The Warmest of Welcomes to our new Syrian Families

Just occasionally one gets to do something which is a pure joy. This morning was such an occasion. With fellow religious leaders, I went along to Brussels National Airport in Zaventem to welcome Syrian families arriving in Belgium within the context of our Belgian ‘Humanitarian Corridor’. Arriving as a refugee is a difficult experience. So we were determined to make their arrival as pleasant as possible.

We gathered for a reception on the little-used fourth floor of the airport. Our guests came to the arrivals hall on the second floor and then took the lift to the fourth. Exiting the lift they were presented with roses and little gifts for the children. Their trolleys were labelled ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ to make sure they were accorded VIP status.

Amongst those in the welcoming party, were Baroness Hilde Kieboom (above, centre) – President of Belgium’s Sant Egidio community – and Mgr. George Kourie (above, right), the Patriarchal Vicar for the Syrian Orthodox Diocese of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

Our guests had begun their journey to Belgium at 2:00a.m. so they were very tired. But there was still a lot of excitement, hugging and kissing.

Drinks and nibbles were provided (and this being Belgium they were delicious) before there were some brief welcome speeches from Christian and Muslim religious leaders. In my speech I explained that I was a migrant too, that I had found Belgium a very welcoming country and that I hoped our Syrian guests did too.

We finished with a team photograph.

After the Welcome ceremony, our guests were accompanied to their new homes. All the recognised religions in Belgium have contributed to the Belgian Government approved Humanitarian Corridor Scheme. The Roman Catholics have raised half a million euros – an amazing sum! Anglicans (Diocese in Europe and TEC) have raised 16,000 euros – which is quite a lot for a small community. The money is used to house our Syrian guests and to get them started on integrating into Belgian life.

At Easter time we think of Jesus bringing new life where there was darkness and death. Our Syrian guests have left a war-torn country in which they have known suffering and trauma. Their lives were previously almost without hope. They now have a new start in the peaceful and secure conditions of Belguim. Their children will receive education and they all have a hopeful future. It is so heartening and encouraging to be able to help give these families the chance to begin a new life. It is a little parable of the resurrection.


Ordination & Confirmation in Aquitaine

An ordination is always a special event. For the weekend of 17th/18th March, Helen and I took the train to Bordeaux for the ordination of Charlotte Sullivan on the Saturday and a confirmation service in Bertric-Burée on the Sunday. We travelled on one of the new Euroduplex ‘InOui’ branded trains that cover the 528km between Paris and Bordeaux in just two hours, and the train arrived on time, to the minute.

The new high speed train serving the non-stop LGV line from Paris to Bordeaux.

A further half hour train ride to Libourne, then an hour in the car took us to the peaceful Abbaye de l’Echourgnac convent where Charlotte had been on her pre-ordination retreat in the company of our Advisor on Women’s Ministry, Carolyn Cook.

The simple and profoundly beautiful chapel at Echourgnac.

After an overnight stay with Chaplain Tony and Ingrid Lomas, we drove on the Saturday morning for nearly two hours through the beautiful wine-making area of St. Emilion to the worship centre in Bordeaux. Aquitaine includes 14 Anglican worship centres. Charlotte is to be based in Bordeaux itself, which is a major city and rather different in character from the smaller towns and villages in which the other worship centres are located.

The ordination service opened with a confident rendition of ‘My Jesus, My Saviour’ by the children’s choir. The music for the rest of the service was supported by a very good adult choir. Amongst other items, they sang John Ireland’s ‘Greater Love’, an anthem which sets out the message of the gospel as clearly and powerfully as any other English-language music I know, and finished with a spirited rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The Archdeacon of France, The Bishop, The Revd. Charlotte Sullivan, The Revd. Tony Lomas.

Charlotte’s ordination as a priest is a cause of huge thanksgiving for the Aquitaine chaplaincy, where she is much loved and respected. She was supported by family and friends and many chaplaincy members in a full church.

Later in the service we commissioned Tony Lomas as Area Dean. He will look after the clergy and congregations of South Western France. Distances are big in this part of the diocese, and I hope Tony will be able to support and encourage fellow clergy working in isolated circumstances.

