Today (25th March) is the Feast of the Annunciation, Gabriel’s message to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to bear God’s Son. Here is the Gospel for the day:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.


This passage from Luke’s Gospel has been part of my life since I first arrived at university half a century ago. From my very first arrival through the mediaeval gateway in this picture ,

it was part of my mental furniture. My college was founded by the great 14th-century Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, who had a “thing” about the Annunciation. He ordered sculptures of Mary and Gabriel (and himself, kneeling in awe and adoration) to be placed above the entrance to his new college. It’s officially “St Mary’s College of Winchester in Oxford”, but “New College” was less of a mouthful and that name has stuck for the past six and a half centuries. William also ordered a matching set of figures to be placed inside the front entrance and over the grand staircase leading to the dining hall. And if that wasn’t enough he had a miniaturised depiction of the Annunciation in gold fitted inside the crook of his official staff of office and in the m-shaped brooch known as “the Founder’s Jewel”.

William of Wykeham was a very important person in 14th-century England. He came from humble origins in the Hampshire village from which he took his surname (his family name was “Longe”), but he caught the eye of Sir Ralph Sutton, constable of Winchester Castle, who took this bright young man on as his secretary. William showed that he had a gift for organisation and administration, which took him from Winchester to Windsor, to supervise the rebuilding of King Edward III’s castle there and then several other royal projects. He became a member of the royal council and was appointed to high office in the kingdom, ultimately becoming Lord Chancellor. At the same time, he attained high office in the church, and in 1367 he was consecrated Bishop of Winchester, still one of the five most senior positions in the Church of England, with an automatic seat in the House of Lords.

William played an important part in the political life of England in the closing years of Edward III’s long reign, and well into the reign of Richard II, which were turbulent times, especially for those at the heart of government. In the periods when he was out of royal favour William devoted himself to the creation of the two educational foundations for which he is remembered, New College in Oxford and its “feeder school”, Winchester College, a few hundred yards from his cathedral church. Both of them have that same repeated motif of the Annunciation in prominent locations, so that when you “read” the two buildings you can clearly hear the great bishop, the builder of castles and adviser of kings, saying to his scholars, “You see all that I have done? Well none of it matters a rap by comparison with this. The most important thing in the world, more important than any earthly power or status, is that the Son of God took human flesh in the womb of Mary. Look to him to learn what matters. Look to her to learn how to respond to God’s calling. And remember always what I have sometimes had to learn the hard way: that God puts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.”

One of the loveliest of all the carols of the Annunciation, “Angelus ad Virginem”, composed by an Englishman (or woman?), probably in the first half 14th century and still in the top ten half a century later. Geoffrey Chaucer mentions it in “The Miller’s Tale” as one of the songs in Nicolas’s repertoire, which he sang “so sweetly that all the chamber rang”.

Here it is sung by an Italian choir (the Cathedral choir of Cremona).

The contemporary English version (language slightly modernised) is:

 Gabriel, from heaven's king
Sent to the maid sweet,
Brought her blissful tidings,
And fair he did her greet:
"Hail be thou, full of grace aright,
For God's Son, this heaven's light,
For man's love
Will man become
And take
Flesh of thee, maiden bright,
Mankind free for to make
From sin and devil's might."
 Gently him did answer
The gentle maiden then:
"In what way can I bear
A child without a man?"
The angel said, "Fear thee naught;
Through the Holy Ghost shall be wrought
This same thing
Of which tiding
I bring.
All mankind will be bought [redeemed]
Through thy sweet childing,
And out of torment brought."
 When the maiden understood
And the angel's words heard,
Gently with a gentle mind
To the angel she answered:
"Our Lord's serving maiden iwis [indeed]
I am, who here above is.
Concerning me
Fulfilled shall be
Thy saw, [your words]
That I, since his will it is,
A maiden, without law, [i.e. outside the law of nature]
Of mother will have the bliss."
 The angel went away with than [that]
All out of her sight;
Her womb to arise began
Through the Holy Ghost's might.
In her was Christ enclosed anon:
True God, true man in flesh and bone,
And of her flesh
Born he was
In time,
Whereby to us came God wone. [to dwell]
He bought us out of pain
And was for us slain.
 Maiden mother makeless, [matchless]
Of mercy full abounding,
Pray for us to him who thee ches, [chose]
With whom thou grace found,
That he forgive us sin and wrake, [injury]
And clean of every guilt us make;
And heaven's bliss
When our time is
To sterve [die];
Grant us for thy sake
Him so here for to serve
That he us to him take.

To read more about Thy Kingdom Come scroll down the pa

There has been an Anglican community in Genova for at least two centuries, meeting initially at the home of the British Consul, then, when the number of people attending became too great for the space available there, hiring rooms in nearby palazzi. This, again, became inadequate and in the 1860s the decision was taken to erect a church building. Land was bought and G.E. Street, one of the greatest English architects of the period, was commissioned to design it. It was built by a local firm and is very much in the local style of Ligurian gothic. It was dedicated by Bishop Charles Harris of Gibraltar on 4th June 1872.

Since then HGG has had an interesting history. In the 1890s members of the congregation, which was closely linked to the Anglo-Italian business community, founded the Genoa Cricket and Football Club, which, as Genoa CFC, still competes in Italy’s “Serie A”.  At this point in the 2019-2020 season the club is in the relegation zone, but it is still doing better than local rivals, Sampdoria, who are currently bottom.

In the course of Allied air raids on Genoa in autumn 1942 the church building received a direct hit from an RAF bomb. This destroyed the roof, ploughed up the floor, shattered the stained glass windows, and turned the pipe-organ, which had been donated by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter when she was Crown Princess of Germany, into a pile of scrap metal and wood-ash. Despite initial doubts about its viability, the building was restored to use in the immediate post-war years thanks to heroic efforts by the members of the congregation who had returned to pick up the threads broken by war. “This building was refloated on a tide of alcohol,” I was told by one of the older members of our congregation, whose mother’s lavish parties in the late 1940s and early 1950s had unlocked many generous donations to the church restoration fund.

Today HGG is the only surviving Anglican place of worship in Liguria. All the other churches which were built along the Italian Riviera from Bordighera to La Spezia in the 19th and early 20th centuries to serve wealthy over-winterers have long since closed for Anglican worship and either been put to other uses or demolished. This church has survived, despite some very difficult times, because of its ministry to a much wider community. It is not just a church for “ex-pat” Brits. It welcomes people from many nations and continents who prefer to worship in English and in recent years it has established a distinctive ministry to refugees and other migrants, particularly those who have made the dangerous journey from West Africa across the Sahara to Libya, and then risked their lives in overcrowded inflatables crossing to Lampedusa.

That ministry takes a lot of energy and commitment from the core members of the congregation, who have been unstintingly generous with their time, money and pastoral care, supporting those who are going through Italy’s increasingly severe immigration process, bailing out the few who get into trouble with the law or with the institutions which offer accommodation for migrants, providing rent deposits for those who are moving on into private accommodation and are awaiting their first pay packet, guiding them round the intricacies of Italian bureaucracy, sorting out health-care, writing references for prospective employers or for immigration commissions (and, increasingly, appeals against commission decisions), running a small-scale food- and clothing-bank, keeping their eyes and ears open for any job opportunities that may be going and might be suitable for one or other of the people on our books, and encouraging them along the way of Jesus Christ. In July 2019 we presented seven adult candidates from the Nigerian community for baptism and/or confirmation.

Most of this work is down to the personal generosity of church members. Our average congregation is in the region of 30-40, about two-thirds of whom are “migrants” in the popular sense of the word. All but two or three of us (the native Italian members of the congregation) are actually migrants of one kind or another, here to work, or to study, or because they fell in love. Our weekly income in recent months has normally been between €100 and €150, but if the earners in the congregation are away on holiday and the cruise ships aren’t sending any passengers in our direction, it can be as low as half that. Although the chaplain is house-for-duty, the church’s income is supposed to cover utilities bills, the rent on the chaplain’s flat, the chaplain’s expenses, the maintenance of our worship, and our contribution to the running costs of the Diocese in Europe.

As one of our churchwardens says “God sees and provides”, and what is being done here by way of pastoral care and nurturing people in Christian faith is little short of miraculous. However, the work that was done to bring the building back into use 70 years ago is showing its age, and we are very much aware that another major storm of the ferocity of the one that hit Genova in October 2018 could lead to the church being closed as unsafe – and we couldn’t afford the cost of repairs. We have only just paid off the very patient contractor who carried out the most recent refurbishment of the building seven years ago, and to do that required us to run our scanty reserves down to a worryingly low level. We are also very much aware that we could do a great deal more if the building were brought up to scratch in terms of its facilities – but that also requires money that we haven’t got.

By this point you are probably expecting the pitch for a donation. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not telling this story in order to wring money out of you (though if anyone reading this is moved to make a donation the church certainly wouldn’t refuse it!). I am telling it in the hope that visitors to this website may be able to provide us with information about potential institutional donors, trusts, and grant-giving bodies with whom we could share our needs and our vision, or else put us in contact with others who have that information. Although we are a congregation of the Church of England, the fact that we are in Italy rules us out from applying to high-profile grant-givers such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and EIG. And, as you can imagine, an Anglican congregation in a 19th-century building comes a very long way down the queue for funding from Italian sources (which are coping with difficulty in the face of their responsibility for 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites – by far the highest of any European country and equalled globally only by China). If you can help by providing information, or would like to know more, please contact If praying is your thing, please do pray for us.

And, if you have got this far, thank you for reading all this.

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The psalm at Morning Prayer today (20th March) was Psalm 22. Many will know the opening words of the Psalm as Jesus’ cry of desolation from the cross. Others will know how the Gospels weave phrases from it into the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.  Fewer may know how it ends in hope and thanksgiving.  A Psalm for this crisis, perhaps?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, ¨
and are so far from my salvation, from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; ¨
and by night also, but I find no rest.
Yet you are the Holy One, ¨
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Our forebears trusted in you; ¨
they trusted, and you delivered them.
They cried out to you and were delivered; ¨
they put their trust in you and were not confounded.
But as for me, I am a worm and no man, ¨
scorned by all and despised by the people.
All who see me laugh me to scorn; ¨
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
‘He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; ¨
let him deliver him, if he delights in him.’
But it is you that took me out of the womb ¨
and laid me safe upon my mother’s breast.
On you was I cast ever since I was born; ¨
you are my God even from my mother’s womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near at hand ¨
and there is none to help.
Mighty oxen come around me; ¨
fat bulls of Bashan close me in on every side.
They gape upon me with their mouths, ¨
as it were a ramping and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water;all my bones are out of joint; ¨
my heart has become like wax melting in the depths of my body.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd;my tongue cleaves to my gums; ¨
you have laid me in the dust of death.
For the hounds are all about me, the pack of evildoers close in on me;¨
they pierce my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones; ¨
they stand staring and looking upon me.
They divide my garments among them; ¨
they cast lots for my clothing.
Be not far from me, O Lord; ¨
you are my strength; hasten to help me.
Deliver my soul from the sword, ¨
my poor life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth, from the horns of wild oxen. ¨
You have answered me!
I will tell of your name to my people; ¨
in the midst of the congregation will I praise you.
Praise the Lord, you that fear him; ¨
O seed of Jacob, glorify him;stand in awe of him, O seed of Israel.
For he has not despised nor abhorred the suffering of the poor; neither has he hidden his face from them; ¨
but when they cried to him he heard them.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; ¨
I will perform my vows in the presence of those that fear you.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; ¨
those who seek the Lord shall praise him; their hearts shall live for ever.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, ¨
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s ¨
and he rules over the nations.
How can those who sleep in the earth bow down in worship, ¨
or those who go down to the dust kneel before him?
He has saved my life for himself; my descendants shall serve him; ¨
this shall be told of the Lord for generations to come.
They shall come and make known his salvation, to a people yet unborn, ¨
declaring that he, the Lord, has done it.


