A Year in the Life of the Bishop in Europe – Part 2

Back in August 2016, I posted a piece entitled ‘A Year in the Life of the Bishop in Europe’, a round-up of my comings-and-goings with some reflections for the end of the academic year. Now early in 2017, I think it worthwhile to complete the task with a review of the last few months of 2016.

Last summer, many people across the diocese were facing some terribly challenging happenings: the migration crisis, Brexit, terrorism. Those challenges are still with us. Yet, with and despite the confusing and worrying times in which we live, my basic Christian outlook remained gratitude for the examples of growth in unlikely places, signs of hope and fresh life. Snapshots from Riga, Budapest, Vienna and others illustrated for me a Christian faith which protests against the idea that life is grim and the world is getting worse, or that we must keep ourselves to ourselves in self-protection from the outside world.

The same abiding hopefulness sustained me equally in the latter half of 2016. Here are some highlights:

In September, I was glad to be able to preside at confirmations in Belgrade, ably hosted by Fr. Robin Fox. The visit was a joyful one, but it also gave me the opportunity for a long and helpful meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej.

St. Mary’s Belgrade

This meeting with our Orthodox friends wasn’t the only ecumenical encounter as I joined fellow Anglican bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a special meeting in Rome of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). Being paired with Bishop Johan Bonny, Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp, prior to our joint commissioning by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby, was a wonderful sign of our desire to work more closely together in witness and joint mission as part of the ongoing fruit of our Churches’ relationship.

Being paired with Bishop Johan Bonny

Back in Belgium, in was a pleasure to celebrate the commissioning of two new archdeacons in the diocese. Paul Vrolijk was made the new Archdeacon of North-West Europe at a gathering of the Archdeaconry Synod in Drongen. He took over from Meurig Williams following Meurig’s move to become the new Archdeacon of France.

New Archdeacons: Meurig Williams (left) & Paul Vrolijk (right)

November took me on into Switzerland, where there was a truly joyful confirmation service in Vevey. The previous evening we had baptised two of the candidates in sub-zero temperatures in a hot-tub overlooking the Alps.

All Saints Vevey

Over on the other side of the diocese, in Ankara, was the biggest confirmation group so far. Over 50 Iranian refugees were presented as candidates at St. Nicholas’ Church, and I was deeply moved by the poignant personal stories they shared with me.

St Nicholas’ Ankara

December closed with an invitation to preside and preach at Holy Trinity pro-cathedral in Brussels. After a year of many unsettling events, it was a special time to preach a message of hope to a packed-out church on Christmas morning, remembering the hope that comes with the birth of Jesus.

Holy Trinity Brussels

I write this now in the second month of 2017, at the end of a week in which I have licensed a new chaplain in Poitou-Charentes, confirmed 11 adults and young people in Brussels, interviewed ordination candidates in London, and helped select a new chaplain in Athens. All of these activities are concerned with building of the body of Christ – either directly in the ministry of word and sacrament, or indirectly through the recruitment and appointment of the church’s ordained clergy. Thank you to all who pray for me, as I endeavour to support others in their walk with Christ.

Anglican-Orthodox Conference on Modern Slavery, Istanbul

There are an estimated 46 million enslaved people in the world. The trade in ‘slaves’ is worth €150bn a year globally – second only to drug trafficking. By contrast the OECD countries only spend €1bn per annum tackling it. 76% of victims are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. Many of the rest are trapped in forced labour –in Europe that is mainly in agriculture, the construction industry and domestic servitude.


It was to address the terrible issue of modern slavery that the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, hosted in early February a joint Anglican/Orthodox conference in Istanbul. The Diocese in Europe was represented by Canon Malcolm Bradshaw MBE, Chaplain of Greater Athens, and Bishop’s Attaché David Fieldsend.

The conference was entitled ‘Sins Before Our Eyes – A Forum on Modern Slavery’. Both Archbishop Justin and Patriarch Bartholomew gave keynote addresses underlining the importance they gave to the issue and dedicating their respective churches to action. Archbishop Justin graciously mentioned the work of the Diocese in Europe on both refugees and trafficking.

