Meeting with Kjell Magne Bondevik: Thursday 11th April 2019
I had a phone call from the Royal Court just twenty-four hours before asking me if I would welcome the former Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and speak of our experience of religious freedom and interfaith relationships in Bahrain. Interestingly before entering into politics, he was ordained as a Lutheran Minister in 1979, the same year that I was ordained, and under the Porvoo Agreement in full communion with the Anglican Church. When he flagged this up, I asked him if he’d like to preach the following day, but he had a busy schedule in Bahrain. He was Prime Minister for two periods from 1997 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2005. He is the also the Founder and Executive Chair of the Oslo Centre, an independent, non-partisan democracy centre that assists the strengthening of democratic political institutions and processes.
The Oslo Centre’s vision is a world consisting of stable democracies respecting equality, human dignity and human rights.
He was genuinely interested in the Bahrain experience
Following the meeting with Mr Bondevik, I raced on to a dinner with the St Christopher’s School Governing board a farewell to Graham Scopes, who’d served very effectively as Treasurer over many more years than I and myself and a welcome dinner to those recently elected onto the board. A pleasant evening at Al Arisha Restaurant in Umm Al Hassan.
Final Farewell with the ECC: Saturday 13th April 2019
Tricia and I had decided not to have any further farewells during Holy Week, so Saturday 13th April was our final one with volunteers from the ECC who have always drawn us into their events. It was a fun evening with generous speeches, prayers and presentations, cutting of a cake, barn dancing, a bring and share supper and another run of the hymn I wrote for the Diocese’s 40th Anniversary, which in many ways reflected the life of ECC volunteers working as a multi-national team. We are grateful for their friendship over our time here and for their dedication to those who are needy in.
Stations of the Cross: Monday-Wednesday 15-17th April 2019
Our three Readers took responsibility for leading the three nights the Stations of the Cross. As reflections this year we used the Stations of the Cross sonnets written by Malcolm Guite, which gave a powerful continuity to the three days. I am always reminded that the Stations were the start of belonging for Irwin and Sandra ten years ago and this year at the AGM Irwin was elected as one of our Cathedral Wardens.
Notre Dame Cathedral Fire: Monday 15th April 2019
We were attending the American Independence Day Celebration when news was feeding through of the dreadful fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris and I found myself the first person that the French Ambassador met having heard the news herself: the soul of France was expressed in this building. The image of the burnished cross in the midst of the devastation all around has been taken up as a powerful image of hope in the midst of darkness in this Holy Week.
Farewell to Bahrain: Wednesday 17th February 2019
I know a few people have been praying that we might leave Bahrain well and part of that process has been the opportunity to express my thanks to His Majesty the King who has certainly created an environment of hospitality in which many different faith communities feel welcome and respected and free to worship. In a world which is often suspicious and intolerant of faith communities, this is both refreshing and can provide a model for other countries to follow.
I am grateful to the British Ambassador, Simon Martin and his Deputy Mockbul Ali for enabling this to happen and for accompanying me to the Sakhir Palace.
Maundy Thursday: 18th February 2019
Sadly on Maundy Thursday I had to lie low all day. The previous evening at the Queen’s Birthday Party in the British Embassy garden (early because of Ramadan), I had only saved myself from keeling over by finding a seat, the world spinning in my head. And I was only on soft drinks! I suspect that I had got dehydrated earlier in the day, but apparently there is a nasty virus around. Certainly I have had a mix of high temperatures and bouts of shivering that made me wonder how I would get through the coming weekend.
Tricia kindly took on my preaching at the Maundy Thursday evening and Stephen led the service. I lay low. There was apparently a good number there though as usual not many coming forward to have their feet washed.
