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. 

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