Experiences from every continent were shared in discussion, and Malcolm Bradshaw spoke about his work in Greece with refugees and trafficking victims. He was one of many speakers to highlight links between unaccompanied children fleeing conflict and left vulnerable in a strange land and the growth of human trafficking. Archbishop Justin talked of the shameful lack of urgency in rescuing such children shown by state authorities in a number of European countries. He had been involved in a case of three orphaned children of primary age, living alone together in the ruins of a bombed out building in Aleppo. They were turned down for asylum in Britain, even though they had an uncle living in London. One of the reasons given was that they had failed to submit their form online!


David Fieldsend reported on the diocesan survey on activity to combat human trafficking. He mentioned the recruiting of archdeaconry co-ordinators to publicise the issue and arrange training. He described the first area training day in Belgium.

Archbishop Justin spoke of the need for customers and investors to learn more about the supply chain of products they were buying so they could be sure that slave or child labour had not been involved. The new UK Modern Slavery Act requires companies to report on actions taken (or lack of them) to investigate their supply chains so as to eliminate suppliers using slave labour. There was also a report from the Church Commissioners on investments, and the steps being taken to hold companies to account on this.

One Orthodox Bishop referred to modern slavery as ‘an abomination and a plague’ These numbers involved (easily surpassing those of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that William Wilberforce fought to suppress) are daunting and participants were asked to consider how it was possible that such a massive criminal activity could be taking place in plain sight in Europe. There was talk of a climate of ‘the globalisation of indifference’, which sadly many in the churches seemed not to be immune from. Reference was made to William Wilberforce’s remark to his opponents during a parliamentary speech: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but never say again that you did not know’.


The conference closed with the signing of a joint declaration by Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin. It called for church leaders ‘to find appropriate and effective ways of prosecuting those involved in human trafficking, preventing all forms of modern slavery, and protecting its victims in our communities.’ Christians must ‘become educated, raise awareness, and take action with regard to these tragedies of modern slavery, and commit themselves to working and praying actively towards the eradication of this scourge.’ We commit to ‘the establishment of a joint task force for modern slavery to bring forward timely recommendations as to how the Orthodox Church and the Church of England can collaborate in the battle against this cruel exploitation’.

The official joint declaration can be found here.

A New Chaplain for Christ the Good Shepherd, Poitou-Charentes

On the first Friday in February, we headed South on the TGV to Poitou-Charentes. Later this year, the new high-speed TGV line to South West France will be commissioned, cutting the journey time from Paris to Bordeaux to just two hours. But even at present, the newly refurbished TGVs are a very pleasant way to travel across France.


Adam Boulter and his family arrived in Poitou-Charentes in November. On 4th February he was to be licensed as chaplain by the Bishop and installed by the Archdeacon. The chaplaincy of Christ the Good Shepherd was originally a plant from Aquitaine to the South. The chaplaincy covers four departments: Vienne, Deux-Sevres, Charente and Charente-Maritime. The chaplaincy has (depending how you count them) 12 to 15 worship centres and covers a territory 25% bigger than Wales!

This part of France is known for its vineyards – for its sweet, fortified wine ‘Pineau’, and its better known spirits – Armagnac and especially Cognac.

We were kindly hosted by Stuart and Evelyne Woodrow who live along the banks of the River Charente, near the town of Cognac. On the night of our stay there was a furious storm. This led to a complete power failure. Entertaining a visiting bishop with no electricity could be challenging, and they handled the situation most graciously.


On the Saturday morning, we drove some 45 minutes to the church of Mansle which had been chosen for the ceremony because of its central location. The licensing service started half an hour late, as various people negotiated the fallen trees. Archdeacon Meurig had a much longer drive than expected from his home in Limoges.

Adam comes to Poitou-Charentes with an interesting range of experience. He was previously chaplain of the Episcopal Church of Aqaba in Jordan. He was also Mission to Seafarers Port Chaplain and had area responsibility for Mission to Seafarers work across the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. So he is no stranger to looking after mixed international congregations and supervising activities across a large area. Adam is both a priest and an artist. What a wonderful combination for ministry!


