The Protestant Kirchentag takes place every two years. This year’s Kirchentag, in Berlin and Wittenberg, brought together some 140,000 German Christians and another 7,000 international visitors. The theme verse – ‘You see me’, taken from the story of Hagar’s encounter with God in the wilderness, was represented by pairs of eyes on an orange background. Going around Berlin, the pairs of eyes looked out at you at every turn, like here at the Brandenburg Gate where several of the biggest events took place.
This year’s Kirchentag marked the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. We took the opportunity to visit Martin Luther’s House in Wittenberg. Here you can get fascinating insights into how Luther actually lived – combining his duties as a university professor with marriage and family life – and his ‘extended family’ in fact ran to some 50 people. Helen and I were struck by the remarkable contribution of his wife, Katharina Luther, who bore six children, organised daily catering for the extended family and ran some extensive family estates. The theological changes that Luther initiated can be hard to grasp at our distance, but seeing the tangible impact on everyday life in Wittenberg brings these dramatic changes to life in a new way.
The Kirchentag involves hundreds of stalls and many talks and concerts. The highlight this year was a dialogue between Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, in which they related their personal faith to international relations [watch here]. At a more modest level, I took part in a service using the ‘Lima Liturgy’ – so called because it was first used at a significant World Council of Churches meeting in Lima, Peru in 1982. It was a great pleasure to share in this service with bishops from the Old Catholic Church of Germany, the Evangelical-Lutheran German Church and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden. There was a real sense of ecumenical fellowship and togetherness.
On the Sunday, I went to St. George’s Berlin for a service of baptism and confirmation. The large and spacious church of St. George’s was filled to capacity, numbers swelled by Kirchentag visitors. With Kirchentag events, it had been a very busy week for the chaplain, Christopher Jage-Bowler, but the service was nonetheless beautifully organised. I particularly appreciated an introit sung in Urdu by a Pakistani refugee member of the church. Christopher has been Chaplain of St. George’s for 20 years, and his long-term commitment to the church and to Berlin shines through.
After church there was opportunity for coffee with members of the congregation in the hall and church garden.
I particularly enjoyed meeting Mr. Bill Sheckleston OBE, the most senior member of the congregation. Bill had come to Berlin as a young soldier in 1946. He eventually become Vice-Consul. His experience of war-time devastation convinced him that the disaster of European war must never happen again. He is passionate about international relations and in particular about Anglo-German relations.
After coffee, we went for a parish lunch at a nearby restaurant run by Egyptian Copts. Deliberately choosing a Coptic restaurant seemed to me an excellent way of giving practical encouragement to a community which is suffering persecution in its homeland.
It was a truly memorable and full visit. The Kirchentag in Berlin on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation was very special. There was opportunity to meet and greet lots of people. And lovely to visit the thriving international community of St. George’s with all the signs of life and faith represented by the people in my picture below.
My visit to St. Michael’s Paris had been planned a long time ago. But I was thrilled when it turned out to coincide with the installation of President Emmanuel Macron. The Champs-Elysées was decorated with flags for the occasion. St Michael’s Paris 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.
To get a sense of a church’s history, there’s no better place to start than meeting its most senior member. Rene (pictured below) is a former architect who joined St. Michael’s Paris 65 years ago. She described to me one crucial event in 1973. Anglicans and Methodists in Paris had gathered to decide whether they should unite into one church building. The proposal was controversial. It was decided to take a vote. Rene was in favour, but had visitors staying for the weekend so didn’t attend the congregational meeting. In the event, the vote was lost – by one vote! Today the Anglican St. Michael’s and St. George’s remain as separate congregations, each flourishing in its own way, though the Methodist chapel is no more.
Chaplain Alyson Lamb is a delightfully warm and caring pastor, and an immensely gifted communicator. During her ministry, she has guided St. Michael’s through a period of significant change. She was joined last year by The Revd. Dale Hanson who returned to Europe from Hong Kong. Alyson and Dale had planned our visit meticulously.
