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Restoring Wiesbaden church is inappropriate, says Bishop

21 February 2014


Facing closure: St Augustine of Canterbury, Wiesbaden

Facing closure: St Augustine of Canterbury, Wiesbaden

IT SURVIVED an RAF bomb in 1945 and a devastating fire in the 1960s, but today the English Church in Wiesbaden, Germany, stands on the brink of closure.

The Church of St Augustine of Canterbury is part of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. The building is now owned by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, after the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, wrote to Bishop Chartres last month, returning the church to him.

The Bishop in charge of the Convocation, the Rt Revd Pierre Whalon, has urged the congregation to "move on", highlighting the financial challenges that face it. Last week, he spoke of an estimate for repairs to the building of €500,000 over the next ten to 15 years. Repairs required immediately would cost €50,000.

"Is this a wise course for a congregation of 150 people, to work to spend such large sums to sustain a building they do not own, an effort that would leave so little for ministry and for outreach initiatives?" he said. "Is it appropriate to direct most of St Augustine's financial resources to the maintenance of a building at the expense of our clear and compelling mission as the Church of Jesus Christ?"

In a letter to the congregation last month, he wrote: "Instead of sinking lots of money into stone, imagine what you could do for yourselves and everyone around you if you were free of this constant anxiety. . . Raising millions for an inadequate building is irrational."

Members of the congregation remain firmly opposed to leaving the building. Hilary Norman, who lives in Britain, attended the church's annual general meeting in Wiesbaden on 8 February. She said that more than 80 people had attended the "passionate" meeting.

"There was an overwhelming desire to stay in the church," she said. "We have been fund-raising in the past, and we will continue. We are all very passionate about it, and all the people who spoke all love the church. . . It's not just about bricks and mortar. I have seen so many emails from former members saying 'This is our spiritual home.'"

On Tuesday of last week, a statement from the office of Bishop Chartres said that, "in concert with the diocese in Europe, [he] will be consulting local interested parties and taking advice from the municipal authorities before identifying a way ahead".

St Augustine's was built in 1863 in response to requests from British people visiting the spa waters at Wiesbaden. After the Second World War, it was used as a military chapel by American forces personnel, who continued to make up a large part of the congregation in the subsequent decades.

It joined the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe in 1992.


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