Seeing is believing
MY ECCLESIASTICAL barque has never moved out of the ocean that is the Province of Canterbury. After crossing the sees of Southwark, London, and Chichester, I had expected to see out my days in St Albans. Instead, much to my surprise, I am now a resident of Paris, with permission to officiate in the diocese in Europe, where Anglican life has become doubly difficult.
Exiting the European Union, with the added complication of Covid, means that sourcing clergy to offer cover, let alone take up a permanent position, has become a nightmare. Spare a thought and a prayer for the newish Archdeacon of France, who has to function from Leicestershire. Getting across the Channel to reside in his new archdeaconry is proving an enormous struggle. Zooming has come to his rescue, but it’s not the same as a real archdeacon on your doorstep. If that’s not a prospect that quickens the heart . . .
Ties that bind
HERE in Paris, however, we have had a real live visit from our diocesan Bishop, Dr Robert Innes. It was his first time outside Belgium for 16 months, since Covid restrictions came into force; in Belgium, they seem to have been more draconian than elsewhere. Dr Innes, with his wife, Helen, came to St George’s, Paris, to license my partner, Jeffrey John (formerly Dean of St Albans), as the new associate chaplain.
The expansion of the teaching ministry of St George’s, the creation of a group for those exploring their vocation to licensed ministry and ordination, another for 20- to 35-year-olds, and a more general Inquirers Group for those interested in baptism and/or confirmation, are just a few of the things that the Bishop was able to help celebrate on his visit. But what really raised the spirits of the congregation was the return of a glass of wine after the Sunday-morning sung eucharist.
While wine does make a difference, the reality is that people were overjoyed to be able to hang around with masks off and chat to one another, when months had gone by since they were able to do just that. Who would have thought, before Covid, that something so ordinary would become a rarity?
Now we’re learning anew what are the things that make a difference to living life inside and outside the Church, and it’s not Fresh Expressions, but the old expressions of affection and friendship. I promise not to take them for granted again.
MIND you, I have had my own little “fresh expression”, here in Paris. The lot fell to me, as an honorary assistant at St George’s, to represent the chaplaincy at an event in the Scots Kirk, Paris, celebrating the life of the Tartan Pimpernel: the Revd Donald Caskie, who was that church’s minister from 1935 to 1960.
His attacks on the Nazi regime from the pulpit had become more and more virulent, putting him in great danger. Although he could have returned to England, he had a profound sense that his duty was to stay in France and do what he could.
He escaped from Paris, and made his way to Marseille, where he moved into the Seamen’s Mission and created a place of respite and spiritual aid for the Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen, who would arrive in secret from northern occupied France, often by night, starving, frozen, and sometimes injured. Of the 3000 men exfiltrated from France, it is estimated that 2000 were rescued by the minister.
Caskie was twice betrayed, held in seven successive prisons in cruel and inhumane conditions, and, eventually, sentenced to death. For seven weeks, he awaited the firing squad. At the intervention of Hans Peters, another minister, the sentence was commuted to imprisonment, and Donald lived to tell his story.
Now, there’s a fine plaque in his memory outside the Scots Kirk. If you’re ever in Paris, make it a place of pilgrimage, and tie a flower to the ring below it as you say a prayer of thanksgiving for this quiet, courageous man, who saved so many lives. His story deserves a wider audience.
Auld and new
ST GEORGE’s, Paris also supports the chaplaincy in Caen. I’ve now been to Caen three times; most recently, I took a poster board displaying photos of the Scots Kirk’s big day, of the French dignitaries resplendent in their tricoleur sashes, and expat Scotsmen resplendent in their kilts. Who cares that the temperature was about 30°C?
Making the poster board wasn’t so much an interdenominational PR stunt as a celebration of the crossovers that happen in anglophone foreign chaplaincies.
One of the speakers at the Kirk event was a Frenchman, married to a Scot. They have family in Caen, and worship at the chaplaincy when there. They are proof of the breadth of community served by the Anglican chaplaincy in Caen, which is multi-racial, multi-denominational, covers a wide age-range and an even wider area, and — like St George’s— is looking to the future.
We have committed ourselves to an 11.30-a.m. service — usually a eucharist — each Sunday (except in August), and are putting together a team of seven priests, male and female, to secure this. We’re looking for ways to raise our profile and get a bit of publicity. I think you may just have read our first piece.
The Revd Grant Holmes is an hon. assistant priest at St George’s, Paris.