A thought for the Feast of St Joseph of Nazareth (19th March)

I often feel that St Joseph, whose feast we would have been celebrating today in other circumstances, gets a raw deal. He’s probably quite happy about that.  He probably always thought of himself as “an ordinary Joe”, so to speak. But to take his wife after she was discovered to be pregnant with a child that wasn’t his in a culture dominated by shame and honour suggests that he was rather more than that.

It seems to me that he gets a particularly raw deal in the way that the post-Biblical tradition treats him. He was, for centuries, portrayed in art and story as an old man, much senior to Mary, and grumpy (if not downright curmudgeonly) with it, as many carols and songs, like the “Cherry Tree Carol”, remind us. But among the characteristics which he shares with his Old Testament namesake (enforced exile in Egypt being another one of them) the most important is that he is a dreamer – and dreamers tend to be young.

He also seems to have been a good father to Mary’s first-born. He is protective (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-22) and pious (Luke 2:21-24, 41ff) and probably poor (Luke 2:24. A richer man would have offered a lamb in sacrifice) . He knows when to keep silent and let Mary do the talking (Luke 2:48). Some writers have recently made the daring suggestion that Jesus’s talk of God as “Abba” is based on the way that Joseph modelled fatherhood for him.

So let’s hear it for Joseph of Nazareth, Joseph the dreamer, Joseph the craftsman, Joseph the more than “good enough” dad.  

But for those who like the traditional view, or who enjoy traditional carols, here’s a link to the “Cherry Tree Carol”, sung beautifully by the girls’ choir of Ely Cathedral.


Here is the third of our studies in the way that the four Gospels describe the suffering and death of Jesus.  This week it is “The Way of the Cross in Luke’s Gospel” that we are following.


The second of this year’s Lenten addresses focuses on “The Way of the Cross in Matthew’s Gospel”.  The text follows here.  Luke and John will follow in due course.

4 ways to the cross Matthew

During Lent the master-plan was to look in detail at the way in which each of the Gospels describes the suffering and death of Jesus. Sadly, the restrictions imposed on public gatherings by the Italian government have meant that only the first address, on “The Way of the Cross in Mark’s Gospel”, has been delivered. In compensation, that (and the other three) will be posted on this page.  Here is the text, slightly revised in the light of comments and questions on the day.

4 ways to the cross Mark

Most of the material with which we are trying to compensate for the loss of all church activities during this time of national self-isolation is appearing on the church’s Facebook page “Church and friends of the Holy Ghost”, but not everyone does social media.  I have therefore been asked to put up some Lenten material on the website to provide those who don’s use Facebook or other media with some spiritual sustenance during Lent.  Here, by way of introduction, are some words and music posted on-line on Wednesday:

The Gospel reading: Matthew 20:17-29

“While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.’

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

“When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”


Many years ago, before I was ordained, one of my then colleagues (who is Jewish) told me with great delight about a book he had recently been given. It was “How to be a Jewish Mother: by Dan Greenburg, who has one”. It was first published in the USA in 1964. It topped the non-fiction best-seller list the following year and although it is now, I think, out of print, it did make a second edition in the early 1990s.

The first chapter covered “The Basic Techniques of Jewish Motherhood”, which included “Basic Theory” and “Basic Philosophizing”, “Making Guilt Work” and “The Technique of Basic Suffering”; among which were listed “Seven Basic Sacrifices To Make For Your Child”. Funnily enough, it didn’t include the story which St Matthew tells in today’s Gospel, although the loss of reputation which Mrs Zebedee has endured for nearly 2000 years is a pretty big sacrifice. St Mark, who tells the same story (10:35-45), makes it clear that it was the brothers, not their old mum, who made the astonishing request ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And even Matthew can’t quite hide the fact that, even if she did make the request, it was her boys who put her up to it. Jesus replies directly to them, and they, and not their mother, are the objects of the other disciples’ understandable anger.

So why does Matthew do this? Possibly, like Dan Greenburg, he knew about Jewish mothers because he had one and because he couldn’t believe that two people who had been companions of Jesus from the beginning, and who had shared some of the most dramatic moments of Jesus’ ministry could have been guilty of such a gross misunderstanding – and especially after Jesus had just spelled out very clearly what was about to happen to him. ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.’ Were they not listening?

Or did they think that when Jesus said that he didn’t really mean it? And that they could, somehow, bypass the rejection and suffering and death and go straight to resurrection? Well, they were to find out for themselves the truth of Jesus’ words. ‘You will indeed drink my cup.’ And all of the twelve were to discover, as we must also, that “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

This music comes originally from Brazil but in the 1990s it became a popular worship song in Germany. It was inspired by words from Psalm 31, the psalm for today’s Eucharist, and in particular verses 2 and 3 “Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress”. The performance is by the young people’s rock group “Neuwerk Goslar” at the “Church Rock Open Air” event held at St Stephen’s Church in Goslar on 23rd June, 2012. They sing of hope and encouragement in difficult times, because God is
* refuge, hope and strength when blows strike us and we are helpless;
* joy, longing and sunlight when cares torment us and we are wretched;
* homeland, future and help when fears plague us and we are sad.
The refrain reminds us that everything that is passes away, but God’s love endures.

The German words are:
1. Du bist meine Zuflucht. Du bist meine Hoffnung. Du bist meine Stärke. Lass mich nicht allein! (2x)
Wenn mich Schläge treffen und wenn ich schutzlos bin,
leih mir deinen Mantel und hüll mich darin ein.

Alles, was ist, das wird vergehn,
Gott, deine Liebe wird bestehn.
A je, e-ja je, a je e-ja ja je.

2. Du bist meine Freude. Du bist meine Sehnsucht. Du bist meine Sonne. Gib mir Lebensmut! (2x)
Wenn mich Sorgen quälen und wenn ich trostlos bin,
zeig mir deine Liebe, halt mich in deiner Hut.

Alles, was ist…

3. Du bist meine Heimat. Du bist meine Zukunft. Du bist meine Hilfe. Hol mich aus der Not! (2x)
Wenn mich Ängste plagen und wenn ich traurig bin,
schenk mir langem Atem und rette mich vorm Tod.

Alles, was ist…

Saying Morning Prayer on my own in church earlier today (15th March), I was pleased to find that the Psalm for the Third Sunday in Lent is Psalm 46 – so, pleased that I actually sang it, rather than said it, to the chant based on Martin Luther’s great chorale tune “Ein Feste Burg”  (written for words inspired by this Psalm).  Here it is. I hope that it will provide encouragement and hope to others as it did to me:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble;
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea;
Though the waters rage and swell,
and though the mountains quake at the towering seas.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
therefore shall she not be removed;
God shall help her at the break of day.
The nations are in uproar and the kingdoms are shaken,
but God utters his voice and the earth shall melt away.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come and behold the works of the Lord,
what destruction he has wrought upon the earth.
He makes wars to cease in all the world;
he shatters the bow and snaps the spear
and burns the chariots in the fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.


Time in the Wilderness

Given that, because of governmental  measures to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, members of the congregation at the Church of the Holy Ghost cannot at present meet for worship or for any other church activity, we have been giving thought to ways in which they can be sustained spiritually during this time in the wilderness. Here are the provisional answers:
1. In Church.
Because the government order banning meetings still allows church buildings to remain open for personal prayer, we shall be taking advantage of that by opening our building for individual prayer
– on Sundays from 10:30 to 11:30.
– on Wednesdays from 12:00 to 13:00
During these times the food and clothing banks will also be available to anyone in need of help.
The “Drop-in Quiet Days” will also continue on Thursdays from 09:30 to 18:00, with a range of books and other resources to support prayer, although, sadly, for reasons of sicurezza sanitaria we are not able at present to offer the exercise “I am baptised”.
2. On-Line
On Sundays we will be repeating the experiment of a “virtual Eucharist” which visitors will be able to follow on the Church’s Facebook page
The Sunday sermon will also be appearing on the “Sermons” page here and on the Facebook page.  There will also be other material appearing on this page from time to time during the week.
We shall also be posting each day on the Facebook page a “Thought for the Day” taken from the chaplain’s Commonplace Book, and on Wednesdays (starting today) the Gospel for the day and a link to a piece of sacred music, ancient or modern.

Friday, 13th March

At Morning Prayer today one of the chaplain’s favourite Psalms was read.  It’s Psalm 40, which he has long found to be a source of reassurance and hope in times of distress.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
you have not required.
Then I said, ‘Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’

I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.

Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
For evils have encompassed me
without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Let all those be put to shame and confusion
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
who desire my hurt.
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, ‘Aha, Aha!’

But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’
As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.


Remembering George Herbert

Today, 27th February, is the second day of Lent. It is also the day on which the Church of England celebrates the life and poetry of George Herbert, who swapped a promising career at the court of James I and Charles I for ordination in the Church of England and ended his short life as Rector of Bemerton, once a poor rural parish a mile or two outside Salisbury, now one of the city’s suburbs. Here, to mark both the day and the season, is his poem “Lent”:

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree,
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.

Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.

It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour’s purity;
Yet we are bid, Be holy ev’n as he,
In both let’s do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

Tony Dickinson

Praying for Unity

The week of Prayer for Christian Unity/Settimana di Preghiera per l’Unità dei Cristiani begins in ten days’ time on 18th January.  As a former Diocesan Ecumenical Officer I am, as you might expect, highly in favour of this.  As someone ministering in the Archdeaconry of Italy and Malta, I have a particular interest in this year’s week, because it was put together by a group of Christians which included people from our Archdeaconry. The material for the Week of Prayer for Unity in  2020 was provided by Christians of many different traditions in Malta and Gozo, including  members of the staff and congregation at the Anglican pro-Cathedral of St Paul in Valletta.

The Bible texts, reflections, and prayers for each day will appear on the church’s Facebook page “Church and Friends of the Holy Ghost, Genoa” and the list of services and other events in Genova during the week is published on the “News” pages of this website.  As preparation, however, and for those who will not be able to attend any of the services, or would not have sufficient Italian to understand them, here is the introduction prepared by the team:

“The materials for the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by the Christian churches in Malta and Gozo (Christians Together in Malta). On 10th February many Christians in Malta celebrate the Feast of the Shipwreck of St Paul, marking and giving thanks for the arrival of Christian faith on these islands. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles used for the feast is the text chosen for this year’s Week of Prayer.
“The story begins with Paul being taken to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:1ff). Paul is in chains, but even in what turns out to be a perilous journey, the mission of God continues through him.
“This narrative is a classic drama of humanity confronted by the terrifying power of the elements. The passengers on the boat are at the mercy of the forces of the seas beneath them and the powerful tempest that rages about them. These forces take them into unknown territory, where they are lost and without hope.
“The 276 people on board the ship are divided into distinct groups. The centurion and his soldiers have power and authority but are dependent on the skill and experience of the sailors. Although all are afraid and vulnerable, the prisoners in chains are the most vulnerable of all. Their lives are expendable; they are at risk of summary execution (27:42). As the story unfolds, under pressure and in fear for their lives, we see distrust and suspicion widening the divisions between the different groups.
“Remarkably, however, Paul stands out as a centre of peace in the turmoil. He knows that his life is not governed by forces indifferent to his fate, but rather is held in the hands of the God to whom he belongs and whom he worships (see 27:23). Because of this faith, he is confident that he will stand before the emperor in Rome, and in the strength of this faith he can stand before his fellow travellers and give thanks to God. All are encouraged. Following Paul’s example, they share bread together, united in a new hope and trusting in his words.
“This illustrates a major theme in the passage: divine providence. It had been the centurion’s decision to set sail in bad weather, and throughout the storm the sailors made decisions about how to handle the ship. But in the end their own plans are thwarted, and only by staying together and allowing the ship to be wrecked do they come to be saved through divine providence. The ship and its entire valuable cargo will be lost, but all lives will be saved, “for none of you will lose a hair from your heads” (27:34; see Lk 21:18). In our search for Christian unity, surrendering ourselves to divine providence will demand letting go of many things to which we are deeply attached. What matters to God is the salvation of all people.
“This diverse and conflicted group of people runs aground “on some island” (27:26).  Having been thrown together in the same boat, they arrive at the same destination, where their human unity is disclosed in the hospitality they receive from the islanders.  As they gather round the fire, surrounded by a people who neither know nor understand them, differences of power and status fall away. The 276 are no longer at the mercy of indifferent forces, but embraced by God’s loving providence made present through a people who show them “unusual kindness” (28:2). Cold and wet, they can warm and dry themselves by the fire. Hungry, they are given food. They are sheltered until it is safe for them to continue their journey.
“Today many people are facing the same terrors on the same seas. The very same places named in the reading (27:1, 28:1) also feature in the stories of modern-day migrants. In other parts of the world many others are making equally dangerous journeys by land and sea to escape natural disasters, warfare and poverty. Their lives, too, are at the mercy of immense and coldly indifferent forces – not only natural, but political, economic and human. This human indifference takes various forms: the indifference of those who sell places on unseaworthy vessels to desperate people; the indifference of the decision not to send out rescue boats; and the indifference of turning migrant ships away. This names only a few instances. As Christians together facing these crises of migration this story challenges us: do we collude with the cold forces of indifference, or do we show “unusual kindness” and become witnesses of God’s loving providence to all people?
“Hospitality is a much needed virtue in our search for Christian unity. It is a practice that calls us to a greater generosity to those in need. The people who showed unusual kindness to Paul and his companions did not yet know Christ, and yet it is through their unusual kindness that a divided people were drawn closer together. Our own Christian unity will be discovered not only through showing hospitality to one another, important though this is, but also through loving encounters with those who do not share our language, culture or faith.
“In such tempestuous journeys and chance encounters, God’s will for his Church and all people comes to fulfilment. As Paul will proclaim in Rome, this salvation of God has been sent to all peoples (see Acts 28:28).”
I look forward to sharing this thrilling journey with you, whether face to face, or through Social Media.  The full range of material for this year’s Week of Prayer for Unity can be found at
by clicking on the link to the pdf at the bottom of the page.

