An Episcopal Tour of South East France

The Covid epidemic has made travel much more difficult. Whilst you can do business on Zoom, face to face contact is irreplaceable. And liturgical events like Confirmations require touch as well as sound and sight. It was to help catch up on a backlog of requests for episcopal visits that we had the idea of a regional tour of South-East France. This is planned to be the first of four regional tours of a country where the distances make touring a great option. The tour was made possible by the new Archdeacon of France, Peter Hooper, who hired a car and acted as chauffeur. It was the fruit of a great deal of careful planning by Peter, Giles Williams the Area Dean, the local clergy and my own office. 

At the outset, I caught the TGV from Brussels to Lyon, where I met Peter and the Chaplain of Trinity Church, Ben Harding. The high-speed train covers the 350 miles in just three and a half hours. By a remarkable act of providence we were able to join a lunch for ecumenical leaders in France. Those invited included the President of the Protestant Federation, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was particularly valuable to talk with Pasteur François Clavairoly, the Protestant President, about our intentions to form a single Anglican association for France and the possibility of this becoming a part of the Protestant Federation, bringing many institutional and administrative advantages. This ecumenical lunch was the ideal start to the four day tour, setting it in a context of inter-church co-operation and ministry. 

From Lyon, we drove South East to Grenoble, the alpine city about which it is said ‘at the end of every street is a mountain’. Our chaplaincy meets in a fine ecumenical centre. It is home to a congregation that brings together (mainly) older expatriates and (mainly) younger members from the global south. This was the first time I have been accompanied into church by ‘dancing girls’. The ladies had written a special song called: “Welcome to our bishop”. 

Seated to the left is Chaplain of Grenoble Nic Finlay and Chaplain of Lyon Ben Harding, who between them presented me with some 25 confirmation candidates, mostly in the age range 20-45. The service was an exuberant event with much singing and dancing. But the stories told by members of the congregation relate to the hardships of migration, the long journey towards legal recognition and the frustration of years spent without the right to work. Before the reaffirmation of baptismal vows we sang Getty and Townsend’s “Come people of the risen King”, and seldom has a song better expressed the mood of a congregation with its recognition of present suffering and advent hope. 

The next day we headed south to the port city of Marseille. My chauffeur excelled in navigating the narrow streets of the old city and the almost impossibly tight corners of the underground car park. We were wonderfully hosted by Chaplain Jamie Johnson (left) and Curate Roxana Teleman (centre). We were given a well-ordered presentation of the past history, current activity and future hopes for this chaplaincy, and in particular discussed opportunities for planting new satellites, before closing with a service of prayer and heading back to the car for the next leg of the journey. 

Driving East, we set off for the Chaplaincy of St. John in St. Raphael – Fréjus. Confirmation candidates – again, mainly adults – came from Marseille and Cannes, as well as from St. Raphael itself. 

Following the service, the Chaplain Tom Wilson, took us to an appropriately named local restaurant. I introduced myself to the waiter as ‘the bishop’, hoping that it might elicit a special deal on the menu – on the assumption that English bishops didn’t visit his restaurant all that often. Unfortunately, the waiter didn’t quite see the connection…

After supper, we drove along the coast to Cannes, where we stayed as guests of Area Dean Giles Williams and Chris Williams in the chaplaincy’s guest apartments. 

The following morning, Giles invited me to speak with a group of parents on the subject of “Being a Christian parent and passing on your faith to your children”. I very much enjoyed reflecting with parents on the challenges of bringing up children and teenagers within the Christian faith. 

My predecessor as Bishop of Gibraltar, Dr. Charles Sandford (1828-1903) lived in Cannes, a testimony to the large numbers of British people who settled in the French Riviera in the Victorian era. And the stunningly beautiful church of St. Michael’s Beaulieu (pictured above) is a marvellous reminder of this era. It was built by subscription, including a gift from the British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, who loved to stay in the area, and was dedicated by Bishop Sandford in 1894. The Chaplain, Fr. Tony Ingham, presented the history and mission of the church and I enjoyed meeting a fascinating group of church members and supporters. 

Later in the afternoon, we travelled to Monaco, where I confirmed six candidates at St. Paul’s. In the evening, the interim minister, Canon David Roper and his wife Chris, entertained us to dinner with the Archbishop of Monaco Mgr. Marie-Dominique David and the Cathedral Dean, Don Luqa Favretto. After some turbulent times at St. Paul’s, I rejoice that the chaplaincy is enjoying a period of stability under Fr. David’s guiding hand. 

On the Sunday morning of Christ the King, I had the enormous pleasure of re-dedicating the Church of St. John’s Menton. The Church had been closed for a decade after its foundations were damaged by the erection of an apartment block next door. The rebuilding project had involved a great deal of administrative effort in particular to establish the ownership of the church building and to make a claim on the builder’s insurance. The project involved not just the church itself, but the creation of a beautiful new adjoining building that serves as a library for the English community and a space for social events. 

Our final act of worship was a Deanery service of Evening Prayer for Christ the King at Holy Trinity Nice, where we were hosted by the Chaplain, Fr. Peter Jackson. I liked this poster dating from the 1930s, which we found hanging on the wall of the sacristy, and which gives a good sense of the former Diocese of Gibraltar, centred as it was on the Mediterranean and strongly linked to mission amongst seafarers.

Fr. Peter had structured our worship around the themes of “remembrance, thanksgiving and hope”. It was a service for the time of Covid. Already, since that service took place, the pandemic seems to be much more of a present than a past phenomenon, with the emergence of a worrying new variant. Nonetheless, Christ the King is a festival of hope, looking forward to the time when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. 

