Licensing Service for the new Archdeacon of North West Europe
Returning to Holy Trinity Brussels on Saturday, 12 June, for my licensing, was a momentous occasion which brought back many fond memories for my wife and me.
Decades ago, as a graduate researcher from the US who’d landed in Brussels to study language politics in Belgium, I joined Holy Trinity. And it remains a part of me.
Coretta and I sang in the lovely choir there, belonged to a lively home group, and helped with offering meals for the homeless. It was an inspiring time that changed our lives.
We were married in Holy Trinity, and after discerning my call to ordained ministry, the chaplaincy supported me to train at Cranmer Hall, at the University of Durham. After a formative and delightful curacy at St Ursula’s, Bern, in spectacular Switzerland, we returned to the Low Countries to be closer to family, serving in the beautiful East Netherlands, sharing in the Lord’s work in and care for the chaplaincies of Arnhem-Nijmegen and Twente. Following my wife’s medical calling, we moved on to Groningen, a vibrant university city, where, alongside enthusiastic sisters and brothers in the faith, we started a congregation, Grace Church Groningen, linked to Holy Trinity Utrecht.
Photo: Paul Vrolijk
Returning to Brussels last Saturday to be licensed for a substantial new role in the service of the Lord in our Diocese for our churches in the Benelux was, to say the least, a powerful experience. Though, owing to necessary constraints, not all could join us on the day, several dear friends and colleagues did, and we were grateful it could take place.
American novelist, Thomas Wolfe (ironically, born where my grandparents and parents have long lived, so a place we frequently return to when we go back to the States), once wrote a book entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. In it, a writer publishes a novel about his hometown which isn’t well-received there. In search of himself, he heads off to New York, Paris, and Berlin, experiencing first hand how these global centres faced the roaring ’20s and the deprived ’30s. The protagonist eventually returns to his hometown, and is reconciled with it, but recognizes how he has changed and how his ‘home’ also has.
This is and will always be the case for all who migrate during our lives’ pilgrimages. In contrast to that fictional character’s experience, we delight in return-visits to my home country, but have also been inspired and formed by living in so many different and wonderful places in the Diocese. And joining in worship and fellowship in Holy Trinity Brussels, which Coretta and I regard as our home church, is always heartening and inspiring. It has changed a bit, and we have too.
As Bishop Robert preached about Barnabas’ vital encouragement to believers in Acts 11, we pray we continue, following Barnabas’ example, to build each other up in Christ, in all of our chaplaincies here. I am especially indebted to my ministry colleagues and mentors, and the outstanding role models of Archdeacons who’ve served NW Europe before me, what shoes to fill!
And in this transitory life, it is also such a blessing for our church communities to be compassionate homes, albeit away from our ultimate and eternal home, but connected to it, graciously reflecting its light and sharing God’s warmth and love. May Christ always show us the way!
Yours in Christ,