Like so many in the UK, Europe and across the world, I awoke today to the news of the outcome of the Referendum with deep sadness. As a Scot with background in Burma and Canada and who serves the Church of England as a bishop I have been immensely proud of my red EU passport and feel such regret that the UK electorate has voted the way it has.
Our Diocese in Europe is part of the Church of England, but it is wholeheartedly a European Church. Our responsibility as a diaspora jurisdiction is to serve English-speaking and Anglican Christians from around the world who make our beloved European continent (plus Morocco and Turkey) their home. Our clergy will now take seriously their ministry to members of our churches, particularly to those UK passport holders who may now be filled with worry about their life on the continent, the future of health care, their pension provision, the right of residence, their freedom to work and study, and perhaps also anxious about the future of children and grandchildren whose place within the world’s largest free-trade and economic area is now far less certain. Our pastoral care and accompaniment is offered to them as a matter of priority.
Our clergy and lay leaders will no doubt be asked for explanations by our sister and brother Christians and our European neighbours among whom we live. We will wish to reassure them that the UK referendum result is not a rejection of them, their nations, cultures, gifts, hospitality and generosity. It was a political decision and certainly not an ecclesial one. Now we will need to redouble our efforts to demonstrate our commitment to the common good, rejecting narrow nationalism and selfish individualism. Our alliances, covenants, commitments and unity agreements with sister European Churches will be all the more important now so that we can demonstrate our solidarity and communion as Christians together on the continent. For as Christians we are committed to the unity of all people.
With great shame the UK may have initiated a possible domino effect in the EU in general, fragile as it is in these days, as right wing parties may now feel inspired to seek a similar path to the UK decision. (Indeed the beginning of the dismantling of the EU itself is what Mr Nigel Farage himself has expressly wished). But we will want make clear to our neighbours and friends that such a wish is very far indeed from the position of UK folk who live in other EU countries, who find there a welcoming home.
The Church of England is a European Church. St Alban our first martyr was a Roman soldier. Our first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, was from Italy, The list of our Archbishops includes such luminaries as St Theodore of Tarsus, St Anselm, Lanfranc, and even more recently Rowan Williams, all Europeans from outside England. The Church of England is a member of the Conference of European Churches, and indeed a Church of England Bishop, Christopher Hill, is its President. Our liturgy, tradition, canon law and schools of prayer and spirituality are rooted in the Latin tradition of the Western European Church. Even the Reformation which coloured our own development was a European phenomenon. All this will not change as a result of 23 June, but remain our precious shared gifts with other European Christians, our common heritage, and an inheritance which unites us.
As Christians we are a Pentecost people. The unity of nations and peoples is part of our vision of the new society, the kingdom of God, which we work to reveal, that vision which is poetically summed up in a canticle we recite in Common Worship Daily Prayer:
You are worthy, O Lamb, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe, and language and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God.So this Diocese in Europe, as a Christian family, will continue to be a European family, working, worshipping and witnessing alongside our sister European Churches and with them serving and loving our neighbour. We remain a European Church which serves all people. Let us resolve to be even more faithful to this calling, with the help of God.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of Europe, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and prejudice and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.