The honorary Director of Lay Discipleship in the Diocese in Europe, Dr Clare Amos, reflects on the nature of the continent of Europe and the implications of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
“The Diocese in Europe is like the Anglican Communion in miniature”. That was a perceptive remark made a few years ago by the chaplain to the Suffragan Bishop in Europe. It has a great deal of truth.
I have now been a member of a church in the Church of England Diocese in Europe for seven years, since I moved to a small town in France near Geneva in 2011 to work for the World Council of Churches. One of the things that I have noticed and appreciated is how much more diverse our congregation in Geneva has become over these years, both in terms of ethnicity and the geographical origins of people. And that is also true, I believe, for many other churches of the Diocese in Europe.
Yes, there are still people like myself who have travelled here from that part of the Church of England based on the off-shore island (England!) and find ourselves living as Anglicans in continental Europe. But we are increasingly outnumbered by people who have come to Geneva from many countries of Africa and Asia – not to mention America, Australasia, and indeed other parts of Europe.
Many gravitate to our church of Holy Trinity because they were Anglicans in their homeland: in other cases it is our style of worship that they appreciate and relate to. I do think that the church in Geneva – and indeed the diocese as a whole – needs to work through some of the implications of our increasing diversity in a way that we have not quite done so far. But such diversity is definitely something to be celebrated and built on.
This diversity is already reflected in a diocesan venture that I have been involved with in recent years. Like several other dioceses in the Church of England we have developed a programme for young people called CEMES – the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme. This offers those who are thinking seriously about full time church ministry the opportunity to spend nearly a year working as an intern in one of our churches in a structured way which includes also theological, educational, spiritual and personal reflection facilitated by a team of volunteer mentors.
The geography of the diocese means that because the interns are working with different churches in different countries it is important to bring all of them together from time to time during the year for some intensive learning and team-building.
Due to the vision and hard work of William Gulliford, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands who set up the scheme four years ago, we have found ourselves meeting together in Rome, Lyon, Brussels, Cologne and the Holy Land. The majority of the interns who join us are young people who originate from Britain, but others have come from North America, Africa and different parts of Europe. In turn they seem to appreciate the diversity of the contexts in which they find themselves.
Most of those who have participated in the scheme are now working towards ordination. As an educational mentor, I have wanted to ensure that the participants in the scheme reflect seriously on Anglican identity. In continental Europe what it means to choose to be an Anglican is an intentional question which takes on more weight that it has had in England until recently. For these purposes I have drawn on a document called the “Signposts statement on the Anglican Way” that I helped to develop while working at the Anglican Communion Office a decade ago as Director of Theological Studies.
“Signposts” frames Anglican identity as being:
- Formed by Scripture
- Shaped through Worship
- Ordered for Communion
- Directed by God’s Mission
It has been gratifying to realise how useful “Signposts” is in helping people to grapple succinctly with the ideal charisms of the Anglican Way: it deserves to be better known. Part of its vision is certainly of an Anglican tradition which gives space for diversity in unity.
Such holding together of diversity and unity is part of my own personal passion. It has informed my spiritual journey, and many of the steps of my working life. Like many, perhaps most, though probably not all, Anglicans living in the Diocese in Europe, I am deeply grieved at the likely developments over the next few months which will see the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
This may well have practical consequences for my own life, and indeed for the corporate life of the Diocese in Europe, although at this stage it is not exactly clear what these will be. But the primary reason for my grief is that by taking this step the United Kingdom seems to be turning its back on that vision of diversity in unity which is dear to my heart.
I know all too well that the European Union is far from perfect: I have lived in France for seven years! Yet I am also now aware in a way that is difficult to comprehend from a purely English perspective, how for the past 60 years what is now called the European Union has acted as a bulwark against the wars that had previously dominated the European landscape for hundreds of years, and from which the geography of Britain had partly protected it. Living with diversity calls us all to a radical selflessness; it is precisely such a selflessness which is lacking in current political debate.