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Anglican Chaplain to Galatia

June 5, 2009

turkey_pictureIn 1988 I went at the request of the Bishop of Gibraltar to look after the Chaplaincy in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and also to spend one week every month in Istanbul, where the Anglican Chaplain had just died. 

My Turkish geography was weak, to say the least, so I was astonished to find that Ankara was the Ancyra of the Acts of the Apostles, and was situated in the old Galatia, to which St Paul wrote one of his epistles. From there I visited Cappadocia and Ephesus and many other places I had always assumed were in Greece, simply because the New Testament is written in Greek. Also, the western part of what we now call Turkey was once Asia Minor and a Greek colony. But I sometimes had to pinch myself to realize that I was really walking the streets of Ephesus where St Paul preached, and seeing the very theatre where the Ephesian silversmiths shouted for hours: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”. Paul had condemned their silver idols of the Mother Goddess and they thought that if his teaching caught on, they would be put out of business. They (and maybe Paul) must be chuckling in heaven over Lourdes and Fatima! 


In the spacious grounds of the British Embassy in Ankara, I had a lovely little chapel dedicated to St Nicolas (no “h” deliberately) of Myra, which is also now in Turkey. So Santa Claus is not Finnish; he’s Turkish! My office was a bright airy room above the sacristy, which looked down onto the branches of a tree in which a solemn little family of owls lived. Down the path from the chapel was the Embassy swimming pool, where many of the staff came at lunch time from our own Embassy and from other English-speaking Embassies which had no pool. So I could get a nice tan while doing much of my parish visiting.

Soon after I arrived, and learned that Ankara was the centre of ancient Galatia, I couldn’t resist the temptation to preach one Sunday on St Paul’s text “O foolish Galatians”. Afterwards the Ambassador told me that at least half the visiting preachers they had ever had in Ankara Had the same bright idea, and would I mind not doing it again.

It was also in St Nicolas’ chapel that I astounded myself by ending a sermon on the triumph of the Cross of Christ with the words; “So you see, in the Crucifixion of Christ, God won” and then (utterly out of the blue, to me as well as to the congregation) I heard myself adding: “the Devil nil!” The roar of laughter from football-loving diplomats and military attaches was perhaps unseemly after a sermon on the Cross, but they assured me afterwards it was a punch line they would never forget.

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