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Scenes from Clerical Life (5) – Turkey & Sweden

April 6, 2009

prev2While I was Provost of Inverness, my old friend John Satterthwaite, who was Bishop of Gibraltar, the Church of England Diocese composed of the 250 or so Chaplaincies on the continent of Europe, asked me to join his diocese and, after experiencing the life of some of these chaplaincies, to become his Vicar-General.

I went first to the British Embassy chaplaincy in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and after a year, to St Peter & St Sigfrid’s church in Stockholm, Sweden, which was also attached to the British Embassy. Both were fascinating positions.

Turkey is a secular republic, though most of the people are nominally Muslim. No one, whether Islamic clergy or Christian priests, were allowed to wear clerical dress. (This explains some delightful pictures of Pope John XXIII in shirt and tie when he was Papal Nuncio to Turkey.) I was surprised to discover that Ankara was in the region that the New Testament calls Galatia and to which St Paul wrote one of his epistles. We were surrounded by Early Christian sites such as Cappadocia, Ephesus, Colosse – and even Philadelphia! 

I once celebrated Mass in a T-shirt and shorts with a chunk of local bread and a little bottle of Turkish wine, high up in a ruined amphitheatre where no doubt Christians had been thrown to the lions centuries before. This was for a group of American sailors whom I was showing around. They were Christians and wanted a Mass, so although it was technically illegal, I did it. It made me think about how often little groups of persecuted Christians must have done the same thing in St Paul’s day.

Stockholm was a completely different experience. The Church of Sweden, to which the vast majority of Swedes belong, is very wealthy, most wages and costs being paid for by the state. Almost every Swede gets baptized and confirmed, but only one or two per cent of the adult population goes to church. This explains the joke:

Question: “If your church is infested with mice, how do you get rid of them?

Answer: “Get the Bishop to come and confirm them, and you’ll never see them again”!

The Anglican church was typical of many of our chaplaincies in the  cities of Europe, a great mixture of people: diplomats from the British and American and other English-speaking Embassies; businessmen and students in Stockholm for a short time only; Brits and Americans who had married Swedes, and their spouses; English-speaking refugees from all over the world; and of course some Swedes who had found the Church of England and preferred its liturgy to their own.

The Swedes are wonderfully democratic (with a small D) and the heir to the throne, Princess Victoria, would sometimes be brought to church by her aunt, Princess Lilian, who was Welsh, without any particular ceremony except for a bodyguard. The children in the Sunday School were sometimes accompanied on the guitar by one of the members of Abba, the singing group, whose son was a member. Unlike in the  UK or USA, such famous people (including the King and Queen) could move around freely without any great fuss.

I loved my time in Stockholm and would have stayed many more years, but the call to be Vicar-General of the whole diocese was too strong. But for that, you will have to wait for the next thrilling installment.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nathaniel permalink
    April 6, 2009 2:07 am

    I’m glad the rector of S. Clement’s has had at least one opportunity in his life for an impromptu outside shorts and t-shirt mass with the bread and wine available. Though I prefer to hang like King Kong off the top of the candle, it is also true that for every sort of mass there is a season, perhaps even one where someone could strum “Turn! Turn! Turn!” at some point.

    • saintclementsblog permalink*
      April 6, 2009 2:12 am

      You’re right, Nathanael: it did me no harm at all – though I wouldn’t want it every Sunday!

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