After the service: a newly priested Charlotte with Diocesan colleagues and Richard Bromley representing the Aquitaine chaplaincy patron, ICS.

On Sunday we set out from Tony and Ingrid’s home to drive north this time for an hour and a half, crossing the Dordogne river valley and passing through the pine forests of Les Petites-Landes to the Bertric-Burée worship centre. If there were seven wonders of the Diocese in Europe, this might well be one of them.

The Romanesque-style Church of Bertric-Burée.

The Church itself is a Roman Catholic building. However, there is no regular Catholic mass (I was told that the Catholic priest has 30 churches to look after), and the building is let to the Anglican community. A charming house opposite the church became vacant recently so this is also leased to provide social and meeting space. The Anglicans are delighted to have a proper church building and social space at reasonable cost and without the responsibilities of ownership. Meanwhile the Mayor and the Catholic church are equally pleased that the heritage of the village is looked after by a worshipping community.

Of course, using someone else’s building has the odd drawback. Just before our confirmation service, Tony noticed that the main electricity supply was emitting smoke. The locals said this was normal – it was French electrics and we were in the countryside. Tony was not quite convinced… so we switched off all the electric heating to be on the safe side. The temperature in the church was therefore a bit chilly, but we were assured that a conversation with the Mayor the following day would see the problem attended to. How nice to have one’s building looked after by the Commune in this way!

There would not be so many small English villages that would be full to capacity for a confirmation with 7 adults candidates and two young people, with a good choir and organist to boot. But here we were with just that in a small French village!

After the service we celebrated with a fine hot lunch provided by members of the chaplaincy. We ate in the village ‘foyer’ kindly made available by the Mayor. A one-hour drive back to the nearest main TGV station at Angoulme and our visit concluded.

Team photo of nine confirmation candidates, readers and clergy.

Supplementary Postscript

Aficionados of Anglican Canon Law will be aware that Ordinations may only be conducted on certain major feast days. It may be wondered whether March 17th, the Feast of St. Patrick, has sufficient weight to count as a proper major feast. In the event, St. Patrick’s Day coincided with the last game in the Rugby Six Nations, in which Ireland decisively beat England to take the Grand Slam. Bordeaux being a keen rugby city, the anxious would have been left in no doubt that St. Patrick’s Day 2018 in Bordeaux was a major feast.


Visit to Christ Church Istanbul & All Saints Moda

Helen and I were invited by Fr. Ian Sherwood to spend the weekend in Istanbul. We began our time with a visit to All Saints Moda, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

All Saints was built in 1878, after the Crimean War. The building costs were largely covered by the Whittalls, one of the most famous of the great Levantine trading families.

The Whittalls’ former house.

The fine house in which the Whittalls used to live is just opposite the church. Today it is famous for another reason. It was more recently owned by one Turkey’s best-known rock musicians – Baris Manco, “The Turkish Elvis”. 

The house is now a museum to Baris Manco and contains lots of interesting memorabilia. The friendly curator is a member of All Saints.

Remembering “the Turkish Elvis”.

The building of All Saints was constructed by the architect G.E. Street, who also designed Christ Church. In a city where churches are frequently hidden, this church is open to the street and deliberately welcoming and integrated into its Muslim neighbourhood.

All Saints Moda.

In previous decades, the pleasant suburb of Moda was a favourite place for British people to make their home. Today there are few British people in the area. So, since 1996, All Saints has been the meeting place of the Turkish-speaking Istanbul Presbyterian Church.

The Reverend Dr. Turgay Ucal is the Presbyterian church’s pastor. He is shown above (far left) with me, Fr. Ian Sherwood and Yuce Kabakci who looks after a small ‘Asian-side’ Anglican fellowship. Turgay made us most welcome with an early morning Turkish coffee and brandy, plus offering us a splendid lunch later in the day.

Sunday was spent on the ‘European’ side of the Bosphorus. I was invited to confirm nine candidates at Christ Church, mostly adults in their 20s and 30s.

Confirmations in a city which spans two continents.

We were honoured to be joined at the service by Metropolitan Athenagoras, representing His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch.