St. Michael’s has recently re-formatted its Sunday services so that the morning service is informal in style, whilst the evening service is more formal. The church was packed full for the morning service. Our worship included modern songs led by a band and traditional hymns accompanied by organ.
Alyson took an opportunity early in the service to interview me and Helen. Lots of folk have little idea of what a bishop is or does, and an interview is a great way to get some of this across.
St. Michael’s is currently running a sermon series called ‘Church Alive’ with reference to St. Paul’s visits to cities in the Book of Acts. Alyson had encouraged me to use the sermon as a significant teaching opportunity, and I was impressed with the rapt attention given by the congregation.
After the sermon, I had opportunity to receive Carolyne Powell from a Roman Catholic background into the communion of the Church of England. The ‘reception’ was both memorable and emotional. Only two days previously we had learnt that Carolyne had been successful in a ‘Bishops Advisory Panel’ and will be beginning training for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge in the autumn! She was duly ‘received’ with rapturous applause from the congregation.
For the last twenty years, St. Michael’s has hosted a Tamil service. The community meets in the afternoon, and over lunch I had the pleasure of meeting some of their members.
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 monthly costs of mission and ministry are 39k€: the stewardship challenge is significant, but God is faithful.
In our morning service we prayed for France and its new President, aware that just a few hundred metres away the new President was being installed – perhaps at that very moment. The next phase of St. Michael’s life is likely to involve a more intentional focus on mission ‘beyond the walls’ of the church. Please do join me in praying for the next steps in mission for a Christian community that is strategically located at the very heart of one of Europe’s most important countries at a key time in its history.
Last week, Helen and I visited Christ Church Vienna (beautiful stained glass window from the church above). We had previously been staying at the ICS Conference in Beatenberg, Switzerland high up in the Bernese alps – where a foot of snow had fallen.
We decided to take the night sleeper from Zurich to Vienna. This turned out to be an excellent idea. The two berth en-suite cabin was compact but comfortable. The steward arrived with a welcome bottle of prosecco before we left and breakfast before we arrived. Compared with planes, night trains generate a much healthier psychology of travel and sense of arrival. They are still widely used in Russia and in India, and I’d love to see more of them back on the rails of Europe.
We arrived at 9:00a.m. on Saturday for a full programme of events, which began with a seminar on Brexit for members of Christ Church and other interested British nationals. This proved an excellent way of reaching out into the wider British community and demonstrating the Church’s concern. I was reminded, again, how very deeply our people feel about this subject.
I met with non-stipendiary curate Mike Waltner, who has a fascinating and demanding day job with the KAICIID inter-faith dialogue centre. After lunch with chaplain Patrick Curran and his wife Lucille, I met the confirmation candidates in the grand environment of the British Ambassador’s residence, which is opposite the church. This was followed by a meeting with the Church Council.
The Council meeting was highly encouraging. Members were invited to consider: ‘Why is Christ Church important to me?’ and ‘What do I hope for in Christ Church in the next five years?’. People spoke of a church going from strength to strength; a multi-cultural and welcoming community; a consistent, peaceful haven; a family; a home. There were presentations of different aspects of church life. Hyacinth Osterlin spoke about prison visiting. Derek Lacey introduced a programme for developing pastoral care. Alexander Rosch described the ‘soup kitchen with a difference’. On top of its commitment to these programmes, Christ Church maintains a discipline of giving 10% of its income away to mission and charitable commitments. After this, we thought about how Christ Church’s strategy and the diocesan strategy overlap – and, of course, they do in many respects. It is always a pleasure to meet a Council that is concerned with problems around how to plan for and manage growth! The formal business was followed by an excellent dinner for Council members at Patrick and Lucille’s home.
The following day began early with a radio interview for the Austrian equivalent of the BBC’s ‘Radio 4’. We then moved to church for the confirmation service. The church building, which is of modest size, was absolutely packed – some of the candidates welcoming large parties of guests from different parts of the globe.
