Since the 1980s, delegates from the Anglican Cathedral of Chichester, the Evangelical Church of Bayreuth, the Lutheran Church of Berlin, and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Bamberg, have met every two years to discuss current topics which affect them.
The 25th anniversary of the first conference was held in Chichester on 16 – 19 October last year, the delegation being led by the Dean of Chichester, the Very Revd. Nicholas Frayling and attended by the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Revd. John Hind. There were thirty-four delegates present and the conference took place largely within the Cathedral Close, using Vicars’ Hall and George Bell House.
The Chichester delegation consisted of eight members, one of whom had not attended before. The theme was ‘The Challenge of Secularism in the New Europe’. Once again, summaries of the texts of the two keynote presentations had been translated and circulated in advance, and this was a great help in enabling delegates to discuss points arising from the presentations, both with the speakers, and with each other in the group sessions.
This year’s theme was ‘The Challenge of Secularism in the New Europe’. Daily worship was led in turn by the different delegations, whether in the Bishop’s private chapel, the Lady Chapel of Chichester Cathedral or Arundel Cathedral; also the delegates had the opportunity to attend Evensong in Chichester Cathedral sung by the Cathedral choir.
The second day of the conference was held in the local parish of Arundel. Bishop David Farrer, vicar of St. Nicholas Church, welcomed the delegates to the parish church, itself unique in being an Anglican church which is attached to the Roman Catholic Fitzalan Chapel, property of the Duke of Norfolk, and resting place of deceased members of the Fitzalan Howard family for many hundreds of years. Only a glass screen separates the two places of worship. Arundel parish has an active ecumenical partnership with the town of Stegaurach in Franconia, where the Roman Catholic congregation shares its church building with the Lutheran community, and both communities jointly support an Indian aid project in Tamil Nadu.
Here, seated in the Anglican pews, the delegates heard the second keynote speaker of the conference, Bishop Kieran Conry, Roman Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, in a stimulating paper on ‘The Challenge of Secularism for the Churches in Europe today’. 4 Bishop Kieran explained that if secularism means the appropriation by the state of things which formerly belonged to the church – amongst them authority, property and social function, including teaching and nursing – it is not entirely negative. The media expected the Pope’s visit to England and Scotland last year to be very unpopular, in that he is Head of a Church that is seen to be contrary to values promoted by society today, when in fact they were quite wrong and he was received with great enthusiasm. Society is not openly hostile, but the problem lies with the separation of the sacred and what might be termed ‘secular’. The natural world is governed by reason, and the Church can no longer claim its ancient authority as being the voice of God, as this is not open to scientific scrutiny. Modern civilisation must be tolerant of religion, but it is preferred that it is practised in private. The great threat is the indifference of the great majority in society for whom religion is irrelevant, and the danger is that we start to believe it and lose our nerve. But one of the most positive aspects of the response to the Pope’s visit is a renewed sense of confidence amongst Catholics and other Christians, and this must be one of the first responses to the challenge. Dialogue between religions must be promoted and deepened, enabling us to understand their ‘otherness’ as well as transcendent ‘otherness’ of God. This dialogue will promote living together, working together for peace and justice, mutual understanding and sharing of spiritual riches. And finally the need for humility is very important, with Christ as our model. The church will not be heard today if she shouts more loudly, but may be heard if she speaks more quietly.
Delegates divided up into small discussion groups to examine questions Bishop Kieran had suggested. Meanwhile, it was indeed heart-warming to see Anglican Dean Nicholas Frayling, Roman Catholic Bishop Kieran, Lutheran Bishop Dorothea Greiner, and Anglican Bishop David Farrer deeply engrossed in discussion standing in the chancel of St. Nicholas parish church.
Then to Arundel Cathedral, where the Dean, Canon Tim Madeley, introduced both the building and the shrine of St. Philip Howard, son of the 4th Duke of Norfolk. The daily conference worship was led here by the Bamberg delegation, and again was felt to be particularly relevant, as it was the feast of St. Luke, who himself brought many secular, positive elements into the church. The delegates were warmly welcomed by the Mayor of Arundel, Mrs Wendy Eve, to Arundel Town Hall where lunch was provided and served by the ladies of St. Nicholas church and Arundel Cathedral together. Both Bishop Kieran and Canon Tim were able to join the conference 5 delegates for lunch and also later for dinner. After lunch there was a visit of Arundel Castle, by courtesy of His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk. During the tour of the Castle the delegates learnt more about Arundel as the seat of the Earl Marshal of England, and the home of the leading Roman Catholic family. It was remarked that many of the portraits on the walls were of the same people whose portraits were seen in Schloss Coburg during the last conference, and that they did not look any more cheerful at Arundel! The evening was dedicated to an Anniversary Dinner to celebrate 25 years of the Coburg conferences, with the all-Sussex food being generously donated by local producers. Guests of Honour were His Excellency Mr Georg Boomgaarden, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany and Mrs Boomgaarden.
The Ambassador made reference to his own keen interest in Bishop George Bell and his work with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There were many present with long-standing and close links with the Coburg conferences both past and present, in particular Bishop John Hind and Canon of Honour Wolfgang Klausnitzer, and it was a very happy occasion.
St. Nicholas Church founded a thriving and enthusiastic link in 2002 with the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, sited in Stegaurach, a small town on the outskirts of the World Heritage medieval city of Bamburg in Bavaria, southern Germany. Many friendships have been formed with the people of Stegaurach as a result of visits both ways, in which everyone, young and not so young, is invited to take part. This link is of particular importance, as it is a truly ecumenical link, St. Nicholas is the first Anglican Church in their diocese to twin with a Catholic Church, which itself is shared with the Lutheran community of Stegaurach, and the partnership is shared with us, the parishioners of the Cathedral.
Many visits have taken place since the summer of 2003, during the summer of 2010 thirty seven of us went again, when we visited Flossenburg concentration camp with our friends – a deeply moving experience – and it was there that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, great friend of Bishop George Bell, was executed in 1945. Indeed we look forward to the next visit of our German friends this summer; they will arrive on Wednesday 15 August and remain with us until Monday 20 August. Whilst they are here, there will be a full programme of social activities, trips out and many opportunities to join with them and our friends from St. Nicholas in acts of worship, and you will also have a chance to meet with them after Mass at the Cathedral. 6 They are a very friendly group who speak English well. We have many host families who already welcome visitors into their homes, however, this year we are looking for even more volunteers to help with this side of the undertaking.
All we need is people to offer, for the most part, bed and breakfast. We would be particularly delighted to hear from people who could host a young family.
If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please keep an eye on the weekly parish newsletter for further details.
You can look at many photos and use the Google Translator (or similar) on the website for Stegaurach: visit http://www.stegaurach.de
If you want to read more about ecumenism at work, you can visit a special page on the Diocese of Chichester’s website: from their home page at http://www.diochi.org.uk visit the ‘Activities’ section and then click on ‘European Ecumenical Committee’