What a Difference a Word Makes – Freedom of Religion vs Freedom from Religion

The Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg has made it very clear that international human rights law only stipulates that there should be Freedom of Religion not Freedom from Religion. This was summed up in the judicial opinion given in support of a specific ruling. A mother of the only non-Christian pupil in an Italian school class could not demand that the school authorities take down the cross on the wall of his classroom as an infringement of his right to freedom from religion.

‘The Convention has given this Court the remit to enforce freedom of religion and of conscience, but has not empowered it to bully States into secularism or to coerce countries into schemes of religious neutrality’.[1]

But despite this, repeated references to a so-called ‘right to freedom from religion’ are voiced at international gatherings by those with a secularising agenda. Last week when the UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief visited Brussels I was invited, along with other faith-based organisations and NGOs, to send a representative to a roundtable meeting at the European External Action Service for an ‘exchange of views’. I sent my Attaché along as my travel schedule meant I had to be away from Brussels that day. He discovered that along with 12 individual representatives of churches, religions and faith-based NGOs there were 2 representatives of the European Humanist Federation. These two insisted very stridently that Freedom from Religion should be included in the Rapporteur’s mandate. It was explained to them that their right to hold to their views was not compromised by the expression ‘freedom of religion and belief.’ In the international human rights documents belief does not have to be theistic. But they were not placated by this. Only theistic belief counts as a religion was their response. People should have the right to be free from it. It should be limited to the private sphere.

This week my Attaché attended a briefing for MEPs at the European Parliament. It concerned the latest case-law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the EU European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on religious freedom issues. So-called ‘neutrality policies’, used by firms to prohibit their employees from wearing dress or symbols identifying their faith, came particularly under the spotlight. In fact, it was said, although giving a surface appearance of even-handedness, neutrality policies were actually inherently discriminatory. This was because only religious employees were negatively affected by them. The judges’ view was that it could only be justified in exceptional circumstances when there was a clear need for it and the means promoted for implementing the policy were proportionate to that need. The default position should be that the wearing of specific religious dress or symbols should be accommodated, not outlawed. My Attaché took along six students from Cranmer Hall Theological College (UK), who were on a study visit to Belgium, to the briefing. They found this exchange fascinating.

It was a pleasure to welcome 6 ordinands to Belgium and offer an opportunity to engage with this important issue.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is very explicit about Freedom of Religion. It is not just a private matter. It affirms the right for adherents to practice their religion individually and collectively, in public and in private.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.’ (Article 10 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights)

Trying to confine religion within the four walls of a church as an entirely private matter was the Stalinist approach to religion. It has no place in a society that claims to be free and democratic.

[1] Lautsi v Italy, Grand Chamber Judgment, European Court of Human Rights


World Refugee Day

Some thoughts from me for World Refugee Day in light of the recent treatment of the Aquarius rescue ship & a poem from the Revd Carolyn Cooke, from La Côte chaplaincy in the Diocese in Europe, written for today:

Migration is the biggest challenge facing the EU – bigger than Brexit. And it will be for years to come. The attitude of European authorities towards migrants has been increasingly geared towards proper management and security. In this they have been more successful than people generally realise. The number of irregular migrants arriving in Europe has fallen dramatically in 2018 compared with the period 2015-2017. This reduction has been achieved by a variety of measures such as strengthening the border force, Frontex, and co-operation with frontline states, including Italy.

Italy does carry an unfair burden for welcoming refugees. However, arrivals in Italy via the central Mediterranean migration route fell from 181,436 in 2016, to 119,369 in 2017 to just 12,105 in the first five months of 2018. In that light, the refusal of the Italian authorities to allow the MSF and SOS Mediterranean sponsored ship Aquarius to land is hugely upsetting. Those on board are human beings created in God’s image. Both as a matter of faith and of human rights they ought to have been treated as precious human beings not as problematic cargo.

The Diocese in Europe is deeply committed to the welfare of migrants and refugees. We are involved in the care of refugees in Italy and Greece. We are part of a humanitarian corridor bringing vulnerable migrants legally into Belgium. We are partnering with the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG to sponsor a refugee projects officer in Calais. Our motivation is natural human compassion, the love of Christ, and a divine mandate to care for the stranger and the refugee.

Lord God, we lift to you our government leaders, officials of the European institutions and the United Nations. Please provide insight and wisdom to ensure an effective response to the refugee crisis and to solve the underlying causes of conflict.

We give thanks for all in the Diocese in Europe who are working with refugees. Give us understanding, compassion and generosity of spirit.

Help us all to be open to the gifts which refugees share with us and to be inspired by their courage and their faith.

We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.



This model was made by a young man who had travelled across the sea and eventually to Calais, and each figure is an actual person on the voyage he was on.