Adam was presented for licensing by the churchwardens, Ted Hands and Ann White, with Richard Bromley from ICS. After the service the parish laid on a magnificent bring and share lunch. Adam is married to Beth, and they have three children: Joseph, Hannah and Benjamin. The photo shows two of the children… Hannah preferred not to be photographed.


The licensing of a new chaplain is a huge event for a chaplaincy, bringing to an end a long process of discernment and opening up many possibilities for the future. Do pray for Adam, Beth, Joseph, Hannah and Benjamin as they settle into their new home, progress with language learning and make friends. And do pray for Adam as he leads a large team of retired clergy, readers and worship leaders and seeks to find the way forward for Anglican mission and ministry in Poitou-Charentes.

Unity in Naples

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded in 1908 by the Anglican Paul Watson. Over the last 100 years it has become a major feature of the church calendar around the world. Helen and I spent a couple of days of this year’s Week of Prayer in Naples as guests of the Sant’Egidio Community.

Sant’Egidio is a lay, Catholic community that was founded in 1968 by Andrea Riccardi. Its aims include peacebuilding, work with the poor, and ecumenical and inter-faith relations.  The first, and still the biggest, community is in Rome. The second community is in Naples. I was encouraged to visit the Naples community by Monica Attias, who is the community’s ‘ambassador’ to the Anglican church.

Our flight from Brussels to Naples was particularly beautiful, as the sky was clear and the Alps covered in snow. We were met at the airport by Marco, the wonderfully hospitable community member who was to be our host. Naples is the kind of city where it is handy to have lots of good friends. One of Marco’s friends is in the hotel business, so we were able to stay at a rather lovely hotel in the centre of town. Well, it was lovely inside – the built architecture in that part of Naples is in the brutalist ‘fascist’ style – a standing reminder of a very difficult time in the city’s history.

After lunch with Marco and his wife Milana (pizza naturally), we were met by two burly Italians who drove us to our first engagement. Marcos was a retired bodyguard; Alfonso a driver for the military police. We were in safe hands! The driving in Naples is, of course, legendary, and Alfonso’s ability to drive exactly down the middle of two neighbouring motorway lanes in order to keep his options open was particularly exhilarating.

We were guests of the parish of Saint Morris in Frattaminore, on the edge of the city. The church adjoins a l’Arche community that is home to people with disabilities. I was invited to preach and to give the benediction. After the service everyone was very friendly and keen to have their photo taken with a visiting bishop.


In the evening, we had another memorable ride to the Sant’Egidio community’s church in the centre of the city. Tea and cakes had been prepared for the English guests. How lovely! We were particularly taken by the nativity scene, which featured the holy family in one part of the scene, and a Christmas dinner for poor people in another (Sant’Egidio feeds 500 people each Christmas in one of the bigger Neapolitan churches.) After our service of evening prayer, members of the community entertained us to dinner. Their priest shared some issues familiar to all Christian churches: how to involve more members in the ministry? How to reach young people?


The following morning, we had an audience with the Archbishop of Milan. It was fixed up rather hurriedly, by Marco, one of whose friends is the Archbishop’s secretary. It seemed to me there could be few more challenging episcopal roles than this one. Naples is a vast ecclesiastical heritage site with immense social issues. One of Cardinal Sepe’s first actions had been to invite the young people of Naples to hand over their knives anonymously in church.

Our schedule allowed a visit to the Cathedral, and in particular the opportunity to see the baptistery, which goes back to the second century and is reckoned to be the oldest baptistery in the Western Church. It is, of course, a pool intended for the total immersion of adults, because most baptism candidates in those days were adult. Probably a good number of those candidates suffered greatly for their allegiance to Christ.


A taxi ride across town gave us time to spend the afternoon and evening with Jon and Carole Backhouse at the Anglican church. Having ascended the Central Funicular with them, we enjoyed some remarkable views over Naples to the snow-capped Vesuvius.


My addresses and messages covered some themes that are common to Christians in many parts of Europe: a growing fear of the other which is leading to an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, and the various challenges associated with refugees and migration. It was a great personal pleasure to be with Sant’Egidio for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as they are doing so much in their community life to address these contemporary issues.


