to Bishop David's blog. Here you can find news, information, articles and pictures about the Church of England Diocese in Europe. We have over 300 congregations or worship centres serving Anglican and (mostly) English-speaking people in Europe, Morocco, Turkey, Russia and some central Asian countries.

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Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ecumenical history made in Palermo

Not only is Holy Cross Church, Palermo, one of the architectural beauties in our diocese, it is also a place of active ecumenical and interfaith engagement. Excellent relations are maintained with the Roman Catholics, Waldensians and Orthodox, as well as with representatives of Muslim and Jewish communities. 

On 7 November, I believe that ecumenical history may have been made when the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Palermo, Corrado Lorefice, preached the sermon at the installation of the new Chaplain of Holy Cross, the Revd Dr James Hadley. Certainly this is a first in this diocese and in the Church of England itself it may well be unprecedented for a Roman Catholic Archbishop to take such a significant role in the installation of an Anglican parish priest! 

Many other local clergy were present for the mass, including the Orthodox Archimandrite for Southern Italy, representing Metropolitan Policarpo of Italy.

The depth of ecumenical commitment was further demonstrated when Monsignor Lorefice gave Fr James a gift to mark the occasion. The nature of the gift was very significant: a chalice and paten. 

Fr James, the new priest, with his mother

Monday, 22 November 2021

Sant'Alberto di Trapani community celebrates 5 years

The indigenisation of Church of England life can be clearly be seen in the community of Sant'Alberto di Trapani in Randazzo, Sicily, a congregation which has recently celebrated its 5th anniversary. Saint Alberto di Trapani was a Carmelite priest in Sicily who died in 1307. He was known for his making himself poor in order to maintain a friendship and connection to the poor he served. The spirit of Sant'Alberto can be felt in this fledgling Anglican community in Randazzo, which, under the guidance of their priest, Fr Giovanni La Rosa, is seeking to be a place of friendship and service to all, especially the marginalised. The congregation uses very humble rented premises, but the place is filled with the beauty and love of a Christian community. 

The celebration on 6 November was close to the Italian Day of National Unity and the Armed Forces, which commemorates the end of WWI for Italy. So many members of the Bersaglieri veterans, a special sharpshooter infantry group within the Italian military, were present for commemorative ceremonies after the mass. They added to the local flair of the occasion with their distinctive hats adorned with black capercaillie feathers!  

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

On the road again

Casablanca: St John the Evangelist

I often say to the congregations of the Diocese that the most important thing I do as a bishop is make new disciples and strengthen existing ones through the sacraments of initiation. In the Church of England it is a norm that the bishop presides at the baptism of adults, so that at the one liturgy the fulness of the initiation sacraments can be celebrated, as indeed they once were in the ancient Church: baptism, confirmation (or chrismation/laying on of hands) and Holy Communion. Those are very special and powerful moments indeed. 

Oslo: St Edmund's

But more frequently, my episcopal visits involve confirmations alone for those baptised in infancy, confirmation being the one part of Christian Initiation which has been reserved to bishops in the tradition of the Church of England. But even when separated in time from baptism, the sacrament of confirmation is understood to be a continuance of what has begun in baptism, celebrating what the Holy Spirit has gently unfolded in the Christian's life, and praying God's grace to strengthen the disciple's life in Christ.     

Helsinki: St Nicholas's

As we all know, one of the dimensions of Church life that has been restricted, sadly, during these times of the COVID19 pandemic has been the sacramental life itself. In many communities across the diocese people have been waiting patiently for it to be safe (and legal) once again to gather to celebrate the sacraments, including those who have been prepared for confirmation. 

Madrid: St George's

It is now possible to travel, with due precautions, to many countries, and so September and October have been busy months, "catching up" in many cases with those celebrations. Joyful gatherings these past weeks have been held in Casablanca, Oslo, Helsinki and Madrid. 

Episcopal hands become quite slippery with the combination of Chrism and sanitizing gel, but the sacramental rite, which requires the physical laying on of hands, is happening once again. Praise God.

Monday, 11 October 2021

Nordic Baltic Deanery celebrates 25 years of Porvoo Agreement

This is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Porvoo Agreement which brought Churches of Lutheran and Anglican tradition in the British Isles, Ireland and the Nordic and Baltic states into communion. The Nordic and Baltic Deanery which met in Finland decided to mark this silver jubilee with a special pilgrimage to Porvoo itself, to celebrate a festive mass in the Cathedral, together with the Bishop of Porvoo, the Rt Revd Dr Åstrand and members of the chapter of the cathedral. 

Archdeacon Leslie Nathaniel preaching at the Porvoo Cathedral

Bishop Bo-Göran assisting with Holy Communion

Our own Archdeacon of Germany and Northern Europe, the Very Revd Dr Leslie Nathaniel was the preacher. Fr Leslie is a former Anglican Co-Secretary of the Porvoo Contact Group. He was able to place this historic agreement among Northern European Churches within the wider context of the journey of Christians to fuller unity, including the ground-breaking estabishment of the Church of South India in 1947, the Church into which he was ordained.

