Monday, July 02, 2007

Ordination time

I prepared Julia for confirmation soon after I christened her youngest child over fourteen years ago. It proved to be a spiritual awakening for her, and she became a committed member of the Anglican church plant in the Swiss Protestant village Parish Church of Gingins in the Vaudois countryside 25 miles from Geneva. After I left she began preparing for lay readership. Then, on one of my winter holiday visits five years ago, she started talking through with me the possibility of ordination. She was made Deacon last year, and I couldn't attend. This year, I was free to fly out for the weekend to Geneva (having carefully saved a holiday weekend for the purpose), and join the two hundred strong congregation at Gingins for her priesting, along with another woman who is a member of Holy Trinty Church Geneva.

I stayed with Keith, the organist and his wife Claudine, an international human rights lawyer. The two of them are always kind and hospitable and guarantee much enjoyable conversation and laughter. They loaned me their 'jellybean' car - a brown Fiat Seicento, to give me independence for getting to and from Gingins (they live close to Geneva airport - convenient, if noisy), so I had the pleasure of several trips up and down the Pay de Gex in the shadow of the very green looking Jura (not scorched by summer sun or snow covered, as when I usually come), with fields of corn waiting to be reaped, lining the country roads I prefer to use rather than the autoroute, for leisure.

The region is full of memories both pleasant and painful, as I had a quite a tough if rewarding time there. The countryside was always a great consolation, and remains one of my favourite places on earth. Memories of working with the Gingins congregation are among my happiest. Now they have a chaplain of their own, and a priest who has risen from their own ranks, and is now working on another church plant across the border in Divonne les Bains, close to where she lives.

A multitude of people from both Geneva and Gingins were present for the ordination on Saturday afternoon. Although I hadn't seen most of them for more than six years, I was delighted that recalling names and fitting them to faces was not a problem. The ordaining Bishop was neither the diocesan nor suffragan Bishop, who refrain from ordaining women for either diplomatic or ideological reasons. Under CofE rules, however, they must delegate the task to another, so they make use of retired Bishops if the ordinations are somewhere in Europe.

Bishop Frank Sargent was appointed to the task. He's done quite a bit of occasional work in the diocese in Europe since his retirement ten years ago. He was sent to Monaco to investigate the paranoia and chaos caused when relationships broke down between the diocesan secretary and the church treasurer. The consequences of this were that the church committee then set about driving me out, as they refused to heed my calls for loyalty and reconciliation. In the end I was extracted by the diocesan and returned to peace and harmony in Wales. Expat congregations have many capable and powerful people, and conflicts whether they involve a chaplain or not, are not uncommon in some places. In Geneva there were conflicts, but Gingins was always special, a place where mutual support and friendship conquered all fears and angst.
With both congregations each receiving a new priest on this occasion, there was no room for conflict or rivalries. Everyone was united in great joy.

I had a lazy Sunday morning sitting outside, drinking tea and talking with one of Keith and Claudine's four other house guests, another human rights lawyer stopping over from Copenhagen on her way back to work in New York. The Gingins Eucharist at which Julia was to preside for the first time was a four in the afternoon. In its great simplicity and stillness, I found this even more moving and inspiring than the solemnity of the ordination. During the Lord's Prayer, there was a thunderclap and rain began to pour - a wonderful cosmic 'Amen' to the weekend.

Later I went over to Julia and Philippe's house to take her a small gift I'd bought in the craft market outside St John's church the day before I left. It was a small Welsh wooden carved love spoon, on which the only symbol is the cross - the 'GOd is love' lovespoon. I told the carver I bought it from that it was an ordination present. "Lovely" he said; "I'm a Christian too - be sure to give her my blessings."

The journey home today was hard work. The Airbus flight was debilitatingly noisy, and I missed my expected bus connection at Heathrow, and had to wait an extra hour. I swear the bus wasn't announced. It didn't appear on the display panel either. I just assumed it was late and was astonished to discover it had gone. Heathrow bus station has an information communications system so bad that it must actively serve to promote the avoidance of bus transport altogether. It's a nightmare.

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