Marco, Milana, Cardinal Sepe, Bishop Robert, Helen

Edith Cavell: Inspiration in Brussels

Last week I was invited to dedicate the new Edith Cavell chapel at Holy Trinity Brussels. The chapel lies at the centre of the newly renovated Church House building.


Church House was built in the 1920s as a vicarage. At the time it must have been a most impressive residence on four floors complete with central dumb waiter to help the cooks deliver meals to the clergy family. However, by the end of the twentieth century it had become sadly dilapidated. So in the early twenty-first century, Holy Trinity began a long and costly project to redevelop and restore the building. Under the guidance of architect Richard Craddock, one floor at a time has been renovated. The dedication of the Edith Cavell chapel marks the practical completion of the last main phase of work.


Edith Cavell came to Belgium to work as a nurse. Encouraged by the Belgian surgeon Dr. Depage she founded Belgium’s first modern school of nursing. She brought to her work nursing skills learned in tough conditions in London hospitals, management ability and a strong sense of duty. Her entire life and work was underpinned by a remarkably strong and resilient faith. During World War 1 she nursed soldiers on both sides of the conflict. She got caught up in the resistance movement, was tried for espionage and shot. The chaplain of Holy Trinity Brussels, The Revd. Gahan, gave her Holy Communion in her prison cell before she was executed. Her memorable words to him: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.”

Edith Cavell lived a remarkably selfless life. In her betrayal, the psychological torture of solitary confinement, unfair trial, extraordinary concern and care she had for those close to her even in the night before she died, and in her execution there is something remarkably Christ like. The Anglican church doesn’t make saints, but we have done well to record her in our lectionary of holy men and women.

Even today, Edith Cavell has a powerful effect on those who become acquainted with her story. In Brussels, the ‘Edith Cavell Commemoration Group’ was formed to organise events marking the centenary of her death in 2015. Historian Hugh Boudin (picture below, far right) presented Holy Trinity with a copy of his scholarly biography. Deborah Delheusy, in the centre, used to be deputy head of nursing at the prestigious Brussels hospital that today bears Edith Cavell’s name. The picture in the background is an original portrait of Edith, generously given to the Pro-Cathedral for the chapel. It is signed by the lawyer who defender her at her trial.


I am delighted that Holy Trinity Brussels has a small chapel dedicated to Edith Cavell at the heart of what is now its 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. She is a wonderful lady to have at the centre of the Pro-Cathedral’s ministry of international hospitality and outreach.


Malta & the EU

maltese-presidency The New Year began for me with a visit to Malta. I was there as part of a delegation of church leaders from Brussels who had been invited to meet with the Maltese Government. The European Council of Ministers has a rotating presidency. Each member state takes the chair for 6 months. At the beginning of 2017 it is Malta’s turn. Churches have a statutory role in dialogue with the authorities of the EU under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, so representative leaders of the Christian Churches were invited to Valletta to talk over the Maltese plans and priorities for their presidency. We had a grand sense of arrival going up the steps to the Prime Minister’s office prior to being saluted by pairs of splendidly dressed soldiers.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) represents some 170 Protestant and Orthodox Churches. I was invited to lead the CEC delegation in partnership with Brother Olivier Poquillon, the new General Secretary of our sister Roman Catholic organisation COMECE. We were hosted by the Archbishop of Malta, and met with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister.


The meeting lasted one hour. It opened with Prime Minister Muscat publicly welcoming the delegation and setting out the priorities of the Maltese Presidency. Olivier and I responded, setting out the reasons why the churches were meeting him and expressing our support for the work of the Presidency. The extensive press corps were then asked to leave and the meeting continued in closed session.

The priorities of the Maltese Presidency cover six areas: migration, strengthening the single market, security, social inclusion, Europe’s neighbourhood, Maritime governance. The top priority is migration. This accords well with the priority of other EU member states and the EU as a whole.

From the churches’ side, we wanted to propose a balanced approach to migration based on the dignity of the human being as made in the image of God. We reminded the presidency that migration brings benefits to receiving nations as well as costs. We re-iterated a plea for safe and legal pathways for migrants. We pleaded for the importance of uniting families when decisions about asylum are being made. And we hoped that, in the reform of the Dublin process, the EU overall could show solidarity with countries such as Greece and Italy in the handling and relocation of refugees. We encouraged the presidency to foster a strategic and sustainable approach to migration as well as addressing short-term tactical problems. Doris Peschke of the Church’s Commission for Migrants in Europe gave expert views.


