The capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg, is right on the eastern French border, far from our next nearest French chaplaincy. But the new high-speed railway line and direct TGV service to Brussels makes the journey much easier than it used to be. In a way, Brussels and Strasbourg are twin cities. Like Brussels, Strasbourg is home to a major European Institution (the Council of Europe) and with Brussels it shares the base of the European Parliament. It also houses one of France’s biggest universities, with 55,000 students. In view of Strasbourg’s political and academic importance, it was a particular delight to be licensing a new Chaplain to the Anglican chaplaincy of St. Alban’s.
Strasbourg lays claim to being one of our oldest chaplaincies, with a community of English Anglicans settling in the city as refugees during the 16th century Marian persecutions. Today, St. Alban’s is a highly international community. It meets in the Église des Dominicains, in a worship space beautifully modelled on a Roman basilica. On the day of the licensing, snow was falling thickly outside, and we were glad to be in such a warm and cosy building.
The appointment of Dr. Mark Barwick as chaplain is a huge encouragement to the community. Mark was formerly assistant priest with the Episcopal Church, in Waterloo, Belgium. He speaks French and German, has a track record of work with political institutions in Brussels and long experience in conflict resolution with the Pax Christi organisation. In the ‘waiting’ season of Advent, we can certainly say that Mark’s appointment was long awaited. St. Alban’s has been without a chaplain for four years. The clergy and leading laity have worked hard to sustain the life of the chaplaincy, but there is now great delight, and indeed relief, that a chaplain has been appointed.
The service was constructed to enable different elements of the diverse community to contribute.
We pray for Mark, his wife Corinna and small children Madeleine and Elias, as they settle into Strasbourg and as Mark begins this exciting new chapter in his life and the life of St. Alban’s.
In the last fortnight, from 24th – 29th Nov, this year’s CEMES (Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme) interns for the Diocese in Europe were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The pilgrimage was a result of the vision and hard work of the Director of Ordinands for the Diocese in Europe, Revd Canon William Gulliford, who says ‘I know what impact the opportunity to visit Jerusalem as a young man made to me, and how it affected the path of my own ministry. I wanted these young people to have a similar privilege. It is an important way that the church can invest in the future.’
Coming out of their pilgrimage, a photographic journal of their time has been produced, which is offered below. A short report on the pilgrimage from Dr Clare Amos, a CEMES mentor, is available on the diocesan website HERE.
PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNAL OF THE 2017 CEMES STUDY PILGRIMAGE TO JERUSALEM
Tour of the West Bank, Visit to Bethlehem, Visit to Synagogue and Jewish Families for Shabbat Evening Meal
On the first morning we had a tour of the different communities straddling the 1967 Green line with a former Israeli soldier who now leads study tours of the occupied territories. The view above is of a Palestinian refugee camp just next to the Mt of Olives, rubbish is strewn down the mountainside as the City of Jerusalem provides no normal street services in the Camp.
The Wilderness, Masada, the Dead Sea, Qumran, En Gedi, Jericho
The Holy Sepulchre, the Greek Patriarchate, St George’s Anglican Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox Monastery of St Mary Magdalene, the Mt of Olives
The Dome of the Rock, the Tunnel along the Western Wall, Yad Vashem and an evening visit to the Student Year programme at the Abbey of the Dormition
The River Jordan, Lake Galilee, to include St Peter’s Primacy, Capernaum the Mt of Beatitudes, Tabgha and Safed
Abu Gosh – Emmaus, the Crusader Church run by French Benedictines
These are beautiful pictures from a pilgrimage which clearly had a deep impact on those who went, an impact they are only just beginning to realize. You need only read their comments on the website article.
But this reflection from one intern is perhaps something to dwell on in Advent:
‘The patriarch [of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilus] put a provocative question to our group: he asked us to consider what we had come to Jerusalem to see. In my mind I ran through a list of sites that I had come to see: Gethsemane, the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall. After a moment of silence he quietly commented, “I hope that you have not come to Jerusalem to see places. I hope you have come to see people. Israel is not the Holy Land, it is the Land of the Holy One. I pray that you see God’s light.”
I felt that some light had broken through. Too many pilgrims like myself visit Jerusalem for the places, for the Land. In so doing, we miss the people. We miss the face of Christ, who is so often best seen in our neighbors.
