The Season of Farewells continues : Mid-March 2019 – April 2019
Simon Martin the British Ambassador and his wife Sophie, realizing the challenge of saying farewell to so many, thoughtfully a few months ago offered to host a farewell reception in the British Embassy residence gardens to those we would like to invite. We realized that we couldn’t open it to all Cathedral members, as there had to be a limit on the number of invitations, and there would be many different people from the community that we would need to invite. So as well as all the Cathedral staff, we invited Cathedral Council (BACC) members and their spouses and a rich mix of people representing the many different walks of life in the community that we have been linked with: diplomatic, interfaith, ecumenical, education – both St Christopher’s and Al Raja Schools – where we have served on the Board of Governors, the worlds of journalism, music arts and crafts and some who’d been speakers at our Living Room Dialogue. There was a rich mix of people and the garden in the Embassy is a very gracious place to hold such a function. Many thanks to the Ambassador, Sophie and Dawn, who worked very hard behind the scenes, to make it happen.
As well as the more formal farewells, nearly every day has had some farewell over a meal, sometimes with individuals or families, especially with those who for reasons of their working schedule have been unable to attend the joint farewells.
On Friday 29th March following the Tamil-speaking Mothering Sunday service at which Tricia was preaching service the congregation came to our garden for a meal shared with the Salvation Army community in Bahrain and their visiting Regional commander Captain Eric Tumale, who is based in Kuwait, but who travels widely in the Gulf region. Gracious words of thanks were said, and gifts of shawls, sandalwood garlands and a plate of fruit were given. The Tamil-speaking congregation will mark its fifth birthday on Easter Day.
On Sunday 30th March the Ethiopian Orthodox Church community, the largest Christian community to meet on the Cathedral compound, arranged a meal for us in the coffee room. They meet every Sunday morning bright and early at 5.30am and are often still in worship at 10.00am with their rich and ancient liturgy. As a gift they gave me a very distinctive icon painted on leather of Mary and Joseph with Jesus escaping to Herod in their flight into Egypt. The place of oppression in the Old Testament becomes the place of safety in the New Testament. Of course the Ethiopian Orthodox community has suffered recently at the hands of Islamic extremists in Libya when at least 28 were executed because they would not renounce their faith. That depth of commitment flows from a depth of grounding in Scripture and tradition that is embedded into their lives through their liturgy and their various festivals. It has been a privilege to get to know several members of their community.
As well as the more formal farewells nearly every day has had some farewell over a meal, sometimes with individuals or families, especially with those, who for reasons of their working schedule, have been unable to attend the joint farewells.
The final formal farewell took place at Awali at the BAPCO Club, the Tenth Anniversary of the St Christopher’s Dinner, which I began in 2009 and for which we have had some distinguished speakers over the years; less distinguished this year, but an opportunity for me to reflect on the place of the Cathedral in the wider community of Bahrain. Given all the other farewell events that have already taken place, we were touched by the number of people, nearly 170, who wanted to be there and for the enthusiasm of the community entertainment that followed the speeches. It was enormous fun: a wonderfully diverse fashion show, exuberant song and dances from our Kenyan community, who had recruited others from the congregation to join them. I really felt that our Kenyan community had come of age: not only part of our community but giving an enthusiastic lead. Tim Woodward had arranged for a red bus to pick up those who wanted to travel from the cathedral and the first of many surprises of the evening was the caption in lights on the front of the bus: Thank you Chris and Tricia. The BAPCO Club was an excellent venue for this event thank you to their staff and to the many in our community who organized such a memorable evening.
Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Hindu Temple: Wednesday 27th March 2019
Several dignitaries including the King’s personal representative, HH Shaikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Foreign Minister, the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, the Hindu High Priest from India and the former Chief Minister of Rajastan as well as Ambassadors from several countries and representatives from several interfaith bodies worldwide came together to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Hindu Temple right in the heart of the souq in Manama. Among others I met Jan Figel, the European Union Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, Father Diego Cucarella, a Spanish priest, who is involved in an Institute of Arabian and Islamic Studies in the Vatican and Charlotte Leslie, a former MP and now Managing Director of the Conservative Middle East Council.
Following the event at the Temple I piled into a black limo with a British Forces Hindu Chaplain, a visiting German Lutheran minister involved in interfaith dialogue and an Imam from Germany, which took us to the residence of HH Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who spoke of the vision of His Majesty for Bahrain to be a welcoming home for people of all faiths.
Taizé Service: Sunday 31st March 2019
As is usual on the fifth Sunday of the month we had a rather different service than normal, and used a service that I had prepared for a “worship experience” at the Diocesan Synod in February. A couple of changes had to be made as a CD that I would have used for a Kyries and a Psalm had been packed up with the shippers. But overall it seemed to be appreciated, and certainly using a world map for people to place candles encourages participation of everyone who wants. It was good too to sit closely together at the front of the cathedral rather than scattered over the whole of the cathedral.
Bahrain Anglican Church Council AGM: Friday 5th April 2019
With Easter so late this year, school holidays coming into Easter week and the need to hold the AGM before the end of April I was not excused the privilege of chairing one final AGM, the day after the Tenth Anniversary St Christopher’s Day Dinner!
But as we look back over 2018, it has I feel been a very positive year. There have of course been frustrations, particularly the failure to get the building project underway, not for a lack of will on the part of the BACC, but because of bureaucracy due to the original Title Deeds being nowhere to be found. We do however have a formally notarized copy and I’m sure in due time progress will be made. It has been good to have a formal link with the US Navy through Chaplain Christina Mauntel, whom Bishop Michael gave permission to officiate during her time in Bahrain. We have had some stimulating visitors: Anne Futcher on placement from her curacy in Exeter Diocese, Katherine Lyddon, the Children’s Work Adviser from Exeter Diocese, who inspired our Friday Club team and a small group from Christians Aware, a UK based charity, were here for a week in November. The community is in good heart, and finances are moderately healthy, our Treasurer is happy.
I am content to pass on the Pastoral oversight of St Christopher’s and Awali Church to Archdeacon Bill and wish him and Edie as much joy and fulfillment that Tricia and I have experienced in our time here.