The picture shows Kimberley, Benita, Rebecca, Sophie, Nicole, Owen and Jan. They are a fine group of young teenagers with roots in Austria, Germany, the UK, Nigeria, Ghana and Australia.
Following the service we had lunch with Christian Hofreiter. Christian worked with the leadership team of St. Aldate’s Oxford, took a Ph.D at Oxford University, has permission to officiate in our diocese and works full-time as a Christian apologist for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (see here). He is a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Apologetics, and he conducts university and parish missions in different parts of the continent. If you are looking for someone to lead a mission at your church or undertake a student outreach event I commend him warmly.
Our visit was action packed and full of meetings and memories to treasure. It was evident that the work involved locally in planning this visit was huge, for which we were deeply grateful. More generally, the health and vitality of Christ Church is a great tribute to Patrick Curran, who has been chaplain since 2000. Christ Church is eloquent testimony to the value of a long and faithful ministry.
For a long while, Patrick juggled the work in Vienna with being Archdeacon of the East – an inhumanly demanding combination which he kept up for more than a decade. The people of Christ Church were obviously delighted to have their much-loved chaplain back full-time, and understandably so. Patrick is now taking a sabbatical. Few clergy could deserve it more than he does.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’
In recent years, the Church of England has been seeking to better encourage and support young Christians who feel called to serve and minister within it. As we look to the future, seeking to grow our Church in faithful witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gifts and skills of these younger generations will be crucial to making this a reality. In his invitation (which can be found here) to those especially in their 20s and 30s, ++Justin writes:
“We live in challenging times and so much of our society, the Church included, needs the new life that Christ brings… In the light of this need the Church wants to welcome young people and the charisms they bring, gifts which will help us to meet the challenges we face with creativity and innovation.”
In this season of Easter, we are particularly called to reflect on the transformative power of the Resurrection. I have heard it said that resurrection is not a law to be taken for granted in decline; it is a promise to be received by faith in action. The number of young vocations to ordained ministry has grown steadily in recent years. As a community of faith bound in love, we should be looking to plant the seeds of new life for our Church with tenderness and care.
To encourage younger people exploring their sense of vocation, the Church of England has established internships in many dioceses. Called CEMES (Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme), the internship scheme offers placements for anyone between the ages of 18 and 30, who is exploring a calling to ministry. Beginning in September, the scheme runs for an ‘academic year’ of 10 months to the end of the following June.
In 2016/17, 17 dioceses ran the scheme, each with its own flavour, including the Diocese in Europe. In our diocese, churches in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland hosted interns. Now in 2017/18, we are hoping to build on the experiences of previous interns, supervisors and chaplaincies, and continue CEMES for a third year (details at the end of this blog post).
Josh, Annie, Fiona and Ali, our current interns from 2016/17 finishing in June, have kindly provided some of their reflections on what they have done over the year and how CEMES has impacted on their sense of calling….
A word from Annie Bolger, interning at St Martha & St Mary’s Church, Leuven:
“CEMES has formed my sense of vocation by providing hands-on experience of both the exceptional and mundane aspects of parish ministry. When I refer to ‘exceptional’ ministry, I mean opportunities to accompany parishioners through grief, transition, marriage, and confirmation; opportunities to attend synods and hear how God is moving in the church, opportunities to speak at an ecumenical event on the topic of the Holy Spirit. But equally important has been the ‘mundane’ ministry: the ministry of punctuating each day with the prayer, the ministry of taking meeting minutes, the ministry of washing up after coffee and tea, the ministry of folding orders of service (there is so much folding in the church!). As a young person who has a sense of vocation, it would be tempting to enjoy only exceptional ministry opportunities, but CEMES offers an additional groundedness. For nearly a year, I will have lived with the mundane as well as the exceptional. Through CEMES I gained a realistic sense of the life God has called me to live. As a result, I have been able to confidently say “yes” to God and begin interviews with my DDO. It is exciting for me to have clear next steps for my discernment process post-CEMES, steps which might not have been laid out yet had it not been for this internship.”