A poem for World Refugee Day


A Word of thanks… to you in exile

A Word of thanks… to you who have risked so much

A Word of thanks… to you who have left behind loved ones and now offer love and care to the likes of us, strangers who, God-willing, become friends

A Word of thanks… for the deep wisdom of your heritage and experience

A Word of thanks… for the creativity and vibrancy of your cultures, which we glimpse and savour

A Word of thanks… for your stamina to learn… new languages, new humour, new food, new systems, new rules spoken and unspoken, new views, new manners, new just about everything

A Word of thanks… for not giving up in the face of prejudice and misunderstanding

A Word of thanks… for not giving up on the troubling wait for papers that spell permission to stay, permission to breathe easy, permission to put down roots with equal rights as those around you

A Word of thanks… for eliciting some good in us, sometimes, and being gracious and humble enough to accept our help

A Word of thanks… for your forgiveness and kindness towards us as we make mistakes and say hurtful things in our attempts to understand

A Word of thanks… for your honesty, for the vulnerable truth of your humanity, your dignity even as you deal with dreams of trauma while still dreaming of lighter days ahead

A Word of thanks… for your sense of humour

A Word of thanks… hunger for life

A Word of thanks… for your resilience

A Word of thanks… for your faith which inspires and challenges our faith

A Word of thanks… to you in exile opening our eyes to so much truth and beauty

So many words of thanks… still so much more to say…


World Refugee Day 20.06.18

Carolyn Cooke

Visiting St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral Malta

I visited Malta last year when I was leading a church delegation to meet Prime Minister Muscat and his colleagues as Malta took up the EU Council Presidency. But I had not been to St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral since I was installed there nearly four years ago. So this was a visit to which I was eagerly looking forward. And on this occasion, I was accompanied by Canon Paul Vrolijk from Brussels, with the intention of building relations between our two Pro-Cathedrals in Brussels and Malta.

A Valletta icon

Our diocese operates between two poles. One pole is networked, mobile, transitional. But our three cathedrals represent the other pole: rooted, stable, incarnational. St. Paul’s is an impressive Grade 1 listed building, its spire the tallest in Malta and a vital part of the Valletta skyline. It is a most tangible reminder of the rootedness of our diocese in the continent we serve.

The Cathedral’s yellow sandstone is gorgeous. But: oh my goodness – that roof doesn’t look in good condition at all! Indeed, the regular falling of sand or worse makes Fr. Simon Godfrey’s (the Pro-Cathedral’s Chancellor) path to his front door a hazardous walk.

The need for urgent work on the building means St. Paul’s is therefore engaged in a 3 million euro restoration project. This is a huge endeavour under the joint chairmanship of Sir Martin Laing and Mr. Martin Scicluna and involving some 40 people in various committees. They have done exceptionally well to secure a major EU funding bid with a second even larger bid in the offing.

The undercroft has already been transformed. It houses a professionally run café and a small shop, with a large screen video running to explain the life and work of the Pro-Cathedral. There are further exciting plans to develop the Pro-Cathedral as a major tourist attraction.

Rather unusually for our diocese, the Anglican Church in Malta is the proud owner of one or two items of treasure, including a gorgeous silver crozier. I was pleased to leave it in Malta in safekeeping rather than entrust it to the various airline baggage handlers that a mobile bishop has to use.

(L to R) Canon Paul Vrolijk, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Bishop Robert Innes, Canon Simon Godfrey

Whilst in Valletta, we called upon Archbishop Charles Scicluna. It was a real delight to see Archbishop Charles again. In addition to looking after the Catholic church in Malta, he also leads on investigating child abuse cases within the Church. This coming week, that aspect of his work takes him to Chile. Archbishop Charles could hardly be more welcoming to Anglicans in Malta and is also one of the angels of light in some dark aspects of church life. I encourage members of the Diocese in Europe to pray for him in his work.

Canon Paul Vrolijk and I were superbly hosted and entertained by Fr. Simon Godfrey during our stay in Malta. In an earlier life, Simon was a naval officer. He was, he told us, one of the last graduates of Dartmouth to be trained in how to board a ship armed with a sword. Here he brandishes a marvellous ceremonial sword – a sign of the church militant perhaps?

St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral is engaged in much the biggest building project in our diocese. Simon has assembled a team of impressive seniority and skill to help the Pro-Cathedral. Many of them are Roman Catholics. Animating a venture on this scale requires particular skills and charisma. May God bless Simon and his colleagues in Malta richly as they seek to sustain and develop the heritage of St. Paul’s for the benefit of this and future generations.

Official Visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Serbia

Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, visited Lambeth Palace in October 2016. In June 2018, Archbishop Justin Welby visited Serbia by way of a return visit, and I was pleased to be part of his entourage. The visit was intended to enable the Archbishop to meet with the Patriarch, to meet other religious leaders in Serbia and to attend one day of the Conference of European Churches meeting in Novi Sad.