Tony Dickinson

“What confidence is this?”

A report from the 37th German Protestant Kirchentag

Kirchentag for website

What is a saint? A reflection for All Saints’ Day

On All Saints’ Day it’s natural to ask the question: what is a saint?  I have heard a variety definitions over the years.  One that struck me when I was young was produced, if I remember correctly, by a child who was taken to church by their parents and was fascinated by the figures in the stained-glass windows, which shone brightly as the morning sunlight streamed through them.  When the child asked who the people were the answer came that they were saints.  A few days later, a teacher at school asked if anyone knew what a saint was.  The child’s hand shot up.  “Please, miss,” came the answer, “a saint is a person the light shines through.”

“A saint is a person the light shines through.”  That’s my first definition: a saint is someone who is transparent to the light of Christ.

My second definition was given to me when I was working in Durham in the early 1970s. It was at one of those “An evening with” events – and in this case the evening was with Donald Swann, in an ancient church in North-East England.  Swann was quoting someone else on the subject, I think, of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who said that a saint was “a crack in time through which you can see eternity leaping and dancing about”.  “A Crack in Time” was, in fact, the title of the evening, which featured some of the “religious music” songs and longer pieces which he wrote or which he collected and translated in between his collaborations with Michael Flanders.

So there’s my second definition of a saint: “a crack in time through which you can see eternity leaping and dancing about”.

And the third definition that I’d like to share with you on this All Saints’ Day is one that I picked up yesterday, in a tweet from a colleague in Liverpool Diocese, although like Donald Swann’s it isn’t his own.  It’s a bit different.  The other two belong to our Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount. When we meet people who have the qualities blessed there by Jesus we can often see God’s light streaming through them or catch a glimpse of eternity “leaping and dancing about.”

Fr Richard’s definition is different. While it fits, like the previous two, with the Sermon on the Mount, it resonates equally, if not more, powerfully with today’s first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews and its reminder that there is a social dimension to holiness, so that the heavenly Jerusalem is peopled with “innumerable angels in festal gathering, and… the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,… and… the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”   Here they all are, in a short poem:

The simple
the learned,
young and old.
A throng of praise
to the glory of God;
in heroic lives is told.
Convinced of his love,
delighting in his truth,
blest in his presence!
Intercede for us,
on our pilgrim way,
fill us to overflowing
with his sacred sense!

And there’s my third definition: “A throng of praise to the glory of God”.

That throng, made up of people known and unknown, near and far, reveals God insofar as they remain “Convinced of his love, delighting in his truth, blest in his presence”, and it reaches out to us in prayer across every barrier of time and space, so that we, like they, may be filled to overflowing with love and truth which reveal the presence of God.

+ + + + + +

Thy Kingdom Come:  For the past two years we have taken part in this initiative, opening the church for prayer throughout Ascension Day and running the prayer stations on succeeding days. Want to know more? Click here: Thy Kingdom Come.

The Eldorato project

The Church of the Holy Ghost is working with other local churches which have provided venues for this project.  The Christian faith invites us to build bridges and not to erect barriers. The artistic installations displayed here and at those other churches underline the importance of the welcome which opposes every gesture of hatred and rejection.

ELDORATO is a project that talks about the illusion of this millennium: the idea of a land of gold, where there is wealth and a future. A distant land of which little is known and about which we imagine marvellous things; a land hidden from our view just over the horizon.

The project, devised and produced by the artist Giovanni De Gara (b. Florence, 1977), consists of a series of site-specific installations which use life-saving objects as their raw material: the isothermal blankets normally used for first aid in case of accidents and natural disasters which have entered the collective imagination as the “migrants’ garb”.

The aim of the project is to promote a profound reflection on the theme of hospitality toward each individual, without distinction of origin, gender or creed, and to give a sign of warmth and salvation beginning with the contemplation of a gold sheet that shines not through the value of its metal, but through the beauty and simplicity of its message.

In the week 23rd- 29th September the installations can be seen in the entrances of the Anglican Church (Piazza Marsala 3), the Evangelical Baptist Church (Via Ettore Vernazza 16), the Luther Room of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Via Assarotti 21A), the Waldensian Churches of Via Assarotti (Via Assarotti 21) and Sampierdarena (Via Urbano Rela 1 / A). There is a further installation in the entrance of the church of San Torpete (Piazza S. Giorgio).

From the series “English voices in Genoa (The Spirituality Series)” a reflection by Canon Tony Dickinson on the place of the Cross in the writings of St Paul.

Paul and the cross

Fans of the ecumenical Taizé Community (of whom I am one) may not be aware that there is a Taizé group in Genova. It meets for prayer on the second Sunday evening of each month at 2100 in the church of San Marco al Molo. To find out more about the group, visit their website at or sign up to the FB group “Preghiera Taizé a Genova”.  The next meeting is at 2100 on Sunday, 11th August.

If you’d like to learn more about the Taizé Community (in English), the site to visit is

From 19th-23rd June I will be returning to Germany for a Church gathering rather larger than last week’s Diocesan Synod in Cologne. My daughter Beatrice and I will be part of the more than 100,000 people attending the German Protestant Kirchentag, which is probably the largest Christian gathering in Europe.  It’s a festival of faith, focused through a daily Bible study on a passage linked to the Kirchentag’s theme and accompanied by music of all kinds, by lectures and workshops exploring the relationship between the faith we profess and the decisions we make, by performance art, and by interfaith encounter.  There will be contributions from internationally-known figures from the worlds of science and politics (in its widest sense), as well as Church leaders from across Europe and around the world.  This year there will be a key-note address given by each of the living holders of the office of President of Germany.  The current President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was to have been the Kirchentag’s president but had to step down when he was elected to the nation’s highest office.  His predecessors Joachim Gauck (a former Protestant pastor), Christian Wulff and Horst Köhler will also be present, as will pastor’s daughter Angela Merkel, who will be in dialogue with Liberia’s former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa.

The Kirchentag has its roots in the anti-Nazi resistance and specifically in a group of those who survived the wholesale arrests and executions which followed the failure of the plot to assassinate Hitler on 20th July, 1944.  The leading figure was Reinold vonThadden-Trieglaff, whose sister Elisabeth was one of those who perished.  Their initiative arose from a determination that the Churches in Germany, and especially the mainstream Protestant Churches, should never again allow themselves to be hijacked by a totalitarian political group as they had been by the Nazis.

The first Kirchentag (which means “Church Assembly” ) was held in 1949 in Hannover and it was an annual event until 1954, when the growth of the Kirchentag movement (from 5,000 in 1949 to 60,000 in 1954) made it impossible to organise it on a yearly basis.  Since then it has been held every other year in a major German city, although from 1961 to 1989 the division of Germany between East and West at the height of the Cold War excluded the cities of the DDR.  The first Kirchentag in the eastern Länder of a reunited Germany was held in Leipzig in 1997.  This year the host city is Dortmund, once famous for its heavy industry, but now with the reputation of being Germany’s most sustainable city.

Lent with George Herbert (8)

We arrived at Easter with the last poem in our sequence.  It is the poem entitled “Easter”.

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Good Friday

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday each member of the congregation was given a stone with their order of service.  Stones are significant in the Gospel story.

On more than one occasion during his ministry people picked up stones to throw at Jesus.

After his death, the body of Jesus was laid in a tomb cut out of the rock and a large stone was rolled across its entrance.

Moving further back into the story of Israel, God’s people were rebuked by the prophets for having a heart of stone.

And most human beings know the cold, hard knot of sin, sitting like a stone in the depths of the heart, blocking the flow of God’s love and compassion.

So, on Good Friday, as the members of the congregation pondered St John’s account of the suffering and death of Jesus, they were invited to lay their stone at the foot of the cross, as a token of their willingness to let God unloose the knot and take away all that blocks the flow of his love.

Lent with George Herbert (7)

George Herbert took us through the conflicts of Holy Week with his poem “The Agony”:

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet;  there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through every vein.

Who knows not love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach;  then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

Lent with George Herbert (6)

That was followed by the last poem in Herbert’s manuscript, “Love”:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull?  Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Lent with George Herbert (6)

The series continued with the sonnet “Redemption”.

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him to afford
A new small-rented lease and cancel th’old.
In Heaven at his manor I him sought.
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession,
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts,
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts.
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight “Your suit is granted,” said, and died.

Lent with George Herbert (5)

The next poem in our sequence or poems by George Herbert was the one entitled “Sighs and Groans”

O do not use me
After my sins! look not on my dessert,
But on thy glory! Then thou wilt reform
And not refuse me: for thou only art
The mighty God, but I a silly worm;
O do not bruise me!

O do not urge me!
For what account can thy ill steward make?
I have abus’d thy stock, destroy’d thy woods,
Suckt all thy magazines: my head did ache,
Till it found out how to consume thy goods:
O do not scourge me!

O do not blind me!
I have deserv’d that an Egyptian night
Should thicken all my powers; because my lust
Has still sew’d fig-leaves to exclude thy light:
But I am frailty, and already dust;
O do not grind me!

O do not fill me
With the turn’d vial of thy bitter wrath!
For thou hast other vessels full of blood,
A part whereof my Saviour empti’d hath,
Ev’n unto death: since he di’d for my good,
O do not kill me!

But O reprieve me!
For thou hast life and death at thy command;
Thou art both Judge and Saviour, feast and rod,
Cordial and Corrosive: put not thy hand
Into the bitter box; but O my God,
My God, relieve me!

Lent with George Herbert (4)

The third poem in this sequence which began on Ash Wednesday was the one which bears the punning title “The Collar”, punning, because it could be misheard as “Choler” (meaning anger).  It is a very angry poem.

I struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child:
And I replied, My Lord.

Lent with George Herbert (3)

The second poem to be explored in our sharing of Lent with George Herbert was the one entitled “Sin’s Round” :

Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am,
That my offences course it in a ring.
My thoughts are working like a busy flame,
Until their cockatrice they hatch and bring:
And when they once have perfected their draughts,
My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts.

My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts,
Which spit it forth like the Sicilian hill.
They vent their wares, and pass them with their faults,
And by their breathing ventilate the ill.
But words suffice not, where are lewd intentions:
My hands do join to finish the inventions.