A word from Josh Peckett, interning at Holy Trinity Church, Brussels:
“As I came towards the end of my time at university, I had to decide what to do next. This is not always easy for students who have spent three years cocooned in the eccentricities of a university city… However, for a couple of years I had been exploring a calling to ordained ministry, and the feeling of calling, nurtured by Christian life at university, had only grown stronger. But I felt I lacked a practical understanding of how ministry plays out day by day, living and working in a church community. That’s why I applied to do CEMES. I know there are many of my peers who have experienced the same sense of being called to serve, but are unsure about to what and where it is leading them. For them, I recommend CEMES and the Diocese in Europe. I’ve been to synods, on retreat in a Benedictine abbey, led homegroups of all ages, heard about port ministry in Rotterdam, debated faith in a local bar and had fun with great new friends. Amongst all this activity, the important aspect for me is that it helps me gain a deeper understanding of the meaning and outworking of ministry in our Church, in its surprises, mundanities, and eccentricities.”
A word from Fiona Hill, interning at St John & St Philip’s Church, The Hague:
“I formally began to explore what my vocation might be, and whether it lies in the Church of England, in February of 2016. My university chaplain recommended CEMES to me, and it seemed like a great opportunity to discern where God is calling me to serve. CEMES lasts 10 months, and I have been using these months to figure this out through practical experience with the aid of pastoral and theological supervision. During that time, I have been involved in many aspects of life in The Hague and gained greater insight into the opportunities and challenges that exist within the Church. After leaving here in June, I will be taking up the role of Disability Officer for the Diocese of Leeds, which I am very excited about as it combines my previous experience of working with people with disabilities and the experience of working for the Church as a CEMES intern: two of my passions rolled into one job! As I continue down the vocations route, my internship will have stood me in good stead and provided firm ground to build on in the future.”
A word from Ali Speed, interning at Holy Trinity Church, Geneva & La Côte, Switzerland:
“Having 2 placements has helped me to think about the way that the church serves it very diverse members with so many different traditions. I have seen how different styles of church can be important to try to reach as many people as possible in such a multicultural area. In the last few months I have seen how important the church is in the work with refugees and have even had the privilege of helping to prepare some for baptism and help them with their continued journey of faith. I have found that both churches are warmly welcoming to those who come through their doors and are a beacon for Christianity in this region.”
In conclusion, I believe we need to be encouraging young people to think about their future vocation wherever it lies. For some, it may lie in ordination. The CEMES scheme is a practical way in which we can give new graduates a taste of ministry. You’ve read the testimony of some of our interns. I can testify that members of our churches have also greatly benefited from the energy and fresh perspective our interns bring.
Almighty God, you have entrusted to your Church a share in the ministry of your Son our great high priest: inspire by your Holy Spirit the hearts of many to offer themselves for the ministry of your Church, that strengthened by his power, they may work for the increase of your kingdom and set forward the eternal praise of your name; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Details of our ministry experience scheme in 2017/18 can be found here.
If you are aged 18-29 and interested in applying, please contact: email@example.com
Applications still being accepted beyond deadline stated in the particulars attached above.
This year we are offering internships at chaplaincies in:
La Cote (near Geneva)
Accommodation, expenses and a stipend of £3,500 is offered.
The induction is at the end of August in Rome, there is a five day pilgrimage to Jerusalem and a concluding residential session in Canterbury at the end of June 2018.
Applications are for the scheme and should be from EU nationals or those with leave to remain.
This is a unique scheme and we would love to meet anyone discerning vocation but not sure about next steps. Local languages not necessary.
