Blessings, prayers, and best wishes to everyone reading this: those who live and work in the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, the many people in a surprising number of countries who are interested in us, and anyone encountering us for the first time. We’re pretty unusual, to the point of uniqueness, yet at the same time I think we could be on the way to being how a diocese ought to be.
The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf serves the people of ten political jurisdictions. Our worshippers are of a wide range of nationalities. In Iraq virtually all were born in the country and are citizens but elsewhere we’re mostly expatriates. Or should that be migrant workers? In popular usage there’s something of a class or at least an economic distinction that is made between those two terms. Yet every Nepalese or Pakistani labourer, and every Sri Lankan or Filipina maid, is an expatriate, with a proud personal and family history and a culture and a heritage deriving from another land; while very many who normally and quite correctly describe themselves as expatriates – from Britain, America, South Africa, India, and elsewhere – are also and in fact migrant workers: they’ve moved to this or that country, far from their own, to work.
It’s humbling that both rich and poor and middling, all migrant working expatriates, are to be found together in the majority of our congregations, along with those who have migrated in order to retire, in countries where that is permitted. Also strongly present in our congregations, in some places forming the backbone of church life, are those who moved because the one they share, or shared, their life with got a job here. It’s a rich mix.
How else are we distinctive?
- We’re on the cusp of East and West.
- In nine of the ten jurisdictions we serve, Muslims are hugely in the majority.
- In none of the jurisdictions are we in any sense an Established Church; on the contrary, we’re a Christian tradition among several.
- As Anglicans and especially in the countries of Arabia and the Gulf, we’re looked to for practical hospitality by Christian groups with fewer connections: rooms to rent for worship, advocacy and help and advice.
- English is our main language, even though for many of us it’s not our native speech. Yet there is also Anglican worship in Arabic, Urdu, and Aramaic, and more besides; and, in the services of the huge number of guest congregations using our premises, a thousand tongues.
- Finally it needs to be said that several of our countries, and our Middle East region certainly, are under the spotlight of world attention, and what happens in the area we serve may affect universal history.
I said we COULD be on the way to being how a diocese ought to be…
To get there, the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf needs to see all the features on our landscape for what they are: God-given opportunities, and blessings not burdens. Serving ten jurisdictions is eye-opening, not confusing, and a call to use our intelligence and expand our knowledge. Being multi-national should stiffen our resolve to combat racism and challenge narrow prejudice, both inside and outside church life. Living close to blatant evidence of the yawning gap between the poor and the rest of society ought to fire us up for mission service. The fact that some of us are working for money and others are retired can sharpen a Christian understanding of what gives value to human beings.
Being in the East but right next to the West, and having as neighbours Muslims in some places and Eastern Christians, especially Orthodox, in others, is a heaven-sent chance to get behind stereotypes and challenge assumptions by gaining personal experience and friendships. Not being given automatic superiority as Anglicans should stop us behaving as if we were superior, and start us off on a journey of real ecumenical learning. Finding ourselves called to hospitality, we must make sure our relationship is truly that of hosts to guests and not simply commercial.
And living in the region where God was made flesh and Christ lived and died and rose for the whole of the universe, we have a duty and a joy to tell out that truth and good news, and transcend petty disputes and mundane worries, however absorbing and real they feel, in sheer delight at being where and who we are.