Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Time out

Change of scene
I’ve been on holiday for ten days, and before that, spent a week using the computer sparingly. I’m sitting writing this on a Mac, which is different for a start, looking out on a snowy landscape in a suburb near Geneva airport, where I’ll catch the ‘plane home in the morning. It’s been a time of catching up with old friends, and doing some cross-country ski-ing with Valdo, my Swiss pastor friend up in the Jura, in near perfect weather and snow conditions.

One of my adult confirmands of ten years ago in the time when I worked as a pastor in Geneva is going to be made Deacon this coming Summer, a cause of great delight to me. It’s a pity both the Bishops of the diocese do not ordain women, and will probably get an outsider in to ordain. Whether this is out of deference to the majority Catholic and Orthodox church communities, or personal conviction, I don’t know. It’s an extraordinary situation when all of the five candidates to be presented on this occasion are women. Maybe God is trying to tell them something.

Growth in the midst of decline
Church life thrives among Anglophone ex-patriates, not only in the ecumincal and international city of Geneva, but around the whole of Lac Léman. There have been Anglican churches in this areas for over 150 years, not to mention churches of other denominations, at least a dozen. Anglophone expatriates in the region number over 50,000. There’s something about being far from home that gets people thinking about their cultural and spiritual roots, and many of those who make the journey of faith show a hgh level of commitment.
A small church plant before my time in the countryside village protestant church of Gingins 25 miles from Geneva has now grown into a self supporting congregation with its own priest, and has itself spawned a new church plant in a French reformed church over the border in neighbouring Divonne-les-Bains.
At the same time, the Vaudois Protestant Church is struggling with tiny congregations, budget crises and reduction of pastors. Church closures are being contemplated, a terrible blow for these agricultural communities, invaded by large numbers of foreigners working for international organisations and businesses.
My friend Valdo has four agricultural villages with churches in his country pastorate, and works alone. In many town churches, regular congregations are 20 or less, except for big weddings and funerals. It’s very similar to the situation we are facing in Britain, except that in protestant Europe it’s been like this for decades. Decline towards virtual extinction has taken place slowly, because in many regions the churches receive some state finance. This is now dwindling, and churches are increasingly obliged to move towards self funding, and are not succeeding. Just like us. Across Europe Christian communities are wondering what the future holds – apart from the flourishing expatriate congregations.

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