In the French system of electing a president, there is not one but two rounds of voting to decide a winner. We now stand in between those two rounds. I once heard it said that this system was designed to allow the electorate to first vote with their heart, then with their head. On 7th May, we will see who is the choice of the head: Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen.
So what is going on in the minds of the French people right now? These are some of the core issues being hammered out in France….
First, like Britain, France is a secular democracy. Unlike Britain, France has enshrined this secular identity at the heart of its constitutional life since the mid-19th Century. Laïcité is often used to denote the absence of religious involvement in public life, but France is facing a serious political and cultural crisis over the place of religion – and in particular religious minorities. As in Britain, the historic, majority Church is in steep decline. However, in France the rhythm of the Christian year, its feasts and fasts, and its personalities, still colour the national and local social fabric. And yet, very few of the majority of French people who claim a Catholic identity actually go to Mass on Sunday. The importance of Sunday is as a day of difference, which feeds a healthy work-life balance, and this is hard-wired into the DNA of French life.
Like Britain, France is multi-cultural and ethnically diverse; it is also deeply divided, economically and socially. France likes to think of itself as an instinctively egalitarian society and these divisions accentuate a deep-rooted disorientation at the core of France’s sense of itself. There may still be widespread pride in France’s history, language and traditions, and the conviction that these things should be robustly defended from ‘alien’ influences. Nonetheless, for most French people, the ideals of La République are simply not working for them.
Second, a recent survey revealed that the French are more concerned about unemployment (currently at 10%) than immigration. But 45% of those questioned claimed they ‘no longer felt at home in France’ – which amplifies the perception that immigration has a bearing on unemployment. Although the French prize national unity highly, regional loyalties are often stronger. The more remote and economically disadvantaged departéments feel a greater dislocation from Paris. Immigrants, and those whose ethnic heritage is from former French colonies in Africa, are marked-out for being resistant to integration into French life (not unlike some British residents in rural France!) This seems compounded by the fact that many minorities are housed by the State in social housing on the outskirts of towns and cities. They were described by the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls (in January 2015), as ‘places of territorial, social and ethnic apartheid.’ This reflection of how many French people see their country could equally apply to several British regions that voted for Brexit last year.
The perceived impact of immigration on the divisions in French society is opening an ever-widening gap between France’s long-championed secular stance and those for whom Laïcité has become a blunt weapon. There is a tendency within France’s egalitarian psyche to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. This can appear as a lack of patience towards minorities in a multi-cultural society. The menacing image of two muscular police officers instructing a diminutive Muslim woman to remove her ‘burkini’ on the beach at Cannes last summer has become iconic. It illustrates how overt demonstrations of religious identity are causing discomfort in French public life, particularly where Islam is concerned.
The French education minister, Najat Valland-Belkacem, recently announced an overhaul in the way France’s secular perspective is taught in schools, by emphasising its core purpose is to protect the population from one dominant dogma. However, this sits uneasily with President Hollande’s declaration (after the murder of Father Jaques Hammel) that ‘an attack on the Catholic Church is an attack on France.’ Indeed, after the murder of Gendarme Xavier Jugelé, the officials of the Paris prefecture where he served, turned out in force for a televised memorial Mass from Notre Dame. It only strengthens the suspicion among the Muslim minority that Laïcité has its sights trained on them.
French politics has experienced great upheaval. Both the traditional parties, the Socialists and Republicans, who have shared power for decades, have failed to get a candidate through to the second round. The choice is now between the far right populist, anti-immigrant, anti-EU Marine Le Pen and the relatively untried, centrist Macron.
Le Pen’s rhetoric will likely count against her amongst many Christians, even though she is trying to play the cultural Christian card. Macron must address the sincere grievances of many discontented French people if he wants to win. Many may not want to vote for either candidate. What they choose to do on polling day may be crucial.