Synod members with Bishop Bo-Göran (picture courtesy of Linus Stråhlman)

Bishop Bo-Göran then hosted the members of the Deanery to a dinner in his official residence, an event which included a recital of traditional songs from Finland and in particular the Swedish speaking peoples of Finland, which make up the Diocese of Porvoo (Borgå, in Swedish).

The Synod was pleased to be able to highlight this anniversary. The Porvoo Agreement opens up so many doors for Anglicans in the Nordic and Baltic states. Many of the clergy serving our Church of England chaplaincies are priests from one of the Lutheran Churches. 25 years after the official inauguration of our relations of full communion, we realise we still have much we can do together with our Lutheran partners, in making the sacramental communion we share more visible in our life and work.

Our Lady and Child, in Porvoo Cathedral

We are alive! The voice from the Nordic Baltic Synod

The former prison, now Hotel Katajanokka

In these days when "setting God's people free" is a phrase used in Church of England programmes, the Synod of the Nordic and Baltic Deanery met in a place which was a prison from 1749 to 2002! Katajanokka reopened as a hotel in 2007 and provided a very congenial venue for the clergy and laity from Iceland to Estonia to meet for prayer, deliberation, decision and community from 7 to 10 October. Far from feeling imprisoned, the Synod was a time when we felt a liberation from the necessary contraints of the past year and a half.

As it was the first of any synod gatherings in the Diocese to meet physically since the start of the pandemic, there was much to catch up on together. (A few members did participate by zoom). Clergy and laity shared much of what has been learned in the past 18 months, including, obviously, how services but also educational work such as confirmation preparation and certain kinds of meetings such as Church Council can be conducted online, how there is a greater awareness of the vulnerable in our communities and how creative ways of continuing routine activities can be explored, such as Youth Club in the forest. 

Clergy of the Deanery in solidarity with climate activists

We also have emerged from lockdown with a greater awareness of the environmental challenges facing our planet and how our Church life must adjust to help us address this emergency. The clergy had an unexpected opportunity to stand in solidarity with a group of Finnish people witnessing outside one of the government buildings to the urgency of the climate emergency, a moment of joint witness which was appreciated by the demonstrators. 

So, many good things have happened during the lockdowns, but nevertheless there was a widespread feeling of how much in community life of the Church has suffered. Everyone commented on the joy of being able to gather physically for the synod; the sense of thanksgiving was palpable. 

Fr Amos (2nd from right) leads forward in hopeful song!

Fr Amos Manga of the White Nile congregation in Finland summed up much of what was on our minds and hearta by saying "God has been at work in this coronavirus time. We have learnd about fear and how to overcome it, and pondered once again on life, death, importance of community and the dangers of isolated individualism". He concluded with the hopeful words, "We are alive!"

Archdeacon Nathaniel, Dr Tomi Karttunen and Bishop Matti Repo

Several visitors joined the Synod from our sister Evangelical Lutheran Church in  Finland, including the Revd Dr Tomi Karttunen, the Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Theology, the Revd Aaro Rytkönen who now works as Director of the Ala Amana Centre in Oman working on peace and reconciliation with people of faith, and the Rt Revd Matti Repo, the Bishop of Tampere and Lutheran Co-Chairman of the Porvoo Contact Group. Speaking about the Porvoo Agreement in this the 25th anniversary year, Bishop Matti challenged us to move forward in our common life, warning that "it is easy to remain as we are, depite the agreements shared". 

The Deanery Clergy - only one person born in England

The Nordic Baltic Deanery is a wonderfully diverse one. Only one of our clergy present was actually born in England. Worship in the deanery is held in Urdu and Arabic as well as English, and multilingual community life is growing as young people especially are increasingly more proficient in the national language such as Finnish rather than in English. Canon Smitha Prasadam, the chaplain of St Alban's Copenhagen, in a bible study she led, reminded us nevertheless that "the universal mother tongue is the praise of God".  

It is an exciting and creative time to be an Anglican in this region! 

Canon Smitha Prasadam (2nd from left) with the other 3 Asian clergy at the synod

Friday, 24 September 2021

Civic recognition, ecumenical warmth, and joyful noise mark the blessing of the extended Church in Casablanca

It is not very often in the Church of England that we have to expand a church building in order to accommodate a growing worshipping congregation.  The fact that this should also happen in a country which is officially Muslim adds to the rarity of such an occasion. That is precisely what has happened in St John the Evangelist Church in Casablanca.