Good Friday: 19th April 2019
As has been usual in recent years, our Family service has followed the last day in Jesus’ life from the Last Supper (Cathedral) to the Garden of Gethsemane (Deanery garden) to the Courtroom (Coffee Room) to the Place of Crucifixion (Cathedral). I am particularly grateful this year for all that Kumar did to prepare for this service. I have normally been active in support, but with the bug I have been distinctly without energy. As ever it is a powerful retelling and entering into the Passion story and the dramatic actions at each stage help everyone of all ages to identify with. The cross covered in post-it notes with the names of all in church is a powerful reminder that Jesus’s death for the world is also for me.
The Three Hour Service At the Cross was led by our ministry team, clergy including Christina Mauntel from the US Navy Base and Readers. We used as a basis the powerful and insightful meditations in a book by Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart. I had put myself down for the final meditation, seeing the cross through the eyes of the Roman Centurion, a man who would have so desensitized to death that his outburst Truly this man was the Son of God is remarkable.
Easter Eve: Saturday 20th April 2019
The Easter Eve service with the renewal of baptism vows included one final meditation of those at the cross: The Disciple, whom Jesus loved. Unnamed in the fourth gospel, this disciple was not one of the twelve, is not one who followed Jesus around but was present for Jesus at the times of his greatest need. He was it seems the host at the Last Supper, perhaps in his home, and was present with Jesus as he dies on the cross and to whom Jesus entrusts the care of his mother, who herself is entrusted with his care. Behold your son, behold your mother. Through the cross a new family is coming into being that will soon be known as the church.
Easter Day: Sunday 21st April 2019
Easter Day for me really began at 5am, briefly greeting the Tamil congregation at the start of their ecumenical service in the cathedral before walking with Tricia to the American Mission Hospital for the English-speaking Ecumenical Dawn Service at 5.30am, always a remarkable gathering with several hundred seated and standing. At the conclusion of the service I was presented with a huge plaque and I took the opportunity in getting the congregation to stand and respond rather more positively to the Easter acclamation Hallelujah, Christ is Risen! which they did, after some very muted initial responses. En route back to the cathedral, I stopped to see my doctor in AMH to get some medication to tie me over for the first few months back in the UK.
Our two Easter Holy Communions at 10.15am and in the evening at 6.15pm, though similar in liturgy and in the hymns we sang, had their own distinctive character. Archdeacon Bill, who with Edie had arrived on the previous evening, celebrated and I preached in the morning. During the distribution of communion, Edward Marshall, visiting his family in Bahrain, sang three lovely pieces accompanied by his father Richard: a Sanctus (to the hymn tune Slane), Agnus Dei (Harold Drake) followed by the Clare Benediction.
In the evening the Manama Singers joined us and sang the Stainer God so loved the world. Inevitably the services were a raw mix of emotions: the joy of celebrating Christ risen, the welcoming of Archdeacon Bill and Edie among us and our saying farewell to this wonderful community after ten years. Tricia and I were presented with a beautiful painting of the cathedral by Satheesh Paul, an internationally renowned artist and it has been a joy to get to know him and his lovely family as friends in our congregation over the years.
Farewell to/from the Crown Prince and Good News: Tuesday 23rd April 2019
It was good to be able to go and see the Crown Prince before heading off into the sunset and I’m once again grateful to both the British Ambassador, Simon Martin, and Deputy Ambassador Mockbul Ali for arranging this. But of particular good news was that the Crown Prince’s Office had picked up my disappointment at not being able to complete (or even start) the building project because of a bureaucratic impasse. Within a very short time the blockage seems to have been moved and the cathedral can look forward to getting. Many thanks Your Royal Highness!
Staff lunch: Wednesday 24th April 2019
One and very special farewell meal with our wonderfully loyal staff at the Nu Asia restaurant in American Alley in Juffair. This is a team that, for the most part, have been together for the past ten years and in many ways have become like a family to us. And so it was good to introduce Archdeacon Bill and Edie to them and to have a relaxed meal together.
Now time to do a final pack and get prepared to get out to the airport.
For all that has been, thanks; for all that shall be, yes!