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Restored church near Antarctica holds ‘first service in its 105-year history’

11 May 2018

The Rector of the Falkland Islands, the Revd Nicholas Mercer

The Rector of the Falkland Islands, the Revd Nicholas Mercer

A SERVICE from the Book of Common Prayer has been held in a restored whaler’s church on South Georgia, close to Antarctica.

The Prayer Book Society believes that it could be the first in the church’s 105-year history, and the most southerly BCP service ever held, although the church did host the funeral of the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, and whose grave lies there. Shackleton died of a heart attack while his vessel was anchored off Grytviken in 1922.

But the church, at Grytviken, was built by Norwegians, and was handed over to the UK only in 2013. In bad repair, it has needed much restoration work.

The new Rector of the Falkland Islands, the Revd Nicholas Mercer (News, 17 November), visited part of his parish with the Governor of the Falkland Islands and Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Nigel Phillips.

Mr Mercer said that he could not say for sure whether there had been a Prayer Book service held further south. “Did Shackleton or Scott have the BCP with them on their trips to the Pole? It could be that BCP has been used on a royal vessel further south, or, indeed, at the British Antarctic Survey in Antarctica.

“In any event, South Georgia is very remote and very far south, and it was a joy to hear Cranmer’s words on this remote and almost uninhabited island.”

About 22 people attended the service — the entire population of the island and the passengers on the governor’s ship Pharos.

There are currently just ten people on South Georgia, as it is winter on the island, but the tiny congregation is still marking the Archbishops’ initiative Thy Kingdom Come by saying Evening Prayer each day between Ascension and Pentecost.

Mr Mercer, a former chief legal officer for the British army during the 2003 Iraq war, left the army in 2011 to enter ordained ministry, and spent a period of his training in a placement in Stanley, the capital of the Islands.

His new parish is not part of any Anglican Province, but is designated as “extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury”.

Mr Mercer said that he loved the Islands for their “solitude and vast open spaces” and — as a “fishing priest” — for the world-class trout-fishing.

Grytviken is a former whaling station that was founded in 1904, and was once home to 300 men. The church is located at latitude -54.2856124709862 S.

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