Canon Medhat Sabry

St John's has been home to Anglicans and other English speaking foreign Christians since 1906. In recent years the numbers of Christian migrants from all over the world has increased in this, the largest city in Morocco. Under the then Chaplain of St John's, the Revd Canon Dr Medhat Sabry, a plan was developed to build a community centre as a first phase, which was opened 2 years ago. The next phase was the extension of the actual church building, including the construction of a balcony, to be able to almost double the capacity for attendance at services. The historic church is considered to be part of the patrimony of the city of Casablanca, so great care was taken to preserve its character, in and out. 

Churchwardens Dawn (l) and Candice with Headserver Frank

Canon Medhat is now the Chaplain of St George's Madrid, but remains the Area Dean of Morocco and the Canary Islands, and was able to return to witness the dedication of the new, extended building. It was a joy to welcome Canon Medhat back to Casablanca to see the fruit of much of his efforts. Alongside him were Fr Virgilio Fernandez, a priest from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente who is the locum priest in St John's (thanks to support from USPG) and Fr Dennis Obidiegwu, the Chaplain of St Andrew's in Tangier. Among the growing sector of the congregation in St John's are Filipino migrants, hence the appointment of a Filipino priest to assist with the care for this community.

(L to R) Fr Dennis (Tangier), Fr Medhat, Cardinal Lopez, +D, Fr Virgilio (Casablanca)

The dedicatiom of the extension happened over two days last weekend. On Saturday 19 September the civic ceremony was held when we could give thanks to the collaboration we have received from the Moroccan authorities to be able to implement our plans. Among the dignitaries in attendance were HE the Governor of the Prefecture of Casablanca, the Colonel of the Moroccan Armed Forces Auxilliary for the region, members of the Moroccan architectural/project team and Heads of Mission and other diplomats from the UK, US and Liberian Embassies.

One of the more famous parishioners at St John's was General George Patten of the US Army (pictured below), who commended much of the Mediterranean theatre in WWII from Casablanca. He gave a new pulpit as a gift to the Church.

HE Cardinal Cristobal Lopez, the Archbishop of Rabat, and a close friend of Anglicans in Morocco made a keynote address at the official ceremony, noting the good news when a Christian community has to enlarge its premises. Speaking in French, he said: 

"In recent years numerous persons have arrived in Morocco from many African countries; among them are Christians who seek to join us and who give life, joy, enthusiasm and rhythm to our communities. This is a reason for us to give thanks to God, who sends us brothers and sisters, so we do not have to go looking for them!"

He reminded us that it is not the number of Christians that count, but the quality of our life, how we respond to the questions we face at the last examination by Christ, when he asks when we saw him hungry and fed him, thirsty and gave him to drink, naked and clothed him and sick and in prison and visited him. The Cardinal also challenged us that if we as Church can find the means and the funding to better our physical plant, "to care for dead stones", surely we can find what is necessary to assist the living stones who are our brothers and sisters.

On Sunday 19 September the celebrations continued, this time a Christian liturgy for the rehallowing of the Church, the blessing of new stained glass windows, and the baptism and confirmation of many new "living stones". 

The Sunday liturgy was lively, and colourful, beginning with a procession around the Church for the blessing of the building, African music, and general liturgical (and joyful) chaos! Absolutely splendid - a people's liturgy in the truest sense. 

A video of some of the service is below.

Some colourful living stones

2 of the 4 new windows dedicated

Friday, 30 July 2021

Both proud and humbled by the calling of our newly ordained

"Do you believe that God is calling you to this ministry?"

At the ordination of deacons and priests this question is solemnly asked of the ordinands who usually by this time are filled with a mixture of nervousness, joy and anticipation. In the past month and a half I have had the privilege of ordaining deacons and priests in St George's Madrid, All Saints Milan and Her Majesty's Chapel of the Savoy in London. The ordinands all answered the question with a resounding, "I do so believe".

In recent weeks, even as the Church of England has been celebrating ordinations in every diocese, there have been some voices raised which seem to question the need for the ordained. "Key limiting factors" was an expression used to describe them, which caused, rightly, some push-back. Surely these are times when priests and deacons are needed more than ever. 

So I am incredibly proud and humbled by the strong calling of these men and women who are ordained in this time of pandemic. Every ordination is a beautiful and memorable day in the life of the Church but these ordinations are historic, being celebrated in the midst of a global crisis. In my charge to the ordinands I said that some would say that these are difficult days to be taking on Holy Orders: not only is the pandemic still with us, but the world is convulsed with systemic racism and injustice, international order and good governance seems fragile, and the planet is heating up. But the ministry of deacons and priests is all the more vital in such times. These men and women are ordained to be signs of God's love, revealing to the world the values of God's kingdom: justice, compassion, love and peace.

These clergy ordained in the pandemic will carry with them in a very deep way their calling to be instruments of God's healing in a world which needs much rebuilding and reshaping. The Gospel they preach is one of hope which is not dimmed by pandemic or fear. And the heart of their ministry will be the liturgy of the Church, where, in the words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, they are "to be with God, with the people on [their] heart.”