We were given an official reception by the Orthodox Church at the airport on arrival. In the picture, along with our Orthodox hosts and myself, are: Bishop Jonathan Goodall (Archbishop’s representative with Orthodox Churches); Ambassador Denis Keefe, Archbishop Justin, The Revd. Robin Fox (Apokrisarios and Anglican Chaplain in Belgrade) and The Revd. Dr. Will Adam (Archbishop’s international ecumenical secretary).

After a private meeting with the Ambassador, we headed into Belgrade for a short tour of the majestic Temple and Crypt of St Sava’s Cathedral. Still under construction, the Temple is the nation’s religious centre and a huge source of Serbian pride.

The dome of the Cathedral is 40 metres in diameter and weighs 4,000 tonnes. 16 cranes were needed to raise it into position.

The Crypt of St. Sava’s is a place of remembrance of the saints and martyrs of Serbian history. Panels close to the entrance depict martyrs killed in the Second World War by Croatian Nazis. The horrors of 20th century conflicts are never far away in Serbia.

After a formal meeting with the Patriarch, we were hosted to dinner with traditional Serbian fare. We were entertained with a hauntingly beautiful folk song that was a kind of Serbian equivalent to ‘No, John, No, John, No’, but with the maiden in question resisting the advances of a Muslim suitor who required only that she renounce her Orthodox faith in order to be his bride.

On the Sunday, we drove north to Novi Sad to attend the Conference of European Churches’ Assembly. The Archbishop presided at the Anglican stream of worship. He gave a speech to the whole assembly in the afternoon (above). The whole assembly was then taken in coaches to the Danube river. In its attack on Serbia in 1999, NATO destroyed all the Danube bridges in Novi Sad. Hence CEC took as the symbol of its conference a cross atop a bridge. We gathered along the River in remembrance and to plant some trees as symbols of peace.

Guli Dehqani, the Anglican Bishop of Loughborough, is an Iranian refugee. She was elected Vice-President of CEC at this Assembly. She hopes to make migration one of her priority areas. I’m thrilled to have a woman bishop of Iranian background working on ecumenical matters in Europe.

Monday was devoted to ecumenical and inter-faith meetings.

Archbishop Stanislav Hocevar told us about the position of Roman Catholics in Serbia (a minority presence of course) and his desire to work for Christian Unity.

We were pleased to be taken to this beautiful medieval mosque, and to hear the perspective of Muslims living in Serbia.

The Orthodox Patriarchate contains, we were told, 365 rooms – one for each day of the year! Amongst the various paintings, our party was particular taken with this one. It shows an Albanian Muslim woman peacefully and respectfully riding past the Orthodox monastery of Pec, in what is today the region of Kosovo. The loss of Kosovo is felt deeply by the Patriarchate and was the question to which conversation often returned. The Archbishop frequently spoke of his hopes and prayers for justice for all in Kosovo, Orthodox and Muslim.

This was the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury had visited Serbia for 34 years. I had a sense of significant deepening and strengthening of relationships between the Serbian Orthodox and Anglican communities, with some practical ideas of how these relationships could be further carried forward.

The CEC conference was centred upon ‘building bridges’. I pray that any Anglican involvement and influence in this part of central Europe will aid in building bridges between people, sustaining peace and promoting justice for everyone.

Mothers Praying across Europe

Lamentations 2:19

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at every street corner.

I recently came across a ministry for praying mothers called Moms in Prayer International. Thousands of mothers across Europe meet in small groups to pray specifically for their children and school for one hour each week during term time.

Praying mothers growing in faith and discipleship can positively impact schools, families and society.

The mothers are taught through online resources, through trained ‘contact persons’ and the offer of simple Skype training. The vision is that every school would be prayed for. Not only our children need prayer, so do the teachers and staff, many are stressed and very glad to know they, too, are regularly supported in prayer.

Mothers often meet in their homes on the same day and time each week, those in salaried work may meet to pray with another mum over one lunchtime a week, others meet one hour before their weekly bible study group. Key is making it happen.

Moms in Prayer is interdenominational and so the exciting thing is that this means that many mothers across Europe are connecting from different churches to pray for their children.

This is the story from one of our Archdeaconry reps in the diocese:

The Swiss branch of Moms in Prayer International celebrates 25 years this year; they have over 1400 groups in Switzerland.

One of the big concerns in the Church of England at the moment is our failure to pass on our Christian faith to our children, and the haemorrhaging of young people from our churches. So I was particularly pleased to hear about this fellowship of praying mothers in Switzerland and would love to see groups established in other archdeaconries too.

Pentecostal Watersplash at St. Peter’s Chantilly

The 19th May 2018 was the day of the royal wedding: the fairy tale setting of Windsor Castle, a stunning white dress and train, and an electrifying sermon from Bishop Michael Curry.

