Michaelmas at St. Peter and St. Sigfrid Stockholm

St. Peter and St. Sigfrid is situated close to the waterfront in the embassy district of Stockholm. It adjoins an old military cemetery, which means the church building is surrounded by lots of green space.

Of particular note are the two bee hives that have been installed at the bottom of the burial ground. I was told they generate an astonishing 100kg of honey per year. On the day we visited it was sunny and warm, and the bees were active: indeed one of the churchwardens was stung as we observed the busy bees! One of the benefits of installing the hives has been that a large area of ground round and about has been declared a pesticide-free zone, which just shows how a positive environmental impact can ripple out from one project.

The interior of the church is equally beautiful, with fine pews and attractive stained glass windows. Chaplain Nick Howe is initiating a project to see if the iconography in the church could better reflect what is now a diverse international community.

During my visit there was opportunity for a hybrid meeting with the church council. Covid regulations in Sweden are now quite relaxed by European standards and will relax further very soon. But about half the congregation still join services and indeed meetings by Zoom. We were able to have a good and helpful exchange – albeit that lunch for virtual attendees is never as satisfying as when physical and in person!

On one Sunday afternoon a month the building is used by a community of Luganda-speaking Bugandans. They are Anglican by background, and are ‘on the way’ to finding their place with us.

Jesus words in St. Luke’s gospel embody the ethos of St. Peter and St. Sigfrid. Longer standing members told me how they have seen the diversity of the community increase in recent decades.

The Reverend Nick Howe’s ministry is hugely appreciated by the community – as many people told me. Sustaining fellowship and witness during the covid epidemic has been hard, and council members paid tribute to Nick’s ability to create a spiritual home and to use technology skillfully to enable regular worship.

The flying angel weathervane is a distinctive feature of the church building. In the sunshine the golden angel sparkled. 

In my sermon, for Michael and All Angels, I wondered if this flying angel had a name. Michael would be an appropriate name, given that Michael is the patron saint of soldiers and the church is surrounded by military graves. 

Traditionally, Michael is the angel who accompanies Christians in death and who fights for the Christian community against darkness and evil.

Michael appears in Revelation Chapter 12 fighting against the dragon, who is the devil. The Book of Revelation is a key part of the New Testament, though it is often misunderstood. Revelation speaks of a triumph that is ultimately won in a costly way by Jesus, the lamb who was slain, and by those who are faithful and true witnesses to Jesus, even unto death. The angels and archangels accompany the saints, protecting them and fighting with them.   

It occurred to me that the – recently relaunched! – Swedish pop group ‘Abba’ were feeling their way to some of these insights in their song ‘I believe in angels’: “….and when I know the time is right for me I’ll cross the stream. I have a dream…” The book of Revelation provides a much more full blooded version of the vision and hope that Abba seemed to be pointing towards, with its vivid depiction of the triumph of God and a final victory over the powers of darkness.

As we celebrate Michaelmas, may God send his holy angels to accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage and finally bring us safely to his heavenly kingdom.

Consecration of Barend Theodoor Wallet as Archbishop of Utrecht

The archbishop-designate prepares for his consecration

Barend (Bernd) Theodoor Wallet was born in Middleburg, Zeeland. He lived, studied and worked for eight years in Yorkshire. He was ordained deacon by Archbishop Sentamu in York and ordained priest by Archbishop Joris Vercammen in Utrecht, which makes for a truly ecumenical pedigree. Bernd’s consecration had been delayed for many months because of the pandemic. He was chosen for the role as long ago as February 2020. Saturday September 18th 2021 gave long-awaited opportunity for a truly international gathering to celebrate Bernd’s new ministry.

Robing for the Consecration with Old Catholic Bishop Matthias Ring

I was honoured and delighted to be invited to be one of the three principal consecrators of the new Archbishop. New bishops are required to be consecrated by (at least) three existing bishops. Alongside the Principal Consecrator, Bishop Dirk Schoon of Haarlem, and Bishop Matthias Ring of Germany, I was invited to participate as representative of the Church of England with whom the Old Catholics are in full communion.  

The Old Catholic Church is present in seven broadly Germanophone European countries. Each country has its own bishop. The bishop of Utrecht does not have metropolitical jurisdiction over the other bishops in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury does in the Church of England. But he is the ‘first amongst equals’, he is the titular archbishop, and he is a key partner in ecumenical relationships with the Diocese in Europe. 

The Lebuinus Cathedral, Deventer in the Netherlands

The consecration took place in the lovely Dutch city of Deventer, in the Protestant Cathedral named after Lebuinus – an English missionary, who  first built a wooden church in Deventer in the 8th century. The present building is of much later construction, and it is magnificent. In fact, the Old Catholics chose this building for the ceremony because it is one of the largest church buildings in the Netherlands and could therefore accommodate a big congregation, even with physical distancing.  