My hands do join to finish the inventions:
And so my sins ascend three stories high,
As Babel grew, before there were dissensions.
Let ill deeds loiter not: for they supply
New thoughts of sinning: wherefore, to my shame,
Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am.

Ash Wednesday

(a reflection for the beginning of Lent)

Lent confronts us with what the American Franciscan, Fr Richard Rohr, has called “the five uncomfortable truths” of human existence, truths which the Christian gospel holds up before us but from which we, as human beings, try to avert our eyes.

The “five uncomfortable truths” are

  1. Life is hard.  However privileged and protected our life may be, loss and struggle are unavoidable.  Bereavement, disappointment and frustration are all part of the human situation whoever we are.
  2.  You are not that important. Despite what our “false self”  tells us, all human beings are insignificant in the great scheme of things, short-lived creatures (what are 70, 80 or even 90 years when set against the billions of years of geological time?) on a speck of cosmic dust in the western spiral arm of the galaxy. As Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman, at the end of the film Casablanca,  “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”.
  3. Your life is not about you.  This is an uncomfortable truth for those who have a dominant “false self”, as Thomas Merton labelled it, the self which we construct, whether consciously or unconsciously, to face the world, a very different “self” from the true self, known only to God.  It is a particularly uncomfortable truth for men. Women tend to learn more quickly, often through motherhood, that their life is not centred on them, but on their children or on others for whom they care.
  4. You are not in control.  Again, facing this truth is often more difficult for men than for women.   Not being in control is seen as something to be fought against, but human beings control neither their birth nor their death;  throughout their life they are at the mercy of external events beyond their control and they are often not in control of their own thoughts and feelings.  In the poem “Aaron”  (see below), George Herbert recognises this, particularly as it affects his priestly ministry.
  5. You are going to die. The writer C.S. Lewis is said to have begun one address to a congregation in Oxford with the words. “I have never met you before, but I know one thing about each one of you.  You are all going to die.”   Benjamin Franklin, one of the USA’s founding fathers, remarked that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”  (and gave Dorothy Parker the title for a collection of her poems).  Death has been called “the ultimate fact of life”.

Those five truths are reflected in the readings for the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday.  St Paul, writing to the Christian community in Corinth, lists the sufferings which he has experienced as a servant of God (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).  He also sets out, a couple of lines later, the ways in which he and his co-workers are seen as unimportant.  In the central section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6), Jesus takes careful aim at those whose religious observance was very definitely “about them” and not about God.  It is another “uncomfortable truth”, though not one of the five, that there are many who find religion a very useful way of avoiding God.  Both Jesus and Paul remind their hearers and their readers of the uncertainty of human life.  Rust,  moth and burglars can wreak havoc with the most careful storage.  “Stuff happens” in any life, even those of God’s obedient servants.  And at the heart of the liturgy on Ash Wednesday we are confronted with two deaths, the death of the Lord which the Church’s Eucharist proclaims “until he comes”, and our own death of which we are reminded by the words at the imposition of ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” .

But the five uncomfortable truths are not God’s last word to us any more than the death of Jesus of Nazareth marks the end of the Christian story.   Every negative in Paul’s catalogue of insignificance is matched by a positive: “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).  It is when we crack open the shell of our false self – or, more often, when circumstances crack it open for us – that we are able to know our true self, who we are in Christ, and in his love are able to possess everything.

Lent with George Herbert (2)

The first poem to be explored more fully in our sharing of Lent with George Herbert was, appropriately for Ash Wednesday, the one entitled “Lent” :

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree.
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.

Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.

It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour’s purity;
Yet we are bid, ‘Be holy ev’n as he, ‘
In both let’s do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

Lent with George Herbert (1)

On Wednesdays during Lent we are exploring the poetry of the 17th-century poet-priest George Herbert.  On Wednesday 27th February (the day when Herbert is commemorated in the Calendar of the Church of England) there was a general introduction to his life.  During each week of Lent and Passiontide there will be an exploration of one of his poems in some depth.  Unexplored was the poem by George Herbert which was read in place of a homily at the midweek Eucharist on 27th February, one which rings bells (to pick up one of the images it contains) with very many clergy.  It is entitled “Aaron”:

Holiness on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest, thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone-only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev’n dead,
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new-drest.

So, holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come people; Aaron’s drest.

Where do we go from here?

That question was the title of Dr Martin Luther King’s last book.  Jim Wallis of the Sojourners’ Community in Washington DC took up that question in an e-mail two days ago and pondered its application to our own time.  He suggested four ways forward, which I think are worth sharing because they apply to Christians facing the challenges of Matteo Salvini’s Italy and “Brexit Britain” just as much as they do to our sisters and brothers living in Donald Trump’s America.   Here they are:

“Going deeper into our faith.  It is critical now more than ever to cultivate spiritual practices and disciplines that keep us grounded and able to respond—not just react —to the chaotic and traumatic events happening around us and in our own lives.

“Learning how to separate prophetic truth-telling from divisive political attacks. The prophetic mission is core…, and we will continue to speak truth boldly. We must root ourselves in biblical truth, not party affiliation, and remember that Jesus told us: “Know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

“Pastoral care for each other is vital in times like these. Strategy is always important, but what is also deeply needed now is sustenance. To move forward, we must commit to taking care of each other and ourselves.

“Becoming more deeply connected in our relationships and our capacity to mobilize together during…  emergencies. We are a community of sojourners, called to create connection…  [to] find other sojourners in [our] communities across political, racial, and theological boundaries with whom [we] can reflect, pray, and act.”

If anyone would like to take any of these ideas further, please contact me.

If anyone would like to do some further reading, the following books are relevant and recommended:

  • Brian D. McLaren, “Finding our Way again” (Nashville, 2008)
  • Rowan Williams, “Being Disciples” (London, 2016)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together” (English translation, London, 1954)

The Shepherds at the Crib

On Christmas Eve, my reflection focused on the role of the shepherds in St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.   Part of what I said owed a great deal to the wisdom and knowledge of Bishop-emeritus Jan-Olof Johansson of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, who has been fascinated by the Holy Land since he was studying theology at Stockholm and Uppsala more than 40 years ago. He is still actively involved in the life of the Christian community there as a governor of the Lutheran school for girls in Bethlehem.

My words on Christmas Eve were heavily indebted to the following passage from the first sermon that Bishop Jan-Olof preached in Växjö cathedral after his consecration as bishop of the Diocese:

‘Outside Bethlehem lies what people today call the Shepherds’ Field – and there are several. You can take your pick: the Catholic, the Orthodox or the Protestant! All according to inclination and disposition. But in any case, it is ancient pasture-land where, for thousands of years, shepherds have come with their sheep and goats. And it is highly likely that it was here that the shepherds had their powerful experience of what they described as an angel, and as heavenly. And the people in Bet Sahour, as the village is called, do not doubt it for a second. Quite the opposite! The present day descendants of the shepherds say: “When God’s Son was born God was, just like every father, eager to tell the news as soon as possible. And he put his mind to the question of the fastest way of getting the word out. It was then he thought of us in the shepherds’ field. Because if there is one thing we are known for, it is being good at spreading rumours and gossip. Something happens at one end of the village and people know it at the other end almost before it has happened! And thus it became known to all the people that Jesus was born!”’

Welcoming the King

A conversation on the topic of homelessness with Nancy Whitfield after the Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday of Advent reminded me of one of the finest of Christmas poems, dating to the early years of the Stuart monarchy in England.  Its source is a manuscript discovered in the library of Christ Church in Oxford.  Formerly thought to be the work of that prolific writer, composer and artist “Anonymous”, it has more recently been attributed to the poet, composer and musician, Thomas Ford.  Here it is:

Yet if his majesty our sovereign lord
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say “I’ll be your guest to-morrow night.”
How should we stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand.
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat,
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapers they may give a light.
Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o’er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place.”
Thus if the king were coming would we do,
And ’twere good reason too;
For ’tis a duteous thing
To show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleas’d, to think no labour lost.
But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All’s set at six and seven:
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain him always like a stranger,
And as at first still lodge him in the manger.

Poets of Christ’s coming (3)

R.S. Thomas

Our journey which began in northern Italy in the second half of the fourth century of our era ends in the farthest corner of North Wales and a life that spanned nearly the whole of the twentieth century.  We have travelled from the administrative heart of the late Roman Empire to its very periphery, to a land that lost its protecting eagles within two decades of St Ambrose’s death and which has lived for the best part of a millennium under foreign (by which I mean English) domination.

The last in our triad of “poets of Christ’s coming” is the Welsh priest Ronald Stuart Thomas, better known by his initials as “R.S. Thomas”.

Thomas was born in Cardiff in the spring of 1913, the son of a merchant seaman.  He died in the autumn of the millennial year at his home in Pentrefelin near Criccieth.  In the 87 years between those two dates he studied Classics at the University of Wales in Bangor, trained as a priest of the Church in Wales at St Michael’s College, Llandaff, and served (for the rest of his active ministry) in parishes across North Wales, from Chirk and Tallam Green on the English border to Aberdaron in the far north-west, on the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula.

From that potted CV, you might guess at a man in the Anglican tradition of poet-priests, a tradition which includes Robert Herrick, John Donne, Thomas Traherne and Thomas’s fellow-Welshman, George Herbert, from the 17th Century, the Wesleys from the 18th, John Keble, John Henry Newman, and J.M. Neale from the 19th (although Neale’s considerable poetic gifts were, like John Wesley’s, primarily those of a translator, rather than a writer of original poetry).

R.S. Thomas, however, is not like any of them.  His poetry is not devotional, like Keble or Newman’s, nor “metaphysical” (however you may understand that word) like Traherne or Herbert.  It is also quite unlike the poetry produced by the two other poets at whose writings we have looked during this Advent.   It has neither the doctrinal clarity of St Ambrose, nor the passionate intensity of St John of the Cross.

Thomas is a “one-off”, whose life and poetry were marked by paradox.  In the sermon which he preached in St Michael’s church, Porthmadog, at a Eucharist in thanksgiving for R.S. Thomas’s life, Archbishop Barry Morgan reminded his hearers that “He could look fierce at times and yet could be the gentlest and most sensitive of men; he came across as dour and yet had a delightfully impish sense of humour; he could rail against the Anglicisation of his country and yet he wrote poetry in English and married women who spoke no Welsh; he could make the most provocative of statements which could come across as callous and yet he was personally kind and compassionate; he was a patriotic Welshman but when he read his poems he sounded so English; he claimed to love nature more than humanity and yet some of his poems are full of love and tenderness.”

Probably the first thing that strikes a reader of Thomas’s poetry, especially the early poetry focused on people and places among which he had ministered, is the clarity, sometimes the bleak clarity, of his vision.  Sometimes, too, that vision could be suffused with a deep bitterness against a world which had forgotten the truths by which human beings become fully alive – and I don’t just mean the formal teachings of Christianity.  He had a respect for nature and for the deep rhythms of life which was positively Franciscan in its perceptions.  He and his first wife, Elsie, the artist Mildred Eldridge, shared a life of Spartan simplicity – or rather, a life which would have been recognised as authentic by the saints of the golden age of Welsh piety.

He hated what he called “the Machine”, the culture of materialist consumerism, for which he mostly blamed England, and he had no truck with its products, except that he briefly owned a refrigerator (or, according to some accounts a vacuum cleaner) but got rid of it because it was “too noisy”.

Stillness and silence were characteristic of his life and his poetry.  He was aware of the vastness and intricacy of creation.  His later poems use scientific concepts as a rich source of metaphor and parable.  As Archbishop Barry Morgan pointed out, he could come across as uncomfortably hard-edged.  A much younger colleague in Llandaff Diocese described Thomas as “a poet who loved with the eyes of truth”.  He was certainly not a sentimentalist, neither about rural life, nor about rural people.  His early poems, in particular, are almost merciless in the clarity with which he depicted the world in which he ministered and its people.  Even in his long first marriage to Elsie Eldridge, there were no outward displays of affection.  Obituaries recorded that they were never seen to touch one another in public.  But when Elsie died in 1991 he wrote some beautiful love lyrics in memory of her.

