Looking back, looking forward: Thoughts for a New Year

Life rushes along at such speed. If we are not careful we forget the many good things and rich experiences of the past. So the beginning of a New Year is a great moment consciously to give thanks for the past year. 2017 was the year when M. Macron became the youngest ever President of France – I was there, or at least just around the corner at St. Michael’s church. It was the year in which the Pope visited All Saints Rome – and Bishop David and I were with Jonathan Boardman and the local congregation for that historic occasion. And it was the year for a high-level Anglican delegation led by Archbishop Justin to meet Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. There were some significant endings: we said our sad farewells to Bishop Geoffrey, at a most moving funeral service in Chichester Cathedral. And we marked lots of new beginnings, with many baptisms, confirmations and licensings of new ministries. Following below is a round-up of some of the comings-and-goings that were reported on this blog in 2017.

Looking forward to 2018 there could be many reasons to feel gloomy: political uncertainty, Brexit, stories of church decline. But I was much heartened to receive from the Taizé community (whose guiding principles are simplicity, mercy and joy) a request that I (and the church more widely) make Joy a central reality in my life in 2018. My diary for the next few months is already filled with a mixture of church visits (Barcelona, Toulouse, Pau, Prague, Aquitaine to start with), ecumenical events (meetings with other Anglican bishops; meetings with Old Catholic Bishops; a CEC General Assembly) and the business of synods at different levels. How important to approach the commitments of a new year with a spirit of joy, expectancy and delight! The Christian virtue of joy is not a superficial feeling but the assurance that our activities contribute to God’s purposes, and the confident trust that we are loved and valued by God. In the words of the prophet Zephaniah: ‘The Lord your God is with you. He takes great delight in you; he will renew you with his love; he will sing with joy because of you.” So as I go into 2018, I aim to try to live into this prayer, written by the Swiss Saint Nicholas of Flue:

My Lord and my God; take from me all that keeps me far from you.
My Lord and my God; give me all that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God, take me out of myself and give me completely to you.

2017 Round-up

The year began with an invitation to dedicate the new Edith Cavell chapel at Holy Trinity Brussels. The chapel is the centre of the renovated Church House building – with a new administration and conference centre. As a British nurse who voluntarily and bravely came to Belgium at the outbreak of the great war, as a woman who was proud of her own country but equally committed to caring for the injured from all European countries, and as an intensely serious Christian, she is an inspirational figure.

A Historic Weekend in Rome was the heart of the month. We gathered to celebrate 200 years of Anglican worship in Rome and looked forward with great anticipation to the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis. This was the first time a Bishop of Rome had visited an Anglican parish in his own diocese. In fact, as far as we are aware, the first time a Roman Pontiff has visited any ‘ordinary’ Anglican parish (rather than let’s say a Cathedral). Other ecumenical encounters in Naples and Lyon made this a time focused on greater Christian unity, something we all strive for.

Gibraltar & Brexit, and Brexit’s impacts more widely on lives left in limbo, have been on the minds of many in our diocese. Gibraltar is the location of our Cathedral church which has an historic importance, not just to the people of Gibraltar, but to the Diocese in Europe and the Church of England more generally. The UK and Gibraltarian governments face many difficult issues when Britain leaves the EU. The outcomes will, in the words of Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, rely on the “good will and good faith” between Gibraltar and Spain. We all pray that goodwill and mutual cooperation will be the hallmarks of the negotiations ahead. Steady progress on other important issues has been made and that is indeed welcome.

April led me To Prague for the consecration of an Old Catholic bishop for the Czech Republic, confirmations at St Clement’s and to wish the then chaplain, Ricky Yates, a well-earned and fulfilling retirement. At a time when populism threatens European togetherness, it was especially important that European Christian leaders celebrated and deepened their ties with each other at the bishop’s consecration. We worshipped for nearly three hours in Czech and German: a test in humility for us English-speakers! The confirmation candidates represented a gloriously international community and it is always a joy to speak to candidates, young and old, about the journey that has led them to this point.

Visiting Paris on a Historic Day, I was thrilled when it turned out my long-planned visit would coincide with the installation of President Emmanuel Macron. The Champs-Elysées was decorated with flags for the occasion. St Michael’s is just around the corner from the Elysée Palace where the passation took place, so we felt very much at the centre of the action. I also learnt a lot about the church’s history from its most senior member, Rene, a former architect who joined St. Michael’s Paris 65 years ago. St. Michael’s is a lively church that supports a women’s meeting (‘Eve’), a men’s breakfast, Alpha courses, a gathering for young adults (‘Celebrate’), a café for English-speaking Au Pairs, children’s, youth, music and prayer ministries.

