s two most senior members are Maureen Goncalves and Elizabeth Burca, whose history with the church goes back some 60 years. Elizabeth was a cordon bleu cook and her husband was the manager of Reid’s Palace, Madeira’s best-known hotel. Maureen worked in the British Consulate.

Maureen & Elizabeth.

Holy Trinity Funchal is a little piece of English history. It is now a Portuguese trust. It hopes to be an international church, open to all nations, to be used for social and cultural events as well as worship. It looks forward to being fully embraced and understood as a special part of Madeira’s heritage and finding its place in Madeira’s future.

Coffee after church amidst the palm trees.

The visit concluded with a memorable traditional barbecue, kindly hosted by the churchwardens, at an off the beaten track restaurant in the mountains. Note the skewers of meat hanging from the ceiling!

Visit to Moscow with the Archbishop of Canterbury

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, visited Her Majesty the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury in October last year. This November 2017, Archbishop Justin made a return visit to Moscow. He was joined by a delegation including Bishop Jonathan Goodall (who has taken over from +Richard Chartres as our representative with the Orthodox Churches), Will Adam (International Ecumenical Secretary), David Porter (the Archbishop’s Chief of Staff), Ailsa Anderson-Cole (Communications Officer) and me. The aims of the visit were to commission Malcolm Rogers, the Anglican chaplain in the city, as apokrisarios (representative) to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and to take forward dialogue with the Patriarchate. It was the Archbishop’s first visit to Russia and a particularly important event given current political tensions between the UK and Russia.

Malcolm and Alison Rogers arrived in Moscow this summer. Malcolm’s primary responsibility is the pastoral care of St. Andrew’s Moscow, which is a diverse church community inhabiting a splendid Victorian Gothic building, unique in Russia, that was used in Soviet times as a recording studio. He also acts as the face of Anglicanism in Orthodox relations in Moscow. His knowledge of Russian is particularly useful for this. On our first evening, the Archbishop met members of the ‘Step Up’ programme, which works with former orphanage children to help them complete formal education in order to gain employment. In a service of Compline, the Archbishop commissioned Malcolm as apokrisarios. We were particularly grateful to the people of the chaplaincy for laying on extensive refreshments.

The following morning, we were taken to the Convent of St. Martha and St. Mary. Unusually for Russia, the convent sponsors extensive social work – in particular running an orphanage for children with Down’s Syndrome. It was a delight to meet the children and see how well cared for they were. At the conclusion of our visit, the mother abbess (above, middle left) offered us delicious refreshments.

The ‘main event’ was a lunchtime meeting for the Anglican delegation with Patriarch Kirill (above, left), Metropolitan Hilarion (above, right) and other members of the Russian delegation. This took place with a high level of formality, in the magnificently regal surroundings of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Patriarch’s opening address included significant reference to the Middle East and to Ukraine and was delivered to a bank of television cameras. The media then left, and Archbishop Justin was invited to respond.

The dialogue between the two principals continued over a six-course banquet for, I think, about two hours. It was an extremely open, honest and warm discussion. I was impressed that the Archbishop could sustain the highest level of religious (and indeed political) dialogue and debate, whilst also eating a very substantial lunch! Following lunch, we moved to Metropolitan Hilarion’s offices. There was further discussion of specific ways in which our two churches could collaborate, for example in clergy and cultural exchanges. A joint press statement was issued drawing the attention of world leaders to the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. You can read the statement HERE.

In the evening, the British Ambassador, Laurie Bristow (above), hosted a lecture and reception for the Archbishop. 100 people attended from different sectors of the international and Russian communities. After the lecture, the Archbishop answered questions on a wide range of subjects.

The following morning, (more food!) the Ambassador hosted a breakfast meeting for our delegation with younger Russians who had been sponsored to spend a period of time studying in the UK. It was fascinating for us to hear their perspectives on matters of faith, their future and their country. I enjoyed a conversation with a woman who had studied business at Durham University. She described how, she had been one of the first Russians to study market economics and accountancy after the communist era. She explained how, in communist times, the notion of ‘making a profit’ didn’t’ exist – so you had to start learning about ‘profit and loss accounts’ from a very basic level!

We left the embassy to go to the postgraduate institute of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, where the Archbishop delivered a lecture on Christian anthropology. You can read it HERE. From there, we were taken to the newly rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which dominates the Moscow skyline. (Its predecessor was systematically demolished by the Soviets.) The building is vast – the main worship space has a capacity of 10,000 people. Just one part of the complex, the auditorium (below) is far larger than any church auditorium in Britain. And from the roof of the cathedral you get a fine view over the Kremlin and beyond.

Moscow Cathedral Auditorium
View from the Cathedral Roof

This was an unforgettable visit. It was a privilege to be part of the Archbishop’s delegation and to experience first-hand dialogue and debate between global leaders. It was a tough and demanding engagement, and one could not but be impressed with the Archbishop’s grace, intellectual ability and diplomatic skill. At the highest level, the two religious leaders established rapport and respect. In many other informal conversations, members of the two churches shared stories and experiences. At a time when political relations between Britain and Russia are frozen, I found it so encouraging to be reminded of our common faith, common concerns and common humanity.

Remembrance Sunday in Sittard

I write this having just returned home from one of the most beautiful and well-orchestrated remembrance events I have ever attended.

On 11th November 1918, the opposing sides in World War I signed an armistice that marked the end of hostilities on the Western Front. From then on, that day, the 11th of November, was kept as a day of Remembrance and marked as a public holiday in many European nations, including Belgium where I live. In Britain and many Commonwealth countries, the acts of Remembrance were later transferred to the nearest Sunday.

The Netherlands was neutral in World War I. It keeps its national Memorial Day and Liberation Day on 4th and 5th May. But in Sittard, in the South Netherlands province of Limburg, where some of the fallen of WWII are buried, there is a long-established tradition of observing the November Remembrance Sunday.

2017 is the 50th year that the Sittard War Graves Commission, the Mayor and the community of Sittard has joined with the NATO Allied Joint Force Command at neighbouring Brunssum for a service at St. Peter’s, Sittard, followed by an Act of Remembrance at nearby Ophoven War Cemetery.

The event is a model of co-operation between different churches, different countries, military and civic authorities and ordinary citizens.

The ecumenical service was hosted by the Roman Catholic Dean, Mgr. Wilbert Van Rems. Dominee Irene Pluim represented the Dutch Protestant Church, and our Reader from Eindhoven, Jan Waterschoot, and I represented the Anglican Church. I preached on John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’

Music was provided by a superb local brass and wind band – the Philharmonie Sittard and the St. Peter’s Choir and Organ. Most of those buried in the Sittard Commonwealth war graves are Scots, so it was particularly appropriate to have two pipers from the Coriovallum Pipe Band.

After the Church service we were taken by coach, with a police escort, to the cemetery. As always, the cemetery was beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Located in a peaceful housing area, the calm of the cemetery belies the bloody reality of the fierce Allied battles in this border region.

Children were invited to lay a red rose on each of the 239 graves. Wreaths were laid by representatives of many different organisations, including a Colonel from the German Army.

After the Act of Remembrance, we were taken back to Sittard for refreshments. Speeches were made by, amongst others, the Chair of the Sittard War Graves Committee and Major General Karl Ford, representing the NATO military presence.

During the reception, the local military wives choir sang the prayer ‘Bring Him Home’ (from Les Misérables).

Having just laid roses on the graves of so many young men, the words seemed particularly poignant and appropriate:

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.