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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