We dedicated a new window at the church, before gathering for coffee and a ‘team photograph’ in the lovely church grounds.

The service was followed by a lunch at an historic restaurant that was, at an earlier stage in its life, frequented by Kemal Atatürk. A table is kept, unoccupied, in the corner of the restaurant, in his memory.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is considered the father of the modern Turkish state and remains a revered figure in Turkey.

We enjoyed a fine lunch celebrated in the company of the church council and the deputy consul general. We flew home with the excellent Turkish Airlines after a lovely and very worthwhile weekend in Istanbul.

Strangers at the Gates: Welcoming the Migrant & Refugee

The Lampedusa Cross – made of wood from broken boats washed up on the shore on the Italian island. A constant reminder of the plight of refugees.

Last month I addressed the Gibraltar Archdeaconry Synod. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak on one of the most pressing ethical and political issues of our times. When we agreed the diocesan strategy in 2015, we included striving for the creation of a just society by defending the poor, the disadvantaged and those in need. Since then, our concern for work with migrants and refugees has become a real priority. Many chaplaincies throughout the diocese are involved in this work one way or another. At a European level, the crisis over refugees has been one of the most difficult and divisive questions that the EU has had to face in the last decade.

It has mostly been assumed that responsibility for welcoming and integrating refugees is mainly a state responsibility. But one of the most interesting developments in the last few years has been the creation of humanitarian corridors or humanitarian admission schemes in which private individuals or groups work together with government agencies to enable refugees to immigrate. This model is particularly well established in Canada, which has over the last 40 years welcomed some 300,000 refugees through private sponsorship programmes. In recent years, nearly half of all refugees to Canada have been privately sponsored. About 75% of Canadian sponsors are churches or faith-based NGOs.

The community of Sant’Egidio has been a leader in this field. In collaboration with the Italian Protestant Churches it has established a humanitarian corridor from Libya to Italy. UNHCR, in dialogue with the Italian Government, identifies families living in a camp in Libya who are eligible for relocation, perhaps because they are especially vulnerable or there are children at risk. Individuals in Italy sign-up with Sant’Egidio to sponsor and receive a migrant family. Welcome contracts are entered into, and the refugees are then flown legally and safely from Libya to a home and support network arranged for them in, say, Milan.

A humanitarian corridor is also being developed in France with Catholic and Protestant partners, and there are schemes underway in Germany and Ireland. In the UK, the Home Office is very interested in this kind of arrangement and is working with the Church of England amongst others on these kinds of partnerships. Three schemes are underway: the Gateway Protection programme, the Syrian Vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme.

In Belgium, where I live, all the main faith groups, including the Anglican Church, have committed to working with the immigration ministry to bring 130 vulnerable families from camps in Lebanon into Belgium. We Anglicans are a relatively small group, so our church has committed to sponsor one family, at a cost of €17,000. Just before Christmas the first two families from Lebanon arrived at Brussels Airport under this scheme, amidst a lot of excitement and publicity. Their arrival felt like a contemporary Christmas story!

The first two Syrian refugee families benefitting from the humanitarian corridor arrived in Belgium in December 2017. News coverage here.

Jesus said, “Come you who are blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” As a Diocese in Europe we are committed to making a difference for the lives of the refugees we find in our communities. Bishop’s Appeals have supported work with refugees. The last Advent appeal supported the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, connected to our Episcopal sister church of St Paul’s Within the Walls, Rome. This year’s Lent appeal is going to our own new project in Calais. Here we are working with the Diocese of Canterbury and SPCG to fund a project officer and new chaplain to the Calais chaplaincy.

There are still many refugees and migrants in the areas around Calais and Dunkirk.

The photo above shows an Iranian family living in the woods near Dunkirk. Their story was reported here. The man is severely disabled and unable to walk or speak. The woman tells journalists that police had slashed their tents whilst clearing the woods overnight. She shows cuts in the fabric of the tent, which they have now abandoned. They are desperate to get to the UK where they think job prospects are better, but they seem to have no idea of border and migration policy.

