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.