Before we left His Beatitude Theophilus, we asked how we could pray for him. “Pray for enlightenment,” he said.
This is what Advent is about: Christ came for our enlightenment. He came that the people who walked in darkness would see a great light, he came to shine light on those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2).
If there is one thought I can offer from my pilgrimage, it is this thought from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Advent reminds us – in our troubles, imperfections, and sorrows – to expect God. It teaches us to expect God, whom we so often experience as absent… it teaches us to expect God to be revealed. Jesus came as Immanuel, God with us. This was nothing new. Immanuel reveals what has always been true about God: that God has always been coming to us and has always been among us and truly does remain with us always.’
I have been to Switzerland many times, but never to the Italian part of the country, which is somewhat isolated from the French and German-speaking parts. So I was particularly looking forward to visiting the Anglican Church of St Edward the Confessor, Lugano, for the first time. Helen and I travelled on a regular Airbus to Zurich and then onwards via a small Dash-8 aeroplane. Lugano has my favourite kind of airport: a small airstrip neatly slotted in between the mountains and the lake, only three arrivals per day (all from Zurich) and minimal queueing.
The main reason for my visit was to celebrate a 30 year anniversary. Our chaplain in Lugano, Fr. Nigel Gibson, was ordained priest 30 years ago in Adelaide South Australia. Since then he has ministered in the UK, Hong Kong and Europe. 10 years of his ministry have been in the Diocese in Europe – a stint as chaplain to Milan, Genova, Varese and Cadenabbia and the last 20 months in Lugano. Before ordination, Nigel had a career in broadcasting and journalism, and the new church website is eloquent testimony to his skills in design and communication. His subsequent 30 years as a priest is a fine achievement well worthy of celebration.
The wardens and council of St. Edwards had taken every care over our visit. We were booked in to a delightful, centrally-located hotel, and after arrival were given a short tour of the city. Lugano has the good fortune to combine Swiss efficiency and cleanliness with Italian beauty and style. This is very evident in the civic architecture. In particular, we had opportunity to admire the exquisitely tasteful Lugano Art and Culture Centre ingenuously attached to the outstanding Renaissance Cloisters and Convent of Santa Maria degli Angioli.
Dinner was arranged at a restaurant a stone’s throw from our hotel. This was a lovely occasion with plenty of opportunity to chat with members of the church council. Not for the first time was I struck by the exceptionally able and gifted lay folk with whom we are privileged to serve. The restaurant was gorgeous, but then it had been chosen by a churchwarden whose husband is a leading authority on gastronomy and wine.
Fr. Nigel presided at the Eucharist. All the elements of the service – readings, prayers, music, were done well. I was pleased to meet The Revd. Elizabetha, the priest who looks after the small Old Catholic community that meets at St. Edwards, and the President of the Lugano Council of Churches who had been specially invited. At the end of the service there was a surprise presentation – of an electric bicycle. Nigel is lithe and fit; Lugano is hilly with car parking at a premium – so an electric bicycle is an ideal way of getting around the city. Nigel obligingly attempted to ride the bike down the aisle whilst wearing a chasuble – which is certainly as difficult as you might think.
Adjoining the beautiful worship space, is ‘Casa Benson’ which provides a gorgeous suite of meeting/Sunday school rooms/kitchen on the ground floor and a stunning chaplain’s apartment with views over the lake on the upper two floors. Casa Benson was once the home of Mrs. Agnes Benson – the wife of a one-time Bishop of Truro who gave the Anglican Church its ‘Nine lessons and carols’ service. She bequeathed it to the church on her death. Casa Benson was once regarded by St. Edward’s as a ‘liability’ – it is now a massive asset – which just shows how our buildings can be redeemed and transformed.
The after-church refreshments featured a beautiful church-shaped ‘cake’ that was actually made up of three different types of savoury quiche covered in Philadelphia cheese. (There’s a healthy alternative to cream and sugar.) Homemade Advent Wreaths were on sale to raise money for ‘futureforfamilies’ foundation, which supports children in need in Bosnia. The congregation member who is President of the foundation, Jennifer Stone-Wigg, has just been awarded an MBE for her work.
As this visit came to a close, I give thanks to God for a remarkably welcoming, creative and talented church community. I was deeply touched by the evident affection and esteem in which Fr. Nigel is held by the community. St. Edward the Confessor is a very encouraging place. It deserves to grow and I very much hope and pray that it will.