You may notice that, so far, I haven’t mentioned God.  Thomas’s relationship with God was complex.  It would be too easy to make the comparison with his namesake among the apostles and call him a poet of doubt.  Barry Morgan, in the sermon to which I have referred above, put the matter succinctly when he said that “… he stood in a long tradition of those who had wrestled with God back to Jacob, Isaiah, St John of the Cross, Master Eckhart and Luther who, echoing Isaiah, said ‘Truly thou art a God that hidest thyself’’. RS knew that God is ultimately unknowable in himself – He is a mystery to which our human words point only by analogy.”  So in Thomas’s poetry we find hints and inklings and moments of insight, but no blazing theophanies.

To quote Barry Morgan again: “…his poetry right up to the very end of his life reflects his struggle to get to know the Living God. Not for him the bland platitudes of religion. Not for him the acceptance of the creeds and dogmas of the church which were not to be questioned. Rather, his poems honestly faced the struggle one has, whether one is ordained or not, of praying to God and trying to worship him… Far from being a man of no faith – here was a man of Job-like faith, struggling to make sense of the world, and belief in a God of love.  Conventional theological answers did not satisfy him, nor the facile fundamentalism of a faith that asked no questions. No, he saw the real problems of trying to believe in God and struggled with those questions throughout his ministry. By articulating them in his poetry, he helped those of us who were also struggling, in our belief and faith.”

But enough of introductions.  Here are half a dozen links to the man in his own words…

and for the addict:

Tony Dickinson

Poets of Christ’s coming (2)

(St John of the Cross: f.d. 14th December)

It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than the one between the first and second of our “Poets of Christ’s Coming”.  My previous post was devoted to St Ambrose, the commanding leader in state and church, responsible for a key strategic province of the Western Empire before taking charge of what is still the largest diocese in the Italian Church, the inspirational preacher and teacher (recognised, along with his pupil Augustine and the two “great” popes, Leo and Gregory, as a “doctor of the western Church”), the conscience of the Emperor, and a bishop who turned to poetry so that others could publicly sing their faith and grow in that faith as they pondered the words they sang, a man who lived through, and helped to guide the Church through, one of the pivotal epochs of European history.  In this reflection we commemorate St John of the Cross, a man who lived in another pivotal epoch, twelve centuries after Ambrose, a time when the Western Church was, once again, divided – this time by the teaching of an Augustinian friar from Saxony, Martin Luther, and his fellow Reformers.

In almost all other respects, however, John was as unlike Ambrose as it is possible for two human beings to be.  He was of humble origins, born in an out-of-the-way village in Castile to parents who earned their living as weavers.  He was not a man of affairs but a poor scholar of the kind that Geoffrey Chaucer would have recognised as first cousin to his “Clerke of Oxenforde”.  He had been a visionary since his childhood, and – even by the standards of the 16th century – a small man.  St Teresa of Avila joked when he and Fray Antonio de Heredia (who was much taller) became the first men to join the reformed wing of the Carmelite order that God has sent her “a friar and a half”.

But that half-friar became Teresa’s right hand during her struggles to carry out the reform of the order against opposition that was sometimes petty and childish and at other times violently vindictive.  John was imprisoned twice by opponents of the reform, suffering repeated torture at the hands of his captors. On one occasion he escaped by letting himself down from an open window on a rope made from strips of bed-sheet – which ended nine feet above the ground.  He jumped the rest!

In both imprisonments he knew both the presence and the apparent absence of God.  From that experience he developed a profound understanding of the human journey deeper into God’s love through what he called “the dark night of the senses” and the deeper, more disorienting “dark night of the spirit” – or of the soul.  At the same time, he produced the most beautiful love-poetry, addressed to God, poetry of an immense simplicity and strength which has defeated many would-be translators, poetry for which John provided his own theological and spiritual commentary in his book “The dark night of the Soul”.

I mentioned in my previous post the difficulty of turning poetry in one language into poetry in another language.  Some attempts from the nineteenth and early twentieth century are, quite frankly, cringe-making – especially when thy attempt to match the rhythm and rhyme of St John’s own words.  However, translation is a necessity for those with little or no Spanish and in the middle years of the last century the South African poet, Roy Campbell, who lived in Spain for some years before and during the Spanish Civil War, had some success in producing an English version of two dozen of the saint’s poems, ranging from four-line epigrams to lengthy scriptural paraphrases which are neither over-literal nor fake-antique nor in the kind of “poetic” diction so loved by Victorian translators.

Like Ambrose, John used “ordinary language” to great effect and, on the whole, Roy Campbell matches him in that.  Campbell does, however, have to struggle with one major difference between Spanish and English.  Spanish words (especially when they are inflected) are often much longer than their English equivalents, so in a number of places Roy Campbell uses adjectives as padding, or stretches a vivid word into a full-fledged simile.  With those two provisos, here is a link to Campbell’s version of the poems of St John of the Cross.

Tony Dickinson

Poets of Christ’s Coming (1)

(St Ambrose of Milan: f.d. 7th December)

The three Fridays of this year’s Advent each mark a saint’s day, in the calendar of either Common Worship or the Book of Common Prayer.  The first two Fridays are “lesser festivals”, days for which the main Common Worship calendar provides no proper readings, although there is a special collect for the day.  The third is, in the Prayer Book calendar, a “red letter day”, with its own special collect, epistle and gospel.  By coincidence, the first two Fridays commemorate saints who are significant Christian poets, as well as being important figures in the history of the Church, while the red letter day celebrates an apostle whose given name is the same as the surname of a poet in the succession of Anglican poet-priests which includes figures as diverse as John Donne, George Herbert, Thomas Traherne, the Wesleys, and John Keble.  Between them, our three poets span seventeen centuries, from the fourth to the twentieth – and they do so in the order in which they appear in the calendar.

So, in the first of these three posts, we head back in time to the fourth century of our era, to a point in history when the European world was changing, the period which scholars call “late antiquity”. During this period Rome’s power over the Mediterranean world was beginning to ebb increasingly quickly.  The “limes”, the frontier which separated the Roman world from the barbarians, was becoming more porous and fragile.  Since the beginning of the 4th century, following the Emperor Constantine’s vision of a cross of light and a voice from heaven telling him “In this sign you shall conquer”, the Christian Church had emerged from the catacombs and was being transformed from a subterranean and suspect movement into a serious actor in the mainstream life and culture of the Empire.

Aurelius Ambrosius was part of all these changes.  He was born, around AD 340, into a Christian family.  His father was a senior government official, the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul – a post which it would have been inconceivable for a Christian to hold three decades earlier.  At the time of his son’s birth he was based in the important military centre of Augusta Treverorum, the modern-day German city of Trier.  Ambrosius, or, to give him his English name, Ambrose, followed his father into government service.  In his early thirties he was appointed to the governorship of Liguria (so Genoa was on his patch) and Emilia, based in Milan, which was effectively the capital of the Western Roman Empire.  Rome was too far from the frontiers and increasingly a backwater, although it still had a huge symbolic significance.

Ambrose had not been in the post much more than a couple of years when the Bishop of Milan died.  The Christian community in Milan was deeply divided between those who held the orthodox faith as defined by the Council of Nicaea nearly fifty years before and those who followed the beliefs of Arius, who held that, while Jesus was more than simply human, he was not fully divine and that there had been a time when he was not.  It was important, given the strategic importance of Milan, that the city should remain at peace and Ambrose took part in the election of the new bishop, to ensure fair play and to prevent the city descending into riot and, probably, bloodshed.

Ambrose was admired and trusted by both sides and it is recorded that, as soon as he appeared in the church where the election was due to take place, the cry went up “Ambrose for bishop!”  Now, Ambrose was almost totally unqualified for this post.  He was a Christian, as his parents had been, but he had never been baptised.  Like many in government service (including the Emperor Constantine) he had postponed baptism in case his official duties caused him to sin – and left an indelible stain after he had been, to use the old expression, “washed in the blood of the Lamb”.

So, Ambrose refused to accept election.  But the people of Milan were insistent.  So was the Emperor.  In the face of that amount of pressure Ambrose gave way.  He was baptised, ordained, consecrated and appointed bishop of Milan within a week.  Which makes all the hoo-ha when Justin Welby became Archbishop of Canterbury about his lack of episcopal experience seem very petty-minded!   And the people who shouted for the election of Ambrose were proved to be wiser than most crowds.  He was a brilliant bishop.  He was, as you might expect from his background, an outstanding administrator and organiser.  He was also a fine preacher – and because, unlike many of his contemporaries, he knew Greek, he was able to keep in touch with what was going on in the Church in the Eastern half of the Empire. This meant that he was up-to-date with theological and liturgical thinking. 

One of the developments in the Eastern Church during the second half of the fourth century was the increasing use of hymns in worship.  Ambrose took over this development with such enthusiasm that he is often described as the founder of western hymnody.  He realised, like Martin Luther at the time of the Reformation, and the Wesleys in 18th-century England, that hymns were a very effective way of teaching ordinary people theology.  Unlike many poets of the fourth century, who were still working in the same style and with the same verse-forms as the Roman poets Virgil and Horace nearly four hundred years before, he chose simple measures that could be remembered, and, like the Iona community in our own day, he preferred to use simple language – something we don’t always realise when we sing Ambrose’s hymns (yes, we still sing them today), because when they were translated into English in the 19th century, the convention was to use “poetic diction” and obsolete forms, like “thee” and “thou”. So tonight, I’m not going to talk further about Ambrose’s influence on the Western Church, or about how he became the conscience of the Empire, or about his key role in the conversion of St Augustine of Hippo.

Instead, I’m going to end with a three of the hymns which he wrote for the people of Milan, and which are still sung today.

The first is a hymn he wrote for the dawning of the day.  Its Latin title is “Splendor Paternae gloriae”.  In English it is known as “O splendour of God’s glory bright”:

The second hymn is one for the ending of the day, or rather “the lighting of the lamps”, which was an important time of day in an age when electric light at the touch of a switch was unknown.  In Latin its first line is “Deus Creator omnium” (“God, creator of all”).  In English we know it as “Creator of the earth and sky”:

Finally, I’m going to share with you a hymn that Ambrose wrote for Christmas Eve.  His original version begins with a paraphrase of the first verse of Psalm 80, but most hymn-books open with the second verse, which begins with the words, “Veni, Redemptor gentium”.   For that reason we know it as “Come, thou Redeemer of the earth” (which is what the Latin means):

Tony Dickinson

Farewell to Moses

Advent Sunday was the last time when we shall see (at least for the foreseeable future) the smiling face of our dear brother Moses Adesina.  In the short time that Moses has been with us, he has become a greatly valued member of our church family and has played a significant part of our church life, whether up at the front, as he was on Advent Sunday morning, or quietly in the background, working with Peter Asemwote and Lis Watkins to set up the church on Sundays, or helping Peter and others tidy the church grounds.  He has also been seen regularly welcoming visitors, serving refreshments and shifting furniture for concerts and church lunches.  On 5th December he will be on his way to Nairobi, to begin the final stage of training for ordained ministry in Christ’s Church.  It has been a long and winding journey and it is quite possible that there may be one or two more twists in it yet, but God is faithful and the One who has called Moses, and has brought him thus far, will make sure that he fulfils the ministry to which he is being called.  We wish Moses safe journeys from Genoa to Nairobi and a fruitful and blessed time as a student at Carlile College.  Please pray for him, as he begins this new stage of his journey towards priesthood.  On his last day with us we presented him with two simple gifts, a suitably inscribed new Bible, and a pen-and-ink sketch of the church as a token of our thanks for all that he has given by his presence among us.