I want to end with this thought. After Easter last year, I visited a refugee camp on the Serbia-Croatia border and was introduced to some of the children living there. The Serbs are very welcoming to refugees, because many of them know in their recent history what it is like to be displaced from your homes. These children are the future. We want the best for them, and what each of us chooses to do now will have long-term consequences. May God give us welcoming hearts to meet the strangers at our gate, and then invite them in.

The full text of my address to the Gibraltar Archdeaconry Synod is available here. In addition to the topic of private sponsorship, it deals with the confusion of definitions around ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’, explores some relevant biblical material and outlines five broad principles for engaging with the European refugee crisis.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill: Debate in the UK House of Lords

Whichever side of the Brexit debate you are on, one of the nefarious consequences of the referendum has been the debasement of public discourse in the UK. ‘Brexit’ has lowered the tone with which people talk to each other. And it has made sayable things which, for good reason, were previously unsayable.

Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, leads the Church of England’s bishops on Europe issues in the House of Lords. He recently gave a powerful speech on this subject. It is reproduced below, and can also be read on Bishop Nick’s own blog here.

Bishop Nick Baines:

This is the basic text of my speech in the House of Lords during the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill:

My Lords, many speakers will attend to the technical and legal details of this Bill, and they will be better equipped than I am to do so. I want to use my time, therefore, to pay attention to a question that lies behind the nature of this Bill and the choices we are required to make in scrutinising and attempting to improve it. This question applies to all sides of the argument, whether we think leaving the European Union is an unmitigated disaster or the best thing since Winston Churchill mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

The question goes beyond economics and trade deals, haunts constitutional matters, and refuses to be submerged by ideologically-driven assertions that promise what can’t be promised and ridicule arguments that are inconvenient. Brexit has unleashed the normalisation of lies, and rendered too easily acceptable the demonising of people who, with integrity and intelligence, venture to hold a contrary view. We are in danger of securing an economic platform at the expense of a culture of respect and intelligent democratic argument.

The question I allude to is simply this: at the end of this process what sort of Britain – and Europe – do we want to inhabit? I accept that this is almost an existential question – challenge, even – but as we debate the legislative detail, we must not lose sight of the point of it all. Existential questions can’t be determined by statute, but the shape of statute speaks loudly of what we think our society should be for, and for whom. This is why debate about discretionary powers of ministers to make laws with equivalent force to primary legislation is of such importance. When such powers are so wide that this House is asked to leave to the judgement of ministers the meaning of such terms as “appropriate”, it is only right to ask for definition. After all, history is riddled with the unintended consequences of what might be termed “enabling legislation”.

But, let’s be honest. Brexit is technically so demanding and complex that, if I were Prime Minister, I would want the authority to deal flexibly with anomalies and technical weaknesses as quickly and smoothly as possible as the consequences of Brexit become known. I understand the technical element of this; but, this Bill goes beyond legislative technicalities and impacts strongly on constitutional arrangements and the balance of power. Surely, if “taking back control” by Parliament is to mean anything, it must mean refraining from bypassing the essential scrutiny that Parliament is privileged and required to provide. Hard parliamentary scrutiny might be inconvenient, but the long-term consequences of granting ministers unprecedented powers (as set out in this Bill) must be considered as they will shape the deeper culture of our state and change our assumptions about democracy.

I think this suggests that, although any sane person will recognise the government’s need to have significant powers to ensure that process (and legal certainty post-Brexit) is as smooth as possible, there must be limits to the use of such powers – or, as a colleague of mine put it succinctly and colourfully, we must avoid Brexit Britain turning into Tudor Britain.

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck here. I do not believe that this Bill, as currently formulated, achieves that balance; nor does it demonstrate that the genuine fears of constitutional experts and lawyers have been properly heard.

I have two concerns about the culture in which this debate is being conducted in this country – looked on with incredulity by those looking at us from beyond these islands.

First, almost every paper, every debate, every statement about Brexit is clothed in purely economic terms. It is almost as if the economy were everything and economics the only Good. Yet, the economy – one might add the word ‘trade’ – is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end … which is about human flourishing and the Common Good. The economy – trade – exists for the building of society, but society is more than the economy. It is not enough for us uncritically to assume that a market society (as opposed to a social market) is a given or an ultimate good. Culture is more than money and things.