Heavenly Father, Lord of the Nations, we give you thanks for the great history and culture of France. We pray for the people of France, and the French republic, at this critical time in their national life. We pray for an election characterised by truthfulness, peacefulness and wisdom. We pray that the secular principles of France may be worked out in a way that supports freedom of religion and expression for all. And we pray for a President who will serve the common good for all who live in France and who will contribute strongly to an international order of peace and freedom. Amen.
After Easter, Helen and I travelled to Serbia where we had kindly been invited to stay with the British Ambassador Denis Keefe and his wife Kate. It had originally been intended as a holiday, though the official engagements inevitably increased and it seemed better in the end to adopt the principle that ‘a change is as good as a rest’!
On our first morning, we met up with Fr. Robin Fox, our chaplain in Belgrade, who had worked hard to organise a programme for us. He took us first to the home of Princess Ljubica. Now a national monument, the house is remarkable in showing how Serbia’s political history and leanings were mirrored in the choices of interior furnishings made by a noble lady. The picture below shows a room, furnished in Ottoman style, that was used by Prince Charles to meet a delegation of religious leaders on his visit to Serbia last year.
We then walked next door to the residence of Patriarch Irinej. The Patriarch received us with great warmth and the traditional Serbian coffee and rakija (plum brandy). He told us how much he had enjoyed his recent visit to Lambeth Palace. We exchanged Easter greetings. I thanked His Holiness for the hospitality he offers to our chaplaincy and expressed the hope of continuing deepening relationships between our churches.
After sharing decorated Easter eggs with a member of the Patriarch’s staff, we walked on to the Cathedral of St. Sava. The Temple is still under construction and represents a wonderful symbol of hope for the future for Belgrade. It is magnificently decorated. We were given a guided tour of the crypt, which is decorated with extraordinary icons and finished with gold. I was particularly moved by an icon remembering the faithful of Serbia who had perished in Croatia during the Nazi period (below right).
Our main purpose in going to Serbia had been to visit some of the monasteries in the South of the country. Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, these are of world importance and embody the ‘soul’ of Serbian spirituality and identity.
We had expected to see beautiful buildings, and we did. But we had not expected to meet vibrant communities of mainly younger and highly educated nuns and monks.
The mother abbess at Gradac monastery (below) told us of her love of English literature, particularly T.S. Eliot. She explained how she is trying to formulate a way of life which is both faithful to orthodox tradition and of contemporary relevance. She told us of the struggles the sisters encounter in balancing a devotion to prayer with offering hospitality to groups of visitors. And she wondered what forms of community life were proving successful in Western Europe.
Zica monastery was built by Stefan, the first king of Serbia and by tradition the coronation church of the Serbian kings. Having fallen into disuse under the Ottoman empire, it was restored and re-occupied by a community of nuns in the 20th century. The picture below shows their lovely refectory, painted in the traditional (and formerly very costly) Azure blue.
Studenica is one of the most famous monasteries. It is also one of the most inaccessible, high up at the end of a long hair-pinned road. On the afternoon we visited it was snowing. The monastery is famous for its remarkable 13th century wall paintings, like the Madonna and child below. Photos are not normally allowed, but they made an exception for us!
Robin – chaplain and honorary chauffeur – then drove our hire car three hours north home along the Serbian roads through torrential rain and snow with exceptional skill and determination.
On our final day, we were taken to a refugee camp on the Croatian border. The camp is right on the border, with the camp fence forming a national boundary. Having travelled from as far away as Afghanistan, the refugees had been hoping to cross into Croatia and then Germany – but their path is now blocked.
The camp is supported by the EU and by NGOs such as the Catholic Relief Service, the Serbian Orthodox ‘Philanthropy’ and Christian Aid. Conditions in the camp were much better than I had seen in camps in Greece. I enjoyed meeting the teachers at the little school-room: they do well to teach English and Serbian to pupils who are more at home with Farsi and Arabic!
And in the final ‘team photo’ below, you can see the British Ambassador (holding an icon), his wife (far right), with representatives from Philanthropy, Christian Aid and our two churches.