Remembrance in Bordighera

I have done a fair bit of “depping” in my time, usually for bishops or archdeacons on ecumenical occasions in the UK.  Before today I had never “depped” for an ambassador.  HE Ms Morris was scheduled to give the keynote address at the ecumenical commemoration in Bordighera’s War Cemetery today, but Mrs May required her presence at a meeting in Palermo, so that she had to head south instead of north.  As a result, I was asked by the local congregation to step in (I was already down to lead the prayers).  This is what I said (the “reading” to which I refer was Matthew 5:1-12):

When I was a curate, thirty-plus years ago, I used to pay regular visits to one of the older inhabitants of the parish where I served.  Edgar had led an interesting life.  As a master carpenter in the 1920s and 1930s he worked on the state-rooms of the great Cunard liners, the “Queen Mary” and “Queen Elizabeth”.  In the following decade he found himself at Leavesden Aerodrome (now the studios where the Harry Potter films were made), working on the production of Halifax bombers for the Royal Air Force.  But the reason I mention him today is that as a young man, despite his poor eyesight, he had enlisted in a cavalry unit and been sent to fight on the Struma Front on the border between Greece and Bulgaria.  He always said that the Struma Front was one of the “forgotten fronts” of the First World War, although several nations, including Britain and Italy, were involved in the fighting.

For most British people an all-but exclusive focus on the horrors of the Western Front means that most other campaigns of the First World War, including the war in Italy, are also largely forgotten, even though the twelve battles, culminating in the disaster of Caporetto, which were fought along the river Isonzo between 1915 and 1917 were among the bloodiest of the war, “like Flanders”, someone has commented, “but two thousand feet up and with trenches dug into rock and ice instead of mud”, and in 1917 an expeditionary force was sent from Britain.

Today, as we remember, our thoughts are focused on eighty-three young and not-so-young men and one woman who died in the military hospitals here, either of wounds received in that campaign or from the flu’ pandemic that overlapped its ending: riflemen, gunners, sappers, mechanics, medics, clerks, and one stray civilian, as well as the inevitable PBI, as my father (a gunner) used to call them; men from all parts of Britain who served in that expeditionary force, men from Jamaica and Barbados, one man from north-west India – and men from half a dozen provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czech, Croat, Transylvanian, Slovenian: former enemies, brought together in the place of their death and burial.

We remember, in sorrow, the competitive egoisms, personal and national, which pushed the world into war a hundred years ago, and which still afflict our planet. The “War to end War” whose victims we commemorate was far from being the final harvest of the bitter fruit of human arrogance and greed.  We remember, too, the fruits of courage and comradeship which sustained those who served their countries in time of conflict, and we give thanks for the generous hospitality of communities like Bordighera, which saw not “allies” and “enemies” but human beings in need of help and healing.  And we look to the words of Jesus which we heard in the reading from St Matthew’s Gospel to find a remedy for the destructive drives which led to those years of slaughter along the Isonzo.

Jesus’ words are an uncomfortable reminder that, despite appearances,  the blessing of God rests not on the wealthy and the powerful, but on those who confront and accept the pain of the world, those who strive for justice, who show mercy, who work for peace.  The Sermon on the Mount is not, as some have called it, “an impossible ethic”.  It is the blueprint for human survival – and an unwavering critique of human power structures and hierarchies.

Jesus calls us to abandon the quest for status, to lay down the self-righteousness that denies or defies the righteousness of God who has compassion on our enemies as much as on us who suffer at their hands.  He calls us to live as though we truly believe in the God who has made all humanity in his image and likeness, Czech, Croat, Hungarian, Romanian, Slovenian equally with Italian, Jamaican, Indian and Briton.  He calls us to have confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s love and his justice.  He calls us to believe in the possibility of God’s “shalom”, that peace which is not just the absence of war, but the fulfilment of the prophet’s vision of swords beaten into ploughshares in a transformed world where all creatures live in harmony.  To believe in that possibility is to believe in good news, to believe in the reality of God’s coming kingdom.

A brief reflection on All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day is the day when we remember with thanksgiving not just the saints with a capital S, but all who have been important for our growth as Christians and our progress in discipleship. They may have been our companions on the journey for a short while or for half a lifetime and more. They may have been models of holiness through whom God’s glory shone for us. They may have been ordinary people who had the gift of encouragement, knowing somehow just the right word to say at the right time. Whoever they may have been, whatever they may have been for us, we give thanks for them among those “spirits of the righteous made perfect” listed in today’s first reading among the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem.
We give thanks, too, for countless others, not known to us, and not formally recognised by any Christian tradition, but who bore witness to the living Christ in the way they lived and died.
Three years ago, on a visit to our son when he was at university in Sheffield, the Dickinson family spent a day in the Peak District.  In the afternoon we stopped for tea in the pretty Derbyshire village of Eyam. Now, Eyam is not just a pretty village. It is also a rather grim footnote in English history. It was hit in late 1665 by the plague which had ravaged London earlier that year. 350 people in the village died, but led by their Rector, William Mompesson, and his predecessor, Thomas Stanley*, the people of Eyam took the decision to prevent the plague spreading further by putting themselves in quarantine until the illness had burnt itself out.
William and Thomas could have left, but they stayed and ministered to the sick and dying, as did William’s wife, Catherine. She sent their children away to safety, but she refused to leave her husband. Toward the end of the outbreak, she too caught the plague and died, bearing witness in death as in life to the love of the Son of God who laid down his life for his friends. Since that visit I have remembered her, and William, and Thomas Stanley, among the holy ones of God, as people who lived those eight blessings which Jesus proclaimed in today’s Gospel. And I shall be praying for all who find themselves, as they did, in the front line of the conflict between duty, love, and safety.
*Thomas Stanley was one of those “ejected” clergy who had been driven out of the Church of England in 1662 because they could not, in conscience, consent to using only the Book Of Common Prayer in public worship.  That he worked so closely with his successor in such a tragic situation says a great deal about them both.

Praying through Brexit

Bishop Robert wrote recently to all the chaplaincies in the diocese asking for prayer in the run-up to 29th March, and especially as the negotiations reach their climax. Here is the content of his letter:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Invitation to Pray

Over the next 6 months, the UK will be negotiating its departure from the European Union. This is a project of immense political and technical complexity. However, if the project goes badly, the UK could enter a period of crisis, of a kind that post-war Britain has not so far experienced. I therefore call upon you to join me in praying for the negotiating process.

Whilst many are rightly concerned about how any deal will eventually be agreed by the UK Parliament, the first big milestone in the process is a summit in Brussels next week. This will convene on 17 and 18 October and brings together the Prime Ministers/Presidents of the 28 EU States. If there is good progress but more remains to be settled, then there is likely to be a further Summit in November. Some 90% of the Withdrawal Agreement (including the areas related to Citizens’ Rights) has already been agreed, but further work is needed on trade arrangements and the Irish border. Both sides want a deal. However, as in any deal-making, things can go wrong, and the parties could talk past each other or fall out with one another. No-one should be under any illusion as to the seriousness of these negotiations.

I am aware that many of the recipients of this letter and those in our congregations are not British. However, this is a matter of more general European concern. So can I specifically ask you to pray for the negotiations in your Sunday services this coming weekend? Also, please consider setting aside 17 and 18 October as days of prayer. Pray specifically:

• For the civil servants working ‘under the radar’ to construct forms of agreement
• For the leaders of the nations to act in the interests of all their people and for the common good.

With all good wishes,

Yours in Christ,

+Robert Gibraltar in Europe

Reflections on a marriage

On 5th October I conducted my first wedding blessing in Italy.  The actual marriage took place in Beijing earlier in the year and the guests had come from many parts of the world.  Some had come from the western edge of the Atlantic Isles, others from the heart of the Middle Kingdom, and the rest from many different places between and beyond.  What drew them was probably the most powerful force in the universe, the force of love.

They had come to acknowledge and celebrate the love between the newly married couple, and had come because of love for them.  What drew each of them, many after long journeys, was their love for the couple, whether as family members, friends, or colleagues.  And what the couple had set at the heart of this celebration of their love was a powerful reminder that their love is a reflection of another love, the love that, in the words of the greatest of all Italian poets, “moves the sun and the other stars”.  Love is the nature of God.  Love is the power that creates the universe and sustains it in being. Love is the power which seizes and transforms human lives.

They had chosen for the reading a passage from St John’s Gospel (ch. 15: vv. 9-17) which spells it out the nature of love with an almost terrifying clarity.  The love of which Jesus speaks to his disciples, in that passage, and which lies at the heart of the universe, is not “warm fuzzies”, fluffy kittens, bluebirds, hearts and flowers.  The love of which Jesus speaks to his disciples is a love which shows itself in self-giving, self-emptying, commitment to the beloved – even to the point of death.  “Love one another” says Jesus, “as I have loved you.”  Those words are, if you think about it, frightening.  Loving as Jesus loves means setting no limits, no boundaries to our giving, our sharing of life, our readiness to forgive – and to be forgiven.  Loving as Jesus loves means being open to the world as well as open to each other. It includes all the commitments to which the partners pledge themselves at a wedding ceremony – but it goes way, way beyond them.

That is why at a wedding service in the Eastern Orthodox Churches the new husband and wife are crowned by the priest.  Their crowning is an action rich in meaning.  On one level it affirms that the bride and groom are king and queen for the day of their wedding.  On another level it gives them authority over any children to be born of their union. But it also points at a deeper level to those who bear witness to God’s love at the cost of their life.  In Christian art, crowns are the symbol of martyrs, those who, to quote the words of Jesus from our reading “lay down their life for their friends”, and particularly those who lay down their life for the love of God because there is no alternative which leaves them with any integrity.  Marriage, in that sense, is a kind of “white martyrdom”, an act of witness in which no blood is shed, but in which the ego of a husband or wife is laid low by the demands of self-giving love.

By their choice of reading for this celebration, the couple had set the bar for the future of their relationship high, some might think “impossibly high”. But, the closing words of Jesus in that reading remind us that it isn’t down to them, or to any of us, to be romantic heroes or heroines in our own strength.  In fact, most of love isn’t about heroism – or romance, for that matter, once the glamour and excitement of a celebration like Friday’s fades into memory.  Most of love is not about the grand gesture, but about the little deaths to selfishness and pride, the everyday exchanges, the patience, the willingness to forgive and be forgiven which come about when each partner puts the other’s good, the other’s happiness, ahead of their own.  Love is about learning who we are, and who the other is, within God’s love; and God’s love is the source and the sustainer of human love. Love is about bearing fruit, “fruit that will last”, says Jesus.  Our prayers on Friday were that the couple’s love for each other will indeed bear more and more fruit as each of them learns more fully the art of self-surrender and abides faithfully in one another’s love until their love becomes taken up wholly into the love of God.

A Church in crisis?

One of the changes identified in the British Social Attitudes survey for 2017 gave rise to such headlines as “Church in crisis as only 2% of young adults identify as C of E”.

There was, as you may imagine, a lot of hand-wringing about this, but the Revd Angela Rayner (newly ordained and serving as assistant curate in the Lynn Team Ministry in Norwich Diocese), called for a sense of proportion. ‘The Church of England’ she tweeted ‘is very rarely “in crisis”, (only when the tea runs out), but terminal decline is more of an issue. It may not be inevitable, and might be reversible if we would undertake certain steps.’

What follows is her list of twenty suggestions to halt – or reverse the decline.  Not all of them are easily applicable outside the UK, but I post them here for you to ponder.  What, among Ms Rayner’s list, is possible for us here in Genoa? What would never work because of where we are/who we are? What other possibilities would you suggest?