Secondly, the referendum tore off the veneer of civilised discourse in this country and unleashed – gave permission for, perhaps – an undisguised language of suspicion, denigration, hatred and vilification. To be a Leaver is to be narrow-mindedly stupid; to be a Remainer is to be a traitor. Our media – and not just the ill-disciplined bear pit of social media – have not helped in challenging this appalling rhetoric or the easy acceptance of such destructive language.

Yet, beneath this lurks an uncomfortable charge articulated in a recent Carnegie report on tensions between Russia and the West by the deputy director of the Russian Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow: if Russians would still die for the Motherland, what would we die for? Or, as Martin Luther King suggested: if we don’t know what we would die for, we have no idea what we would live for. Once we have ‘done’ Brexit, then what? What was it for? Who do we think we are?

If this debate on Britain’s future is to have any lasting value, and not just undermine long-term relationships of respect and trust, then attention must be paid to the corruption of this public discourse. Politicians could begin by moderating their language and engaging in intelligent, informed and respectful argument that chooses to eschew personalised or generalised vindictiveness or violence. My Lords, we must not allow our body politic to be defined by Brexit; rather, we will need to transcend the divisions currently being forced by the terms of discussion. Peers have an opportunity to model good ways of disagreeing well that might encourage others that there is an alternative to a political culture that appears sometimes to have been reduced to an unbridled tribalism where the first casualty is too often the dignity of the other.

My Lords, please let us not lose sight of the deeper question that lies behind the technical detail of this Bill.

Brexit Negotiations: The State of Play

Many people in our diocese are worried about the implications of Brexit. The purpose of this blog is to set out where negotiations have got to in regard to Citizens Rights – the area that most affects individual British people living in the EU.

The negotiations have now moved on to phase 2: transition period and future commercial relationship between the UK and the EU. The positive progress in Brexit negotiations on Citizens’ Rights that I reported on last October led to an agreement in principle on all issues before the end of last year. The 58 individual items under discussion now all have a green shading applied (see Citizens’ Rights Technical Note).

Of those issues on which agreement had not been reached back in October the outcome is as follows:

Cut-Off Date

The date after which moving to a new country will no longer qualify you for retained EU freedom of movement rights is set at Brexit Day – 29th March 2019.

Scope of EHIC (European Health Insurance Card)

Those qualifying for retained EU freedom of movement rights will continue to be able to obtain emergency treatment in any EU country under the EHIC scheme and have it reimbursed by the country where they normally receive healthcare. But those leaving the UK to live abroad after Brexit Day (or vice versa) will not necessarily be covered by the scheme. Nonetheless, it is still possible that a more comprehensive coverage of EHIC could be negotiated in phase 2 of the negotiations as part of the future post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU.

Time limit of Retained EU Freedom of Movement Rights granted to EU Nationals living in a country other than their own

Those qualifying for retained EU freedom of movement rights at Brexit Day and who have already or go on to live for five years in the country where they resided on Brexit Day will retain the right live and work in that country for life. This right can be forfeited if they absent themselves from that country for more than 5 years. But national governments have discretion not to terminate the rights after such an absence if they so wish.

Scope of right for family members to join someone with retained EU freedom of movement rights

Those qualifying for retained EU freedom of movement rights may obtain the same status for all family members and other dependants living with them on Brexit Day. They will also have the right for the following family members not living with them on Brexit Day to join them later as of right: spouse, direct descendants who are under 21 or otherwise dependant (e.g. students) and dependant direct ascending relatives.

Portability of retained EU Freedom of Movement Rights

For UK citizens normally resident on the continent, on 29th March 2019 the Withdrawal Agreement will only guarantee their retained EU freedom of movement rights for the country in which they are resident on 29th March 2019. Other EU countries may grant them the right to move to them and retain their rights, but that is at the discretion of their national legislation. However, there is a possibility that retention of EU freedom of movement rights may be made more flexible during the phase 2 negotiations of the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

Voting Rights

These have not been included in the scope of the phase 1 agreement.

