Archdeaconry Synod 2019 Report from Athens.
The Athens chaplaincy has been richly blessed since September last year with the presence of the Revd. James Harris, his wife, May, and children Grace and Rose. Fr. James had come to the end of his English curacy, and before exploring where he might wish to be a parish priest, he took the bold step of coming to Athens to work in the ministry team. This was all entirely at the family’s own expense, so it was a very sacrificial year for them. Sadly, in the middle of July we said our farewells and they are now back in Bristol.
Fr. James adds:
“Our year in Greece has been a formative adventure for us as a whole family: we have learned much, enjoyed much, and received much. A connection has been established with this country, and with St Paul’s Church in particular, which we are sure will last long into the future and shape the rest of our lives and ministry. As a priest, this year has opened my eyes to the challenges and opportunities of the world Church (both within and beyond Anglicanism) and helped me reassess the privileges of, and priorities for, Anglicanism in England. Although it was hard to say goodbye to many people who had become an important part of our lives, we feel we are called now to bring back our learning and experiences to the UK and invest them into what we hope will be a long term season ‘at home’.”
We have had our fair share of high-profile visits. In February (for the Feast of the Presentation) we had a visit from Bishop Robert and Helen. On Sunday 3rd there was a Confirmation service, with a good but small number of Confirmations, adult and children.
The evening before there was a reception at the offices of Apostoli, which is the main NGO Archdiocese of Athens social outreach organization. The chaplaincy here, and in fact the diocese through the Bishop’s Lent Appeal a few years ago, have supported the work of Apostoli. Over three years USPG has been a major financial contributor – both to enabling the work of Deacon Christine Saccali, but also in helping to finance a number of very high profile and necessary social programmes for Refugees, Migrants, and Greeks suffering under financial austerities. Around €350,000,00 has been contributed. We were able to invite Rebecca Boardman of USPG to an evening of Thanksgiving to mark the end of USPG’s involvement in Greece (at least for the time being). The Revd. Duncan dormer, the new CEO of USPG was also able to be present. At the reception representatives of all the agencies USPG has supported were able to be there, along with key figures of Apostoli. Metropolitan Gabriel, the Vice-President was able to attend, as was the British Ambassador, as a mark of the very significant contribution of the Anglican church to Athens.
The next visit was Archdeacon Adele, who is the Acting Archdeacon during the vacancy. As well as seeing a few local organisations, meeting the ministry team, and the Wardens, Archdeacon Adele and I were able to travel to Patras, where we have had a church building since the 1860’s. It is in a poor state of repair and the Anglican population in Patras is much diminished from what it used to be. It is hoped that a plan is emerging for the church to be renovated, and hopefully we will develop some provision for ministry on a short term basis until more local resources are available. Plans are at an early and very delicate stage, but it is good to mention Patras in our report this week.
Soon after Adele’s visit, it was Holy Week, and before he was aware of his impending retirement, Archdeacon (now Canon) Colin Williams had agreed that he would come to Athens to preach from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. It was lovely to welcome Colin to Athens, so soon into his new retirement!
As if this was not all enough, for five days in May, Bishop Rowan Williams visited to support the work of the chaplaincy, and to give some profile to the work of the chaplain as Apokrisiarios of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. It was a stunning success and many new initiatives will follow on from his visit. During his stay (at the British Residence, thanks to the Ambassador) we visited His Beatitude Ieronymos, and Bishop Rowan was able to present to him an icon of St. Theodore of Tarsus. Theodore was Greek, educated in Athens, but became Archbishop of Canterbury (died AD690). This was a very good symbol of ancient connections between the east and Canterbury.
The commitment of St. Paul’s Church in Athens to supporting social programmes continues, though the resources are diminished, and Deacon Christine continues to partner a number of key organisations – legal advocacy, home for the elderly, and orphanage, and more recently a programme that offers psycho-social support, Hestia Hellas. It is this organization that Bishop Robert nominated for his Lent Appeal in 2019.
Chaplaincy children’s work in Athens ebbs to and fro. Over this last year three families with children have moved away to other countries, so as well as losing 6 adults we have lost 8 children. This means that Lynne’s Sunday School provision is never predictable, but we are very glad that she has materials ready for our children every week, even if she herself is away from Athens.
Music in Athens continues to be a major feature of church life. In the last year there have been no fewer than 92 cultural events in the church ranging across drama, to various types of music. The income from concerts is a major contribution to our funds. As well as our Sunday morning choir, once a month we have a Choral Evensong choir, Scola Cantorum, made up entirely of Greek singers, and a congregation that is sometimes around 200 – also entirely Greek.
There is a small but steady interest among Greeks in the life of the Anglican Church, and a few weeks ago we ‘received’ a young Greek man into the Church of England. Other Greeks looked on with interest!
St. Paul’s has been developing its hospitality ministry. Thanks to a Mission grant from the Diocese the church is now open for four hours each day, and supervised. An anonymous donor has given us a ‘church open’ street sign, and the Orthodox Metropolitan of Nea Ionia and Philadelphia (a diocese here in Athens) has generously donated a candle stand so that both international and Greek visitors can pray and light a candle. Some days recently the church has had 40-50 visitors.
On a few special occasions this year we have had a ‘brunch’ type meal in the garden around the church after the Liturgy. The ‘team’ have this down to a fine art, and we are spoiled with excellent food, much of it African cuisine.
All in all, things seem to be going well for us, with new contacts opening up all the time. We have a big challenge in replacing our Treasurer. Sadly, Maurice Ashford died very suddenly in the early Spring, and we have no long-term solution to filling this Council role. Later this year we will be losing one of our Wardens due to retirement back to the UK, so this will be another challenge for us to tackle together.
By God’s grace we hope and pray that we will continue to be richly blessed with our very open and welcoming congregation – a fact confirmed by so many visitors and tourists who join us for the Sunday Liturgy.