Our discussions were conducted in the knowledge that the Maltese Presidency takes place in very challenging times for the EU. Unfolding events (particularly elections in The Netherlands and France and election campaigning in Germany) will inevitably influence the dynamics of the Presidency.

This kind of beginning of term discussion between the Presidency and the churches is something to be treasured. Could we imagine a UK government convening a meeting with the churches to discuss the agenda set out in the Queen’s speech? I hope that, despite Brexit, the Anglican Church will continue to be able to take its place at the table in these kinds of discussions as a member of the CEC.

Migration, Integration and European Values

Each year, the European Commission hosts a high-level meeting with religious leaders from across Europe. This year’s meeting took place on November 29th in the Brussels Berlaymont building with the theme of ‘migration, integration and European values’.


The meeting was hosted by First Vice-President Timmermans. A rather smaller group than in previous years of mainly Christians, Muslims and Jews was invited, with the intention of a deeper than usual level of conversation. This intent was not disappointed, as leaders engaged seriously with the issues, aware that Europe is at a critical time in its history. I was invited to speak first in the dialogue session, and my speech is below.

My contribution began with an exchange with Mr. Timmermans. “I appreciate the irony in me, as a post-Brexit Brit being invited to speak about European values”, I said. He answered: “We would love you to stay”. “I would love to stay too”, I answered, “the problem is that 52% of my compatriots want to leave.” And so….

“It is evident that we face a re-birth of nationalism. This is a reality expressed in Brexit, in nationalist governments in Austria, Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. Following the 2008 banking crisis, the migration crisis, and the effects of globalization people have felt their governments have not taken proper care of them: they have felt forgotten, left-behind, lacking control. So nationalism has become our new reality.

This means, at least, that any debate about ‘values’ at a European level must be matched by debates at national levels. It means we have to encourage and propagate national values which promote the common good in contrast to a fearful, inward-looking stance that is expressed in mistrust of the foreigner.

But we also have to recognize that the kinds of values that have real moral force do not emerge from central, technocratic decree. They come from histories of interaction and from stories. And above all in Europe they come from the stories of the Judeao-Christian tradition.

As it happens, these stories are rich in concern for the alien, the foreigner and the stranger – all the way from Abraham unknowingly entertaining angels to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

The founding fathers of the EU drew heavily on Catholic Social Teaching. In a recent lecture in Paris, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the vision and values of Europe in the 21st century need to be catholic with a small ‘c’ – that is flexible, comprehensive, inclusive. He suggested four principal values. These are:

  • Subsidiarity: the recognition that Europe is a complex array of cultures and nations shaped by multiple stories, where loyalties and virtues are most often developed and displayed at lower levels.
  • Solidarity: a sense of togetherness between richer and poorer parts of our continent, with an especial concern for the alien and the stranger.
  • Gratuity, or what Pope Benedict called ‘grace in action’: a recognition that people are not merely consumers with powers of economic exchange but citizens who are made in the image of God.
  • Creativity: a sense of thankfulness for the remarkable transformation of life which Europe has achieved for its citizens over the last 60 years.

These are values which are inclusive, life-giving and which could inspire Europeans of all nationalities in the pursuit of the common good and in the building of our common European home.”

Was the meeting worthwhile? Very much so. Just getting senior religious leaders together in this way is a visible demonstration of the positive contribution of religion to European life and our desire to work together. There were several good ideas suggested. For example, the Commission could organize a gathering of young religious representatives to consider how to engage disillusioned young people. There could be a training session for religious Communications Officers so that together they could devise strategies for countering religious extremism in social media. And there was widespread agreement on the importance of improving religious literacy.

At the end of the meeting, one of the translators said enthusiastically to me: “That was the most interesting meeting I have attended here for the last two or three years!” This kind of open dialogue between the EU’s top people and religious leaders is honest, candid and refreshing. It is an exercise that I would love to see imitated by some of our national governments.