Role of the European Court of Justice

Disputes in relation to qualification for and exercise of these retained rights for those residing in one of the remaining 27 EU Member States can ultimately be referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for resolution. In the UK, national courts will decide such cases but they will be mandated to follow the jurisprudence of the ECJ existing at the time of Brexit and will retain the right to apply to the ECJ for a ruling on the interpretation of EU law in respect of individual cases before reaching judgment for eight years after Brexit.


For those who missed my earlier blog… I recap below the final state of play at the end of the phase 1 negotiations in relation to a set of key issues. These issues were the main areas of concern expressed by diocesan reps. at the diocesan Brexit roundtable meeting that I hosted in Brussels back in January 2017 with UK Ambassador Alison Rose.

Mutual recognition of national insurance contributions for healthcare, pension and benefit entitlement. This would continue for those who have already at some time before 29th March 2019 lived or worked in another country. But those moving to live or work abroad after 29th March 2019 would not necessarily benefit from these provisions.
Actual receipt of healthcare, pensions and benefits (including EHIC) in another country. Only protected for those already resident or working in another country before 29th March 2019.
Moving between EU countries after the cut-off date. At the moment rights are only agreed to be protected in the country in which you are resident or working on 29th March 2019. However, there is a possibility that these rights could be extended to cover moving to another EU country during phase 2 of the negotiations.
Annual Uprating of Pensions. The UK offered unilaterally at the outset to continue to uprate annually pensions paid to UK citizens’ resident on the Continent by the cut-off date. The EU side has now agreed that the same should apply to EU citizens receiving pensions from their home countries in the UK before the cut-off date.
Rights of family members. The protected rights of citizens living in another country by the cut-off date are also to apply to family members and other dependants living with them on 29th March 2019 irrespective of their nationality and even if they are temporarily resident abroad (e.g. students abroad). Indeed spouses, children (under 21 or otherwise dependant – eg students) and dependant ascending relatives who are not living with the rights holder on 29th March 2019 may join them later and be entitled to the same protected rights. These rights should continue after the cut-off date even if the family members concerned cease to be dependants (e.g. students becoming workers). Children born or adopted after the cut-off date to citizens with protected rights would also be covered by them. New family members (e.g. spouses) seeking to join a citizen with protected rights, however, could only do so on the same basis as under current national immigration laws for non-EU citizens.
Definition of ‘Living in another Country’. The protected rights under discussion would only take effect on a permanent basis for citizens who have completed 5 years continuous residence by the cut-off date. Those with a shorter period of residence before the cut-off date would enjoy these rights on a temporary residence basis until five years residence has been completed. Absence of up to six months in any one year or 12 months for an important reason (e.g. childbirth) would not count as a break in continuous residence. Also those reaching the age of retirement or having to retire on the grounds of incapacity before reaching five years continuous residence would qualify for permanent residence status from that point. However, even after permanent residence status has been granted, a continuous absence from the country concerned of more than 5 years could result in a loss of status (but the national government concerned could decide, at its own discretion, not to insist on this).
Enforcement of Protected Rights. For UK citizens resident in the remaining 27 EU Member States who have disputes with national authorities as to whether they qualify for these protected rights, settled access to the European Court of Justice would remain open. For EU citizens living in the UK such disputes would be referred to national courts, but with a mandate that they should follow the jurisprudence of the ECJ as established by 29th March 2019, and with an option to refer to the ECJ for an interpretative ruling on the application of EU law in particular cases for eight years after Brexit.

Note Well: I must as before give a strong health warning. EU Treaty negotiations work on the principle that ‘nothing is finally agreed until everything is agreed’ – so if we do end up with a ‘no deal’ scenario these agreed terms cannot be relied upon.

The Citizens’ Rights Technical Note & a Q&A produced by the EU, which may help people understand how the rules would apply in practice, have been included under the ‘Talks & Addresses’ Section of this blogsite, here.

**Addition: Since the publication of this blog post, the European Council has agreed negotiating directives which set out the position which will be adopted by the EU between now & the end of 2020. The Directives can be read here, and are also included under the ‘Talks & Addresses’ Section of this blogsite.

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.