I spent the weekend in a comparably beautiful place in France, at St. Peter’s Church just down the road from the picturesque Chateau at Chantilly. And at St. Peter’s Chantilly, the day before Pentecost will mainly be remembered for the joyous full immersion baptisms of four young people.

We gathered outside the church on a beautifully sunny afternoon with Chaplain Sarah Tillett and the four candidates: Jemima, Anna, Laurence and Pablo.

The large paddling pool had taken two hours to fill with water. A good congregation of supporters gathered, and the singing attracted passers-by to take a look.

The water was cold, but Laurence survived the experience with much joy and laughter.

As did Pablo. I presided over affairs from the safety of the pool side, not having brought the right gear for getting into the water.

Chaplain Sarah, by contrast, had just the right green waders from her days as a trout fisherwoman. Here she accompanies Anna in the water.

It really was total immersion. Jemima is submerged from head to toe.

Some of our congregation were surprised that the Anglican church does total immersion baptisms. I explained that, at the Reformation, the Anglican Reformers attempted to recover the practices and theology of the early church. If you visit a really ancient church, you see the font is big enough for a proper immersion baptism. Baptism symbolises dying and rising with Christ. Proper full immersion is a powerful and dramatic symbol of our identification with Christ.

After the baptisms it was time to get dry and warm… and to share in a delicious barbecue.

The next day was Pentecost Sunday. We gathered again for confirmation. Here is the whole group:

Jemima, Anna, Laurence and Pablo, together with Alice, Benjamin, Gabrielle, Liam, Philip, Natasha, Rochelle, Samuel, Tatiana, William and our one adult candidate Régis.

This service was the culmination of many months’ nurturing of a large group of candidates by the St. Peter’s youth group ‘The Way’, including a trip to ‘Soul Survivor’. Holding, developing and encouraging young people in Christian faith through their teens is a vital ministry. The beliefs we adopt in our teens mostly stay with us for life. So congratulations to the St. Peter’s team for their excellent work and for the fruit it will surely bear in these young people’s lives.

St. George’s and St. Paul’s Lisbon

The 12th May was a special Saturday in Lisbon: it was of course the final of the Eurovision Song Contest and the first time the contest had ever been staged in Portugal.

Immediately on our arrival, Helen was swept off by Ginnelle Sawyer (wife of Frank Sawyer, the Chaplain of the Greater Lisbon Chaplaincy) and her daughter Maggie for a tuktuk sightseeing ride around the city.

My own visit to the Portuguese capital began in the British Cemetery attached to St. George’s Church – equally romantic in its own way! The cemetery dates back to the early 18th century. Non-Roman Catholics traditionally had the right to be buried here, although nowadays practising Roman Catholics are also admitted and, indeed, there are ‘residents’ from other nations too. The most famous grave is that of the novelist Henry Fielding. But there are many other fascinating monuments: for example, an obelisk commemorating Boers who fled the British in South Africa and settled in Portugal having arrived via Mozambique. It is also the final resting place of the English hymn writer Philip Doddridge. Much European history could be studied with reference to the graves here, and I was delighted to learn that a cultural project is shortly going to be underway to provide more research information and easier access to the cemetery.

St. George’s Church is one of the diocese’s largest buildings. We sang evening prayer together. Here a large group share in a dramatic reading of 1 Corinthians 12 – illustrating Paul’s image of the body of Christ by everyone reading in his/her own native language. The effect was deeply moving – and something many of our chaplaincies could try for themselves.

St. Paul’s Estoril is also a large though contrasting building – modern, light and airy. We gathered on the Sunday morning for baptism and confirmation.

Michael Allaway missed out on baptism as a baby because his father had been seriously injured in a traffic accident. He was nearly baptized at the age of 11, except that a bomb fell on his home town of Reading killing many people, so the baptism never took place. Irrespective he went on to have a highly productive life, including inventing a special bed used to help hospital patients avoid pressure sores. At the age of 84 he is still working …and he has finally been baptized!

Our four confirmation candidates – Ginnelle, Michael, Wojolomi and Jeremy gather with chaplain Frank Sawyer, newly inducted worship leader Pamela Patten and colleagues after the service.

I particularly liked this typically Portuguese blue tiling that adorns an inner courtyard at St. Paul’s.

Whilst world attention was focused on the Eurovision contest and its songs celebrating romantic love, we had gathered to celebrate a different kind of love. This is the love which is made known in acts of loving kindness, in the love of people different from ourselves, in the overcoming of barriers of language and nationality. It is a love which endures and will finally triumph when people from every tribe and nation and race will gather around the throne of the Lamb; when the lion will lie down in peace with the lamb and when God finally wipes away every tear from our eyes.