THE new Archdeacon of France, the Ven. Meurig Williams, has urged France and French Christians to face up to the “political and cultural crisis over the place of religion”.
In a sermon during a Eucharist in Paris St George’s to welcome him to the post, Archdeacon Williams said that the economic and social divisions in France had brought out a “deep-rooted bewilderment at the core of France’s sense of itself”.
The influx of migrants and refugees in recent years had placed strain on France’s constitutional concept of laïcité, which separates religion and the state. “The menacing image of two muscular police officers, instructing a diminutive Muslim woman to remove her burkini on the beach at Cannes in the summer, has become an iconic expression of the uneasiness underscoring these differences,” Archdeacon Williams said.
Anglicans in France needed to make sure that they were at the heart of an urgent public debate over what contribution faith communities could make to ensuring that France remained a cohesive society, he said.
A good place to start would be considering how Anglican worship in France could look outward, towards those whose needs were not being met by the current “preferred style”.
“The international character of many of our churches is one way of ensuring that we don’t sink into a comfortable cultural myopia,” he said.
After the tragedy of terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, and elsewhere, France was now more open to faith in the public square, Archdeacon Williams said. This was both a challenge and an opportunity for the 83 Anglican congregations across France within the diocese in Europe.
Archdeacon Williams, a fluent French-speaker, was previously the Archdeacon of North-West Europe, and before that served in the Church in Wales.
He said that his sermon was inspired by the now infamous words scribbled onto a notepad being carried into a Brexit meeting Downing Street, which were spotted by photographers: “French likely to be most difficult.”
Last week, clergy and lay representatives from the Diocese in Europe met Government officials to express their fears and concerns about the UK’s departure from the EU (News, 27 January).
In the House of Commons, MPs spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday debating the EU (Notification on Withdrawal) Bill, which would allow the Government to make a formal notification to the European Union through Article 50 and begin the process of extricating Britain.
With both the Conservatives and Labour backing the Bill with a three-line whip, the vote was in the Government’s favour, and the Bill was passed on Wednesday by a margin of 494 votes to 114.
On Thursday, the Brexit Secretary David Davis published a White Paper expanding on Mrs May's speech last month setting out how the Government hopes to conduct the Brexit negotiations (News, 20 January). The 77-page document stated that MPs must introduce separate legislation concerning new immigration and customs systems after the UK leaves the EU.