The Church is a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom. On this rich and full tour of our chaplaincies in South-East France, I found many sources of hope: extraordinary clergy and lay officers, amazing buildings, all kinds of plans and hopes for mission. My tour ended with the licensing of Peter Hooper as Archdeacon in full title. Peter began his ministry back in February 2021. This was the first time he and I had been together in the Diocese. Peter is full of enthusiasm and energy, and his ministry is another great source of hope. I did indeed finish this tour acknowledging the many ways in which the Anglican church has flourished in this region in the past, with deep thanksgiving for its life in the present and with a real hope for all it may achieve by God’s grace in the future. 

Christ Church Amsterdam: 250 years at Groenburgwal

On the first weekend in November, Christ Church Amsterdam celebrated 250 years of worship in its historic canal-side home at Groenburgwal in one of the oldest and most picturesque parts of the city. Christ Church has survived wars and conflicts. It has closed and opened. It has known riches and poverty. It has offered a welcome to all nationalities, but it has kept a quirky Britishness in the midst of its international character. 

left Clergy Associate The Revd Rik Florentinus, right Interim Minister The Revd. Kerry Buttram

I was privileged to be invited to unveil the plaque celebrating the rich history of this place. Originally a Guild Hall, the building has been associated with numerous famous people. Hendrick de Keyser, architect of some of the city’s most significant historical buildings lived here. Rembrandt van Rijn had his studio close by. Vincent Van Gogh taught in the Sunday School. And Charles Simeon came to serve as a missionary pastor here. 

Of course, I am far from the first bishop to visit! In the church’s historical photo exhibition, I particularly liked this picture of The Bishop of Fulham arriving at Amsterdam Central Station with his wife in June 1933 and being met by the Chaplain, Dr. Keay. This was long before the Diocese in Europe in its modern form had been conceived and when the Bishop of Fulham looked after chaplaincies in North and Central Europe. 

Rembrandt’s ‘The Staalmeesters’ now hangs in a prominent position in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt crafted this remarkable, vast painting in Groenburgwal, and for a while it hung in the building that is now Christ Church, before being transferred to a safer place. It shows the Officials of the Drapers Guild assessing the quality of the cloth presented before them. They wear black as a sign of their religious humility – and their power!

The festival 250 weekend was celebrated with a wonderful programme of music. Pictured here is ‘The Schoch Quartet’, named after the first violinist. They are playing instruments that date from the 17th century onwards. Christ Church has a marvellous acoustic and lends itself particularly well to the intimate atmosphere of a string quartet. Behind the quartet, the East Wall of the building displays the classic texts on Christian belief, action and prayer that you might see in a traditional English village church. Dating from 1698, these panels were brought into the building when the congregation began meeting here in 1771.

The weekend was evidently a huge amount of work for the organisers, especially for a chaplaincy in vacancy. I detected the guiding hand of the very capable Church Administrator, Pamela Matinde Ten Wolde. It was a joyous event which I have no doubt will have affirmed the church’s sense of fellowship and togetherness. 

I enjoyed meeting the Chaplaincy Council, who are an exceptionally talented team. Christ Church is a three centred Chaplaincy, and so the Council has to work hard to build fellowship and enable all three locations work together in a unified way. We had a warm and convivial discussion about the process of appointing a new Chaplain.

Our hostess, Beth Johnson Kat, used to run an Amsterdam bookshop. She now oversees an educational project called ‘Room For All’. The project has acquired the rights to six delightful children’s books promoting inter-cultural respect and understanding. The books have been translated into Dutch and the intention is that copies are given to each primary school in Amsterdam, and then each primary school in the Netherlands. This struck me as a really significant initiative in a country where acceptance of different backgrounds and cultures is a vital issue, as it is in all European countries. 

Of course, buildings are important in providing us with a safe place to meet, a sanctuary for worship and a storehouse of treasured memories. But the church is at heart a community of Christian people and the faith they share. So I was delighted to confirm these nine – mainly young – people at Christ Church ‘Centre’, shown here flanked by the two wonderful churchwardens Becky Moss and Rebecca Teerlink. Along with the candidates from Christ Church it was a special pleasure to confirm Stephanie Van Leer from Groningen, who had been prepared for the event by her father, Archdeacon Sam Van Leer. 

After morning service at ‘Centre’ we drove to afternoon service at ‘South East’, for a second confirmation service. The ‘Congregation of the Holy Spirit’ is 10 years old and the newest of the three Christ Church congregations. Our oldest candidate, Nout, joined us from Heiloo, whilst the immaculately turned out younger candidates are from Christ Church families. 

And here they all are having been confirmed. The multiple use worship centre at South East is a really impressive place. It features a large and a medium-sized worship space both equipped with proper pipe organs and sound insulated from each other, plus a suite of meeting rooms and a central hospitality area. This centre enables people who are mainly from the global south to sustain church worship and community in their own traditions in an affordable way. 

Chaplaincy life can sometimes feel fragile. And those of our communities in city centres (especially) see lots of people passing through. But the celebration of Groenburgwal 250 reminds us that our church communities are more tenacious and robust than we often realise. Kerry Buttram, as an American, reminded me that the United States of America was founded less than 250 years ago. God has been faithful to Christ Church over the centuries. The Church’s current motto is ‘In the City, for the City’. I pray for this very special chaplaincy as it goes through a vacancy process. I trust and hope that it will be a place of great fruitfulness in the next phase of its life.