The following is the text of the address to the Association of Friends given by Bishop Michael at the Diocesan Celebration Eucharist and Annual General Meeting of the Association of Friends of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf held at All Hallows by the Tower on 5 August 2013.
Knowing that the Association of Friends remembers, prays for, and pays focused attention to the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf makes a difference. So often, it’s an uphill struggle to explain even to fellow Anglicans how a diocese can be bigger than a country, in our case enormously bigger. It comes as a shock to many when they hear that Christianity is alive and well in places they’d thought solely Muslim. Then to hear just how many Christians worship every week in Anglican premises and on Anglican compounds leaves them incredulous. And they’re taken aback at the long list of nations that churchgoers in Cyprus and the Gulf come from. But you’re not. Many of you have experience of how and who we have been and are, and all of you know we’re unique.
Sometimes even our fellow Anglicans in the region have difficulty grasping us. It’s affecting to know that many in the Dioceses of Jerusalem and Egypt come from indigenous families that have been Christian since virtually the beginning of our faith, even as it’s vital to pray for their continued presence in times of unrest, discrimination, injustice, and even persecution in some of the countries those dioceses serve: Palestine and Egypt themselves; the Lebanon; Syria; and more. In our other sister diocese in the Province it’s slightly different: the Diocese of Iran suffers because those who faithfully persist in the practice of Anglican churchgoing are indeed Iranian – Persian – through and through, yet at the same time are largely from families that once were not Christian but intentionally embraced our religion. Still, in the majority of the countries served by the three other dioceses, Anglican worshippers are citizens and natives of the lands they live in, and mostly ours aren’t.
Yet we must remind all these, our fellow Anglicans in the Province and beyond, that to be an expatriate, and to be a migrant, is not to be less authentic. Where would the faith be without those Old Testament migrant expatriates Abraham, and Jacob and Joseph, and Moses and Aaron, and Ezekiel? And virtually every one of the Twelve Apostles left the land of their birth. How would All Hallows be here without the international Christian wanderers of Rome and the Empire – and St Albans, and Caerleon, and Iona, and Canterbury, and York, and Winchester? Our host this morning is an expatriate migrant, even if from just across La Manche. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian wherever you’re a Christian. You might say that to be a travelling believer is historically the norm and that Cyprus and the Gulf is a modern reminder of an old truth.
The Association of Friends know that. So thank you, to chairman, secretary, committee, members, and all who’ve honoured us by coming this year to join in the gathering and the celebration. The eucharist will offer and lift all this up to God.
We’re not, as a diocese, untroubled ourselves. No one quite predicted how the Republic of Cyprus, from being a safe, sequestered byway of the European Union, would turn into a byword for punitive fiscal stringency. Its citizens are still smarting from the shock and, in some ways, the dishonour.
More painfully, Bahraini society’s deep divisions remain on public view, and Yemeni politics revolve as much as ever around tribe, history both ancient and modern, and regional and provincial allegiance. Iraq, south of the Kurdish region, is still on a rack partly of others’ and partly of its own making. Civil freedoms in the land served by our Canterbury Group are as always locked down because of its rulers’ fear of the power of bigoted religious zealotry. Kuwait’s version of parliamentary governance or even self-expression remains fractious. Even the Emirates know the possibility of conspiracy to overthrow the existing order. In an interesting counterpoint, the abdication by the Emir of Qatar in favour of his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani was both surprising and smooth.
Church life continues resolutely and in most places vigorously. In the Archdeaconry of Cyprus, a new priest has been appointed and will begin work in the autumn in Kyrenia. The Revd Wendy Hough is the first female incumbent in the diocese. In the south east of the island an experienced ordained bishop’s missioner, Canon Paul Maybury, will guide the new church plant of St John the Evangelist in Deryneia while at the same time having the role of developing spirituality more widely as a colleague to Maggie LeRoy. The process of finding new ministerial leadership in Paphos is underway. Ken Wiseman, a Reader of the diocese, has succeeded Canon Marvin Bamforth as Mission to Seafarers chaplain to the ports of Cyprus. St Lazarus Pissouri, worshipping at the village amphitheatre, has made an excellent start as a congregation within the parish or chaplaincy of Limassol, and at St Barnabas itself the building of a further physical extension to the church to increase capacity for increased numbers has begun in faith: all support for that project will be gratefully received. The Revd Simon Holloway, the incumbent of what is now Christ Church Ayia Napa, is the inspiration behind an imaginative touring musical drama telling the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus with its Cypriot resonances: involvement and support for this venture too will be welcome. More generally, parishes such as Nicosia and Larnaca are taking seriously the many needy people, both Cypriots and others, who must live frugally and buy wisely. Finally, in Famagusta the music and fervour of worship, in a mainly but not exclusively student congregation, is exemplary.
In the Archdeaconry of the Gulf, the Canterbury Group is seeking a new Rector after the retirement of the Revd Wally Schilling. St Martin Sharjah, led until June by the resourceful Ernest Victor, has been transformed in appearance, and a new priest, the Revd John Chapman, from this Diocese of London, who happens to be married to a priest, begins in September. Arriving in post during the past year is the Revd Andrew Tucker, now at Fujairah. Within that wider Dubai team parish, a new church plant is trying a venture in mission at Academic City. To the south-west, the compound of St Andrew Abu Dhabi has been taking on a very new look and expansion has been achieved by building upwards. Real moves are underway to start developing the allocated new compound at Musaffah. Meanwhile in Al Ain numbers in the congregation dedicated to St Thomas, currently meeting at the golf club, have grown greatly and land has been requested to construct a church. There has been building yet again at Ruwi in Muscat, where the PCO have overseen a very large project to refresh and expand space for worship and meeting. In Kuwait the Revd Harrison Chinnakumar is giving clear direction as the church concentrates on St Paul Ahmadi and determines its priorities.
In Baghdad, the special relief and reconciliation work made possible by Canon White’s Foundation exists alongside more normal aspects of parochial life. Fr Fa’iz Jerjees and his wife Nawal are devoted to fostering and developing St George’s, and its early-years school is proving popular with parents. In Aden, the Revd Peter and Mrs Nancy Crooks have been as inspirational as ever in extended periods of resident interim ministry. The Aden Council of Reference will meet at Christ Church Tawahi in early November to plan for the future.
Finally, one remarkable project, which for long seemed to have slipped beyond achievability, is due to come to full flowering with a liturgy of consecration on Michaelmas Day: the Anglican Centre and Church of the Epiphany, Doha. Costs of construction in Qatar have been very great. Even greater has been the effort to resuscitate the plans, modify them, motivate others to believe in them, and see them through, in a country bidding fair to rival any in the region for unimaginative and unconnected bureaucracy. The whole congregation, many donors known and anonymous, the dedicated professionals, volunteers, and employees, and most certainly Archdeacon Bill and Mrs Edith Schwartz, will rejoice at reaching the milestone, while aware that the work of mission by praise, presence, and service to humanity has only just begun.
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