  1. All church buildings to be open daily from morning to dusk.
  2. Morning and Evening Prayer to be said publicly every day in every parish/benefice.
  3. Evening Prayer to be sung, if at all possible, once a week according to BCP.
  4. Mass to be said daily or at least four times per week in each Benefice (where possible).
  5. Mass to be celebrated on major feast days, not transferred to Sunday.
  6. Domestic liturgical practices to be introduced in every household (epiphany chalking, Advent calendars etc.)
  7. Abstinence from meat to be reintroduced on Fridays, and communal parish fasts to be agreed in Lent.
  8. Confession (or equivalent) to be advertised, encouraged and held weekly, not by appointment.
  9. Weekly catechism classes, and lay guilds of catechists trained by Dioceses.
  10. All parishes to go on pilgrimage once a year (locally or further afield)
  11. Spiritual direction to be given greater prominence, and more spiritual directors trained. All Christians encouraged to adopt spiritual directors.
  12. Links between non-church schools and churches to be strengthened, and schools welcomed frequently into church buildings esp on Sundays.
  13. Children to be involved in “up front” ways as much as possible in all church services e.g. choir, reading, serving.
  14. Children and youth to attend an annual festival/pilgrimage or similar to meet a wider variety of Christians.
  15. Nobody to be refused baptism, but church to appoint additional God-parents/supporters to encourage additional contact with families.
  16. Churching of women service to be updated, and mothers and fathers to be welcomed into church when children are born.
  17. Use of sacramentals to be encouraged in and out of church e.g. holy water stoops, rosaries, candles and medals.
  18. Public processions to be held a few times each year, and new businesses/classrooms/homes to be blessed frequently.
  19. Parishioners encouraged to give 5% of income to parish church.
  20. All clergy to wear clerical collars.

Ponte Morandi – a month on (14th September, 2018)

The Church of the Holy Ghost participated in the minute’s silence in memory of the victims and the “Nine Tailors” were rung on the ship’s bell of the “London Valour” immediately before the silence.  In the evening Tony Dickinson attended both the civic act of remembrance in Piazza de Ferrari and the memorial Mass in the Cathedral. 

Both the civic and the cathedral acts of remembrance for those who died in the collapse of the Ponte Morandi were “full house”, with standing-room only in San Lorenzo and the vast space of Piazza de Ferrari full of people. Young and old, men and women, teenagers and young children of all races gathered together in both venues, representatives of a city united, to show their grief and sense of loss, their solidarity with those who mourn most deeply, and their gratitude to those, vigili, police, volunteers of all kinds, who had undertaken the difficult and dangerous work of rescue and recovery. The civic remembrance began with a reading of the names of the dead, each with a short biographical sketch, to the accompaniment of the Adagio by Samuel Barber. Some were almost unbearably poignant, especially the last, of the youngest person to die. Here even the reader, who had kept control of his emotions through what must have been a horribly difficult task, almost lost it, and all the way through there was much furtive (and not-so-furtive) wiping of eyes and blowing of noses. Bishop Anselmi spoke well in the Piazza, finishing his contribution by leading the crowd in saying the Angelus, whose closing words, a plea to Mary to “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”, were singularly appropriate. And it was good to see the vigili and others taking centre stage as they recalled their part in the tragedy. The Mass in the cathedral was solemn and dignified, and the names of the victims were again read out, this time within the framework of the Eucharistic prayer, giving a sense of thanksgiving for their lives as well as the offering of those lives to be taken up into the suffering and death of Jesus and transformed by the love and mercy of God.


On Thursday 10th May the Church marks the return of Jesus to the Father who sent him.  There will be a celebration of the Eucharist for Ascension Day at 1230, and the church will be open all day for people to drop in and pray.  This is being done as part of the global “Thy Kingdom Come” initiative, which runs from Ascension Day to Pentecost (10th-20th May). “Thy Kingdom Come” started in England a couple of years ago and is now being taken up enthusiastically (and ecumenically) in many countries. There will be morning and evening prayer at the Church of the Holy Ghost on the day as well as prayer stations and other resources.  I hope you will be able to join us.  If you would like to know more about “Thy Kingdom Come” and, particularly, about things that individuals and families can do during the ten days, please follow this link to the website and then click on “Resources”. There will also, I hope, be material appearing on the “Church and Friends” FB page during the next few days, so please, if you are on Facebook, please keep an eye on that.

A new page in this church’s history:

We have Fr Tony Dickinson with us to provide an active ministry to this church and metropolitan area. A very exciting time and an important development for our congregation. Welcome!

Revd Canon Tony Dickinson

Born in Liverpool in 1948, Tony Dickinson was educated at Liverpool Collegiate School and New College, Oxford.  He worked in university administration at the University of Durham’s Institute of Education and the Open University’s Southern Regional office in Oxford before following a call to ordained ministry.   After training at Lincoln Theological College he was ordained in St Alban’s Abbey (deacon 1982: priest 1983).  Since then he has worked in parishes in Watford (1982-1986), Slough (1986-1994) and High Wycombe (1994-2018).  From 1995 to 2013 he was one of the team of Ecumenical Officers in the diocese of Oxford, serving for some years as team leader.  For the past 23 years he has also been the European Officer of the Diocese of Oxford, developing a formal partnership with the diocese of Växjö in the Church of Sweden and encouraging attendance at the German Protestant Kirchentag, which he has attended since 1985.  Since 2005 he has been an Honorary Canon of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.  He has been engaged in interfaith and intercultural relations for much of his ministry, with a particular focus on the encounter between Christians and Muslims, about which he has written.  He is also an experienced spiritual director.

Tony is a reasonably fluent French-speaker and can get by in German, Spanish and Italian (he is working on this!) as well as in Swedish.  He is married to Sandra, who is a health-care professional, and they have two grown-up children, Hugh and Beatrice.

Some of our locum chaplains who has served our church so generously in the past:

For February, including Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, we welcome back Fr Gordon Bond SSC.

Fr GordonBy birth a Yorkshireman, I trained at Chichester Theological College, and my ministry has been spent very much south of my homeland, mostly in the Diocese of Chichester.

Before moving to the parish of St Mary East Grinstead, where I spent a large part of my priestly ministry, I was chaplain to Bishop Colin Docker, then Bishop of Horsham. I enjoyed my time working with Bishop Colin, but always saw my vocation in parish ministry.

I enjoyed being at Saint Mary’s, where, with a strong core of laity, we led a firm spiritual life in the catholic tradition of the Church of England.

Since retiring some ten years ago and battling with a few ill-health problems, I have been helping out in the parish of St Richard in Haywards Heath.

My two hobbies are Travel in Continental Europe (when I am fit and able) and I enjoy Modern Foreign Languages. I speak reasonable French and a little German. My Italian is improving in terms of nouns: verbs are next!

I count it a privilege to serve once again the spiritual community at Holy Ghost.

Fr Bernard Fray is back with us for the month of January.

 I have been in parish ministry for some twenty years. Having previously been in teaching at King Edward VI School Lichfield and then deputy head at an independent school in Hampshire, I moved back north to take on the role of Head at a school near Scarborough .
I was ordained in York Minster and still continue to serve in the York Diocese.   Since retiring from full time ministry, I have enjoyed my several visits to Genoa, both in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. I have had two Christmases here. I have also served  at St. Moritz in Switzerland on three winter seasons, and in addition I serve as chaplain on the Saga cruise liners.     I love travelling, modern languages and performing music (when I can).
We welcome for the first time Bishop David Farrer, and his wife Helen, to be wish us for most of November then Advent and Christmas.

Bishop David Farrer was born in England but moved to Australia as a child. He trained as a horticulturist in the Dandenong Ranges and at Burnley Horticultural College, Melbourne before studying for the ordained ministry in Adelaide. He was ordained priest in 1969 and a few years later returned to Melbourne where he served in the parishes of Brunswick and Eastern Hill, was Chaplain to Parliament of Victoria, a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and also Archdeacon of Melbourne. His commitment to community work in Australia earned him the title of Citizen of the Year in Brunswick in 1983 “for work with the unemployed and homeless”.

He was consecrated bishop in 1998 and was Bishop of Wangaratta from 1998 to 2008, during which time he helped establish four low-fee Anglican schools.  His vision for these schools was that they should be low-fee Anglican Schools for the growing populations of the Diocese, to work closely with the local parishes and to meet the educational social and spiritual needs of the children who attended. From their very beginnings he and the other founders have overseen amazing growth of what was obviously a very much wanted and needed educational option.

In 2008 Bishop David returned to England to become Vicar of the Parish of Arundel in West Sussex: he also served as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Chichester. Since then he has done an eighteen-month locum in the Parish of All Saints East St Kilda in Melbourne and a shorter locum at the nearby St James’ Parish.

Bishop David and Helen have two sons and five grandchildren in Australia.

For the month of October and the first part of November we welcome the return of Fr Peter Blackburn, long-time locum chaplain with this church, he is now based in London.


We welcome for the first time to our church Fr Richard Gowty who sends this message to us all:

Greetings to you all from Australia.

I am looking forward to being your Chaplain for the month of September.

It will be the third time I have served in Italy, having been a locum Chaplain on previous occasions in Lake Como and Taormina.

My wife Maggie and I live on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast with our dog Barney where I am an Archdeacon and in charge of the parish of Palmwoods. Maggie is a retired teacher, and together we enjoy the many blessings of life in a wonderful country, enjoying good health and surrounded by family and friends.

We have three married daughters, Anna, Kate and Sophie and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in reasonably close proximity to us.

We love to travel, especially in Europe, with Italy and the Italian people close to our hearts. We have lived in a number of overseas places where I have worked as a priest, including London and the USA, but we are pleased to call Australia home.

Besides our love for the Anglican church, we have many interests. Obviously we both enjoy travel and meeting new friends, and look forward to doing so amongst you in September.

Maggie manages the Parish Op shop in Palmwoods and enjoys reading, keeping up with family and friends, cooking and gardening; I am a keen golfer as well as an unashamed lover of Italian food and culture, and this increases every time we have the privilege of visiting your country. Together we are proud grandparents to Lily, Emma, Harry, George, Daisy, Bell and Phoebe.

Maggie and I will shortly leave Australia to be with you in Genoa. We very much look forward to this posting and pray that my ministry among you will be a blessing to both you and us.

With warm regards

Archdeacon Richard and Maggie Gowty


We welcome back to our church, after quite some time (!), for the last Sunday in July and the whole month of August Fr. Michael Bullock.

I was last in Genova in 2000, having spent eighteen months as Chaplain of Liguria. There will be one or two people I remember from those days, and I look forward to meeting them again and also getting to know new faces. Since leaving Liguria I was Chaplain at Lisbon (Portugal) for a number of years before retiring to England in 2012. I have lived in Spalding in the east of England since then, interspersed with periods of locum duty in the Diocese in Europe in various countries all of which
have interested and stimulated me. History and languages and the people who speak them have always been a joy. I am writing this from Norfolk (England) where I am attending the annual retreat and chapter meeting of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd (OGS) a religious society of celibate priests and laymen to which I have belonged since 1993.
After leaving Genova in September I hope to take up the ministry of Chaplain of Bonn and Cologne (Germany) in November.
Michael Bullock OGS


For June and most of July we were happy to have Fr Bernard Fray back with us.

 I have been in parish ministry for some twenty years. Having previously been in teaching at King Edward VI School Lichfield and then deputy head at an independent school in Hampshire, I moved back north to take on the role of Head at a school near Scarborough .
I was ordained in York Minster and still continue to serve in the York Diocese.   Since retiring from full time ministry, I have enjoyed my several visits to Genoa, both in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. I have had two Christmases here. I have also served  at St. Moritz in Switzerland on three winter seasons, and in addition I serve as chaplain on the Saga cruise liners.     I love travelling, modern languages and performing music (when I can).


We welcome back to our church for the month of May Rev. Douglas Greenaway

The Rev. Douglas Andrew Greenaway was Ordained to the Holy Order of Priests in the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Washington and completed his Master of Divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary, in Washington, DC. He currently serves as Priest Associate at St. Paul’s Rock Creek Parish. Prior ministries include serving as Assistant Rector at St. Alban’s Parish, Washington, DC, as Clergy Chaplain for Episcopal Students at American University, and as on-call Chaplain at Washington Hospital Center.

Since 1985, Fr. Greenaway has served as an advocate and government affairs specialist.  As President & CEO of the NATIONAL WIC ASSOCIATION, NWA, since 1990, Douglas is responsible for directing the Association as well as representing the interests of its members – the 50 States, 40 Indian Nations, and Trust Territories, 2200 local agencies, and 10,000 clinics who operate the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children as well as the nearly 9 million mothers and young children who participate in WIC – before Congress, the US Department of Agriculture, other Federal agencies and the White House.  His ministry with NWA has been recognized by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA.