Bishops from all of the European Anglican jurisdictions were present as were Old Catholic bishops from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and a bishop from the Independent Filipino Church. It was a long time since we had seen each other and it was a joy to be together. Of particular note was the presence amongst the consecrating bishops of Bishop Thomas of the Swedish Lutheran Church Diocese of Visby. The Old Catholic Church has a high doctrine of episcopacy and of properly catholic apostolic succession, and this was the first time a Lutheran has been invited to participate in a consecration of a new Old Catholic bishop.

Inside the Lebuinus Church preparing for the Consecration

The consecration was a grand occasion, lasting two and a half hours. Two Dutch television stations had come along, so the action took place under powerful stage lights. I can testify that it was hot under the lights! The service was both being live streamed and woven into a TV documentary on the Old Catholic Church, so there were technicians and cameramen everywhere. Those bishops robing in the sacristy had to manoeuvre around a huge microphone on a long boom plus a TV camera, positioned to enable the journalists to capture snippets of conversation between bishops as they struggled with putting on their robes!

Special mention needs to be made of this wonderful crozier, which is the historic staff of the Old Catholic bishops of Deventer. It was manufactured in Antwerp in the 16th century. Since 1982 it has been held in safe keeping in the Museum of Utrecht. Made of gold, silver and copper, it is evidently hugely valuable, and it was made available for our ceremony under strict conditions. I watched a suitably burly member of the Museum staff arrive with it in an unmarked steel box. He put on his gloves, unlocked the box, and assembled it with great care before – temporarily – entrusting it back to its owners, the Old Catholic Church, to add a sense of history and dignity to the consecration ceremony.  

The whole ceremony was beautifully and elegantly conducted. There was much traditional Old Catholic plainsong, to which the new Archbishop had added items by William Byrd, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arvo Pärt. There was, what I thought to be, an encouragingly large and youthful congregation. And afterwards (as the picture shows) a delighted Bishop Dirk Schoon signed the documentation making it all legal.

I do believe that the consecration of Bernd Wallet has the capacity to open a new era of hope in Anglican Old Catholic relations. Bernd has a gentle and humble style coupled with personal warmth. His extensive experience of the Church of England from the inside makes him a natural and easy dialogue partner. I am very much looking forward to working with him.

In continental Europe smaller churches need each other. The Old Catholics offer historical rootedness in the countries where they are present. Anglicans offer a sense of connection with the worldwide church. Old Catholics normally worship in the local language; whereas chaplaincies in our Diocese normally worship in English. There are differences between us – in liturgy and ethics, and most significantly the fact that Anglicanism is a product of the Reformation, whereas the Old Catholic Church sees itself as historically and traditionally ‘catholic’. I hope these differences can be sources of mutual enrichment and dialogue so that we can journey together in faith. I hope that episcopal friendships and ecclesial friendships will both grow in the years ahead.

Bernd has chosen as the motto on his new episcopal coat of arms ‘In Christo Gaudium’. What an excellent note to strike at the outset of an episcopal ministry! I hope that Bernd will be able to bring joy to those with whom he ministers, and that he will retain a joyful spirit in the difficult work that will inevitably lie ahead. I pray for the flourishing of Bernd, his wife Elly and their four children and that God will give the whole family much about which to rejoice.

Conference on International Religious Freedom and Peace, Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia

This Conference brought together religious leaders, scholars and NGO leaders from many different countries to think about the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage. This heritage is too often under threat from ethnic and religious intolerance, especially during wars and armed conflict. The conference met in Holy Etchmiadzin, under the patronage of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Conference focused especially on the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) conflict, an area in the Southern Caucasus whose international status is unresolved.   

The Conference reflected on the impact of the destruction of religious heritage, with many sharing personal testimony. The Conference noted that places of worship and items of religious heritage are representative of the deepest identities of people and communities of faith. Precisely for this reason, they are often deliberately targeted in order to inflict maximum collective trauma on a particular community. On the other hand, by caring for the physical integrity of holy sites and places of worship, we uphold the dignity of those who hold them dear, and when we co-operate among nations, governments and faith communities to protect religious heritage, we convey a transformative message of healing and togetherness.