The news of Bishop Geoffrey Rowell’s death was a source of sadness and sorrow to many, including me personally. I first met Geoffrey in 2005, when I joined the Diocese in Europe. I experienced him as unfailingly kind, warm and hospitable. For 12 years as Diocesan Bishop, Geoffrey embodied the Diocese in Europe in his own character and personality. He managed to remain a serious academic whilst also carrying out a demanding pastoral ministry. He was a great ambassador for a traditional, catholic, Anglicanism and he maintained an enviable quantity and quality of correspondence with ecumenical partners and friends. His passing has felt as if it marks the end of an era, but we go forward in 2018 with fond memories and appreciation of such a devoted servant as Geoffrey was to this diocese. June was also a reminder of new beginnings, with many baptisms, confirmations and experiences of children’s ministry in Maisons Lafitte & Switzerland.

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 chapel was built by Tony and Suzanne Lane and a ‘tabernacle’ added, which today forms the area where Sunday worship takes place. I got to meet many members of this relevantly new congregation and wish them, Fr. Leonard (our Athens chaplain) much wisdom and grace as, together with Archdeacon Colin Williams, they lead St. Thomas Kefalas into the next phase of its life and ministry: Χάρη και ειρήνη

A Grand New Beginning at St. Andrew’s Moscow was inaugurated with the licensing of Malcolm Rogers as Chaplain of the Anglican community there. Few cities compare with the awe-inspiring grandeur and scale of Moscow. And few have such international significance. So the opportunity to spend time there with Malcolm, who loves Russia and speak Russian, and has the deep pastoral experience needed to build Christian community in Moscow, was truly special. I was able to return to Moscow in November as part of a high-level Anglican delegation led by Archbishop Justin to meet Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. During that visit commission Malcolm was also commissioned as apokrisarios (representative) to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and will play a major role in taking forward dialogue with the Patriarchate.

St George’s Ypres was built as a place of remembrance following the horrors of World War 1. The building included a bell tower but, back in the 1920s, there was no money to buy a set of bells. Finally, this year, those long-expected bells were introduced. Church bells have a very important and contemporary function. Because in our time, people mostly neglect the worship of God. They have forgotten how to praise God, and they don’t know how to enjoy God. And religion is something which, if it is tolerated at all, is supposed to be something quiet and personal and private. By contrast, a set of pealing church bells says to us: ‘Don’t apologise! We have good news to share! Come and join us! Praise God with all your heart and mind and strength! It will do you good. And it will do your community good too.’

Between the church calendar, commemorating the faithful departed at All Saints & All Souls, the autumn season, and the annual marking of 11th November as a Remembrance or Armistice Day in many countries, November is often a poignant time to reflect on matters of life and its passing. I visited the most beautiful and well-orchestrated remembrance event I have ever attended at Sittard in the Netherlands and preached on John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ During a reception, the local military wives choir sang the prayer ‘Bring Him Home’ (from Les Misérables), which I believe to have been particularly appropriate.

A Holy Land Journal was a wonderful collection of pictures and reflections to arise from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem by this year’s CEMES (Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme) interns for the Diocese in Europe. The pilgrimage was a result of the vision and hard work of our Director of Ordinands, Revd Canon William Gulliford, who wanted to offer the interns the same experience which had a profound impact on him and his calling as a young man. Such a pilgrimage is just one expression of the ways we can invest in the future, support and encourage young vocations in the Church of England. Throughout 2017 I have been pleased to host guest posts on this blog from other CEMES interns – ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’; Anglican-Old Catholic Youth Pilgrimage; Meditating on the Magnificat. Please continue to support and pray for all who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, offer themselves for ministry and work for the increase of God’s Kingdom.


2 thoughts on “Looking back, looking forward: Thoughts for a New Year

  1. Elizabeth Cordone

    Thank you for Looking Back, looking forward: Thoughts for a New Year.
    As we were without a priest, we included it in our Evening Prayer (in the place of a sermon) during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Ecumenical Group had decided to welcome the different denominations present in Sanremo into their churches on a different afternoon of the week and it was the Anglican turn on Thursday 18th January. The service was held in the former Anglican Church of All Saints, Sanremo. It was an ideal address, and much appreciated.
    Thank you Bishop Robert.
    Anglican Church – Bordighera/Sanremo/Menton


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