A Master’s graduate of The Catholic University of America’s School of Architecture in Washington, DC, Douglas practiced his profession as an Architect for eight years in Los Angeles, India, Washington, DC, and Germany before returning to an earlier love, public policy!

In 1974, after graduating in Political Science/Sociology from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, Douglas began work with the Research Office of the Official Opposition in Canadian Parliament, writing speeches and debate notes for the Leader of the Official Opposition and Opposition Members of Parliament.

A resident of Washington, DC, Douglas was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. He is the proud father of Vishal Sean and a new grandson Kavi Vishal. Both father and son are avid, dedicated skiers.


For Easter and our service of Confirmation we welcomed back Fr Gordon Bond SSC.

Fr GordonBy birth a Yorkshireman, I trained at Chichester Theological College, and my ministry has been spent very much south of my homeland, mostly in the Diocese of Chichester.

Before moving to the parish of St Mary East Grinstead, where I spent a large part of my priestly ministry, I was chaplain to Bishop Colin Docker, then Bishop of Horsham. I enjoyed my time working with Bishop Colin, but always saw my vocation in parish ministry.

I enjoyed being at Saint Mary’s, where, with a strong core of laity, we led a firm spiritual life in the catholic tradition of the Church of England.

Since retiring some ten years ago and battling with a few ill-health problems, I have been helping out in the parish of St Richard in Haywards Heath.

My two hobbies are Travel in Continental Europe (when I am fit and able) and I enjoy Modern Foreign Languages. I speak reasonable French and a little German. My Italian is improving in terms of nouns: verbs are next!

I count it a privilege to have served the spiritual community at Holy Ghost on several occasions – twice now to celebrate together the joy of the Resurrection.


Priests at the Church of the Holy Ghost Genova 2016-2017

Here are the names of the priests coming to serve this church over the next months. We thank them for their dedication and witness.


  • December   –   Peter Cavanagh


  • January 1   –    Peter Cavanagh
  • January      –    Clifford Owen
  • February    –    Ed Hanson
  • March         –    Elizabeth Bussmann
  • April            –    Gordon Bond
  • May             –    Douglas Greenaway
  • June            –    Bernard Fray
  • July             –    Bernard Fray
  • August        –    Michael Bullock
  • September –    Richard Gowty
  • October      –    Peter Blackburn
  • November –    Douglas Greenaway
  • December. –   Michael Bullock


For the month of March we have been privileged to welcome back Rev.d Elizabeth Bussmann-Morton. She is also our Environment Officer for the Anglican Diocese in Europe.

I have lived in Switzerland since 1971 and trained originally as a Deacon in the Swiss Church. However, in 2000 my husband Edi, and I returned to England where I trained as a Church Army Evangelist in Sheffield. We had thought we would stay for two or three years but it became 14! In 2014 we returned to Switzerland to enjoy our grandchildren while they are still relatively young. When we left in 2000 we had 1, now there are 10!

In England I was rector of two parishes in Surrey, a ministry I really loved. Now I help twice a month at St Peter’s in Chateau d’Oex and am also the Environmental Officer for the Diocese in Europe. I have also discovered the privilege of being a locum minister. This is my first time outside of Switzerland where I have been a seasonal minister for ICS in places such as Zermatt, Interlaken and Wengen. Our Golden Retriever, Monty, is also here in Genova and he LOVES it! Never had so many pats and kisses, not to mention all the dogs everywhere we go! Life will be very boring back home…..


For February 2017 Holy Ghost Anglican Church has welcomed back Father Ed Hanson.

Ed Hanson

The Rev. Edward W. Hanson lives in Twickenham, England (within shouting distant of the RFU stadium, although sadly not a fan himself).  Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Ed worked as an academic historian before training for ordination initially at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., and then at Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford.  He was ordained at Lincoln Cathedral and served a curacy in Lincoln City before moving to an incumbency in the Diocese of Chelmsford.  For ten years he was rector of three village parishes in the south of Essex and served as Rural Dean before taking a (slightly) early retirement in 2014.  Since then, Ed has been busy with locum work both in the West London area and most recently with the Diocese in Europe.  When one retires as a Rector, one does not retire as a priest.  In fact, it usually means that one can own one’s priesthood more fully when not weighed down with administration and meetings.  It has also allowed more time for a return to historical research and writing (early American history, genealogy, and a current project in Italian history), as well as travel through much of Europe which he has still not visited.


January 2017 – Fr Clifford Owen

Clifford and Avis Owen

Clifford retired from the Chaplaincy in Ostend and Bruges Belgium in October 2012 so is now into his fifth year of retirement. Apart from one or two short locums a year he has been quite busy in Huntingdon Deanery where he took six weddings last summer. Apart from retirement ministry Clifford has tried to keep up the practical interests that he knows cannot last for more than a few years. He works a day each week on the Nene Valley Steam Railway as a volunteer in the workshop. Twice a year he helps on archaeological digs in Cambridgeshire and has recently joined Huntingdon Male Voice Choir.
Avis continues to work as a volunteer research assistant in Huntingdonshire County Record Office and has taken up learning Latin to understand the medieval parish registers. She continues her sewing interest and has made three recent outstanding bed quilts.
Increasingly time is being taken up with assisting elderly relations as well as giving back to our four children and grandchildren some of the time they have missed from us over the ten years we have worked in the Diocese in Europe before retirement.


Advent and Christmas – We are very grateful to Fr Peter Cavanagh for stepping in and joining us mid-December till the New Year.


Peter Cavanagh was ordained in 1973 in the Diocese of Liverpool and after serving a curacy was appointed Vicar of St Columba’s Church, Anfield in 1979.  St Columba’s is an Art Deco church building and during his time there a restoration of this wonderful church was undertaken.

In 1994 the Parish Hall was burnt down (on November 5th!) and a new Parish Centre was added to the church building.  In 1997 Peter was appointed  Vicar of Lancaster and stayed there until retirement in 2010.  Throughout his ministry Peter has served on various committees connected with the care and preservation of church buildings, and now helps find new uses for churches now surplus to requirement.
He enjoys reading, cooking, music (especially opera) and is an avid reader.


For November 2016 we welcome the return of Fr John Smith:

Canon John Smith
Canon John Smith

I am a retired Anglican priest and diocesan educationalist, living in Nottinghamshire, but most recently in paid employment in Kent, who has been here three of four times previously. Proof of my marriage is in the photo, and I am much occupied by travelling in Italy and the USA, where our son has lived and worked since 2000, and our only grandchildren are. I love playing chess, reading novels and history, doing the Guardian crossword, looking at art, the ballet, listening to music, speaking French, and leading Church of England worship.


For October 2016 we welcome Fr John Bennett, for the first time, to our church.

IMG_0700John and Rita Bennett live in the Yorkshire Dales, in the UK. Rita is a retired teacher. John is a retired Anglican priest who has served in North Yorkshire, both as a Methodist superintendent and an Anglican priest and now works in the chaplaincy team in Ripon Cathedral. They have organised a number of ecumenical pilgrimages in both Rome and Assisi and currently John is the Yorkshire representative, in support of the Anglican Centre in Rome.  He is also a member of the Anglican Franciscan third order. They have served overseas in the Church of Bangladesh and John is a trustee of Christians Aware, an international and ecumenical movement aiming to develop multi-cultural understanding.   They have a love of Italy, history, the arts and the countryside.


For the month of September we welcomed the return of Fr Peter Blackburn.


For the month of July we welcome the return of Fr David Emmott.



For the month of June we welcome the return of Fr Lawson Nagel.

Fr Lawson

It’s great to be back in Genoa after a five-year gap! My wife Mary and I lead busy lives – I am the Vicar of Aldwick in the Diocese of Chichester and Mary is the Secretary of the Catholic Group in General Synod – but coming to Genoa allows us to have a ‘working holiday’ and meet up with friends old and new. Back in 2011 we had our two younger children Tim and Polly with us; both are now married and Polly and her husband Gareth are expecting their second child in September. Our elder son Tom works in London and rings bells in various churches, and our elder daughter Lucy is a deacon in Bristol. Over the years I have been able to point several priests from the Catholic tradition towards Genoa, and it’s good that Mary and I have been able to come this year ourselves . There’s such a warm welcome here for us, and for you too – come and see!

Fr Lawson


For Easter we welcome back Fr Gordon Bond SSC.

Fr GordonBy birth a Yorkshireman, I trained at Chichester Theological College, and my ministry has been spent very much south of my homeland, mostly in the Diocese of Chichester.

Before moving to the parish of St Mary East Grinstead, where I spent a large part of my priestly ministry, I was chaplain to Bishop Colin Docker, then Bishop of Horsham. I enjoyed my time working with Bishop Colin, but always saw my vocation in parish ministry.

I enjoyed being at Saint Mary’s, where, with a strong core of laity, we led a firm spiritual life in the catholic tradition of the Church of England.

Since retiring some ten years ago and battling with a few ill-health problems, I have been helping out in the parish of St Richard in Haywards Heath.

My two hobbies are Travel in Continental Europe (when I am fit and able) and I enjoy Modern Foreign Languages. I speak reasonable French and a little German. My Italian is improving in terms of nouns: verbs are next!

I count it a privilege to have served the spiritual community at Holy Ghost on several occasions – twice now to celebrate together the joy of the Resurrection.


For March 2016 we welcomed Fr John Bennett, for the first time, to our church.

IMG_0700John and Rita Bennett live in the Yorkshire Dales, in the UK. Rita is a retired teacher. John is a retired Anglican priest who has served in North Yorkshire, both as a Methodist superintendent and an Anglican priest and now works in the chaplaincy team in Ripon Cathedral. They have organised a number of ecumenical pilgrimages in both Rome and Assisi and currently John is the Yorkshire representative, in support of the Anglican Centre in Rome.  He is also a member of the Anglican Franciscan third order. They have served overseas in the Church of Bangladesh and John is a trustee of Christians Aware, an international and ecumenical movement aiming to develop multi-cultural understanding.   They have a love of Italy, history, the arts and the countryside.


Sunday March 20th: Palm Sunday Address

Sunday March 13th:   Passion Sunday Address and today’s Baptism

Sunday March 6th:       A Message for Mothering Sunday from Revd John

Here are some of the profiles of chaplains who come to serve the International Anglican Church in Genova

For January 2017 we will welcome back Father Clifford Owen owen picture

Holy Ghost Anglican Church welcomes Rev. Dr. Clifford Owen and his wife, Avis, who have joined us from England. Prior to becoming a priest, Fr.Clifford served in the Royal Navy for 10 years as an Engineering Officer. His tours of duty took him to the Far East, Persian Gulf, Mediterranean and the Baltic.

Fr. Clifford was ordained priest in 1974 in the Dioceseof St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. In 1976 he moved to the Guildford Diocese, where he worked in
a new housing area near Bordon army camp and was successful in building an ecumenical church with the Methodists and URCs. It was here also that
he became involved in the healing ministry. Then in 1989, he moved to rural ministry in the Teme Valley of Worcestershire where he was also the Diocesan Ecumenical Officer.
In 2002 Fr. Clifford served as chaplain at Holy Trinity parish on the Greek island of Corfu where he was involved in helping to plant new congregations on Corfu, and also on the islands of Paxos and Lefkada.
In 2008 Fr. Clifford moved to the English speaking churches of Brugge and Oostende in Belgium. He officially retired from there in 2012. He now lives in the Diocese of Ely in the UK and keeps busy doing supply work at different churches, as a Day Chaplain at the Ely Cathedral and as a trustee of the Acorn and Whitehill Chase trusts.
In 2013 Fr. Clifford did an extended stint as locum chaplain at St. Luke’s in Fontainebleau, France.
In his retirement, Fr. Clifford now works as a volunteer on the Nene Valley Railway, Peterborough, one of the UK’s 113 steam locomotive heritage lines, where he is able to lend some of his engineering experience from back in the “old days.”
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