In my sermon to the Conference, I preached on Christ the Light of the world. “In our gathering, we have some role in opening ourselves afresh to the light and enabling that light to shine in the darkness which is so evident in history and in the world today. We are to turn over the stones, expose the darkness and let in the light. To get the historical truth straight – or as straight as we can – and expose all the dreadful jaggedness of human conflict, suspicion, mistrust and even war to the healing, warming, light of Jesus Christ … How easy it would be to be dragged down by the darkness, to despair at man’s inhumanity to man, to lose hope under the weight of human sin, not least considering the last 120 years of European history. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not and will not overcome it. Like the sun which rises each day with the dawn, so Christ rises from the tomb and rises in our hearts bringing new life and new hope.“

During the Conference, Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the UK House of Lords, was presented with the St. Sahak – St. Mesrop Order of the Armenian Apostolic Church by His Holiness Karekin II. The award, described as the Church’s highest order of merit, was presented in recognition of Baronness Cox’s tireless and courageous advocacy on behalf of the Armenian people and Armenian Church.

My friend and colleague, the Reverend Christian Krieger, President of the European Conference of Churches, gave a fine address in which he considered an increase of violence against religious communities, such that religious insecurity has now become a real political issue in most EU countries. He observed that places of worship were built without security in mind. He suggested that violence against religious heritage needs to be properly acknowledged and recognised else it can become a long-lasting resentment or ‘identity wound’. ‘Humiliation is more serious in the long term’, he said, ‘than simple violence’. He referred to an action plan for public space published by the EU: ‘SASCE’ Safer and Stronger Communities in Europe. Its primary aim is to improve the security of religious places. I observe that Churches in our own diocese could benefit from this scheme, in consultation with CEC. 

On the final day of the Conference, members were taken into Yerevan for a short act of remembrance at the Armenian Genocide memorial. A wreath was placed, and each conference member was invited to place roses around the eternal flame that lies at the heart of the memorial.

Later in the day, some us had opportunity to visit the Izmirlian Medical Centre, where we were shown around by the Deputy Medical Director. This is a new hospital, with 130 beds, state of the art equipment and 200 staff. It is entirely owned by the Armenian Apostolic Church, something which I found remarkable. The Director spoke to us powerfully about his own experiences of serving as a doctor on the front line of conflict and of the nature of the terrible injuries suffered by young men whom he tended.

It was a surprise and delight to be shown this plaque at one of the entrance doors to the new hospital. The rehabilitation centre is kitted out with neurological testing equipment, gear for strengthening damaged muscles and hydrotherapy equipment for stimulating damaged nerves.

A number of chaplaincies in our diocese support the Barnabas Fund, and it was very good to see this high-tech facility funded by them, and symbolising friendship between British and Armenian Christians.  

Reflections on Afghanistan

The Revd Andrew McMullon is a Chaplain in the Diocese in Europe.  He completed several tours of duty serving as an RAF Padre in Afghanistan, and has offered this personal perspective. His piece is published here as a guest contribution to my blog:

I’ve been asked many times over the last few weeks what I think about the terrible situation unfolding in Afghanistan and to be perfectly honest I have struggled to put my feelings into words. As an RAF Padre I served in Afghanistan three times, in Kabul in 2002 and in 2012, and in Kandahar in 2006. I also served at the HQ for Afghanistan and Iraq air operations in Qatar in 2009. Furthermore, as Chaplain at RAF Brize Norton I was regularly involved in the flights to bring wounded and killed soldiers back to the UK, seeing first hand the cost and sacrifice involved in these operations. All that adds up to a lot of involvement and concern for Afghanistan, the Armed Forces personnel deployed there and Afghans themselves, for over a decade.

Whatever anyone thinks about the reasons why we were involved in Afghanistan for the last twenty years hardly anyone would have wanted it to end in a defeat like this. Ordinary Afghan families had seen their lives greatly improved, with many freedoms and opportunities now feared lost under renewed Taliban rule. Those ordinary Afghans will now pay an awful price, whether they ‘escaped’ to anxious exile in the West or remain living in fear under Taliban oppression.

Many have asked, ‘Was it worth it?’ Was it worth the time away from home? Was it worth the loss of life? Was it worth the terrible physical injuries borne by the survivors? Was it worth the invisible wounds of Combat Stress and PTSD? Was it worth the price paid by my friends and their families?

These are hard questions – but should be faced, and are always faced after war or conflict.  Rightly so! It would certainly have been better if the campaign, and indeed the retreat, had been run differently – and that is not just said with hindsight. Nevertheless, everyone who made a sacrifice in Afghanistan did so for ordinary Afghan families.  We met so many when out on patrol – and indeed many worked and fought alongside us to help forge a better, more inclusive and tolerant Afghanistan for all its people. Friendships were made. Seeds of hope were sown. As a Christian I remain committed to the conviction that such seeds can flourish and bear fruit – even in the rocky and stony ground they now find themselves in.

I continue to follow the news from Afghanistan. I pray for ordinary Afghans, and their leaders. The pain and suffering of this people in their beautiful land continues – but hope abides and we must continue to do what we can to see it realised.