It was a truly memorable visit. Serbia is a country that has known so much suffering over many centuries. Yet it has kept Christianity alive in families and monasteries. Relations between Anglicans and the Serbian Orthodox Church were disturbed by the events of the 1990s. I am personally committed to healing and reconciliation. I was delighted that despite the different traditions of east and west, and our very different national histories, our visit enabled us to celebrate unity, togetherness and friendship in Jesus Christ.
It is the tradition on Good Friday at the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity Brussels to put on a performance of a Bach passion. The idea began as a way of marking the events of Christ’s passion in an appropriately serious and intensive manner, as well as celebrating Anglo-German friendship and building links between the Pro-Cathedral and the Brussels musical community. This year the Pro-Cathedral performed the St. Matthew Passion. The St. Matthew is the greatest product of Lutheran Church Music. And what better way to mark this 500th anniversary year of the German Reformation?
Bach wrote the St. John Passion on his arrival in Leipzig, and it was first performed at Good Friday Vespers in 1724. Three years later the greater St. Matthew Passion was completed and performed on Good Friday 1727, 290 years ago. It was played by two antiphonal choirs and orchestras situated in the north and south transepts of the Thomaskirche, with a children’s choir singing from the back gallery. That must have been a remarkable experience for the burghers of Leipzig!
The Holy Trinity performance aimed to represent faithfully the sound of 18th century Baroque music as Bach’s Thomaskirche congregation would have heard it. The Brussels Conservatory is a centre of Baroque excellence. Our musicians played on modern copies of Baroque instruments, with wooden flutes, oboes da caccia and d’amore, viola da gamba. The performance featured two choirs and a children’s choir plus 10 soloists.
I first heard the St. Matthew Passion performed at London’s Festival Hall, as a young man. I remember being overwhelmed by the intensity of the experience. Being part of the congregation for this performance at Holy Trinity Brussels seemed to me the best way of entering again the experience of Christ’s passion. Bach dwells on certain aspects of the narrative – listening to the performance this year I was drawn especially into the binding of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane – the decisive moment when he loses his freedom, in which Bach has the crowd angrily interject: ‘release him, stop, do not bind him!’. And Peter’s betrayal, with Bach’s anguished aria:
My God for my tears’ sake;
Heart and eyes weep before thee
There is no ‘resurrection’ in Bach’s Passions, of course. The St. Matthew ends, after some three hours of sublime music, with Jesus resting, life exhausted, in the tomb.
…to Easter Sunday…
Holy Trinity’s main Easter Sunday morning service begins with the lighting of the Easter candle, procession of choir and ministers into the church, and Easter acclamations.
It was a great joy to share in this international celebration of Easter morning, with people of all ages, from all over the world, in a packed church building.
The church was beautifully decorated with white and yellow floral displays. Music was led by a large choir augmented by a brass trio and timpani. “Thine be the glory” sung with trumpets and drum rolls on Easter morning is a truly spine-tingling experience.
In his Easter sermon, Canon Paul Vrolijk referred us to the biblical image of the garden, moving from Eden, to Gethsemane to the garden of the resurrection. He invited the congregation to meet with Jesus, as Mary Magdalene had done in the garden of the resurrection, so that areas of desolation and sadness that represent the ‘Gethsemanes’ in our lives can be opened to healing and transformation. We gathered around the Lord’s Table, praying that Jesus would make himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.
It was an especial joy for Helen and me to celebrate Easter at the Pro-Cathedral with our family – four children and two sons-in-law. All of our children have a living Christian faith and are regular church attenders themselves. We don’t have many opportunities to gather together, so to be family on the greatest day of the Christian year was particularly important for us.
Across our widespread diocese, Easter is celebrated in many different ways with varying formality, liturgical splendour and musical tradition. In each place we bring together communities of people to celebrate a risen Lord, whose resurrection continues to burst into our lives and into our world.
I wish every member of our diocese and its churches a blessed and happy Easter.