Report from the archbishop

Friends of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf

Annual meeting

All Hallows by the Tower

Monday 3 August 2020 

Allow me this year – this extraordinary year, 2020 – not to dwell long either on the sadnesses of life in Cyprus and the Gulf during a time of pandemic or on obstacles overcome and opportunities seized. As I see it, no distancing is social, and separation is good reason to lament.  The sadness and the disruption are real.  So too is the increasing threat, largely from interrupted income streams and changing demography, to parochial and diocesan finances and therefore to the health and strength of our corporate Christian witness, worship, ministry, and mission.  I do, at the same time, warmly acknowledge the resourcefulness of many in using new media, skilfully and with increasing sophistication, to offer congregations and others a measure of continued community even when in many places physical assembly is still not possible or is at least impaired.

Rather than taste and pronounce on either the bad fruits or the good fruits of the crisis in themselves, I intend simply to take matters of which I wrote in last year’s report, before anyone knew of Covid-19 or Covid-anything, and comment on them as they stand now.

 I began by taking it for granted that the Friends of the Diocese are always able to hold this AGM immediately before a eucharist of celebration, and in one another’s presence.  This year we worship non-eucharistically and remotely.  It still falls to me to repeat thanks to All Hallows and to the Reverend Katherine Hedderly, hosts in this different but certainly no less appreciated way.

In 2019 I spent some time on political developments.  Politics has not of course gone away but it is instructive to see that welfare and even survival are talked of in terms wider than just parties and leaders.  Wihtin the countries served by our diocese I would, however, single out the irresponsible and tragic situation in the Yemen as the most egregious example of political highhandedness and callousness, grossly violating the majority of Yemenis;  that, and the internal sclerosis and compromises of the public institutions of Iraq.

Moving on to the state of our parishes and congregations I rejoice in the ministry of Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler at the Epiphany, Doha, who has worked courteously, firmly, and imaginatively with those of goodwill in Qatar both before and during severe lockdown.

In Bahrain the Dean, Archdeacon Bill, tells me that community spirit remains good even in the midst of uncertainties. Julia and I were there in February and the beginning of March as measures started to restrict meetings and travel.  Our visit to the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix, and my call on His Majesty the King, were casualties.

We greatly missed being able to fly to Baghdad for Holy Week and Easter.  Canon Faiz Jerjes was thrown on his own resources and naturally rose to the challenge.  Since then, limited eucharistic worship has been possible for a small gathering of people living on or very near St George’s compound and has indeed been transmitted on an Iraqi televsion channel.  The School of the Redeemer also reopened for modest numbers but the kindergarten has so far stayed closed.  I am delighted that Canon Faiz has now been appointed honorary MBE in the Queen’s recent awards to foreign nationals, a telling recognition of, in the words of the citation, his services to Anglican, Christian, and local communities.

In Kuwait a core congregation meets by Zoom, as in many other locations throughout the diocese.  For several of them I have preached and sometimes officiated, either in live or in recorded services.

Canon Andy and the Reverend Navina Thompson are to leave Abu Dhabi on 5 September.  I have appointed Canon Paul Burt, formerly Gulf and regional head of the Mission to Seafarers, as resident interim parish priest there.  Paul and Andy have already usefully begun in person the process of liaison and  handover.

In mid-July I was able to travel to Dubai and the Northern Emirates, where I spent time with Canon Harrison Chinnakumar in Dubai and Frs Kent Middleton in Ras al Khaimah and Drew Schmotzer in Sharjah.  Cautious reopening of compounds throughout the UAE had by that time begun, though with many conditions and provisos.

Contact with the Reverend Chris Howitz in Oman and some others at the Al Amana Centre has been maintained by conference calls.

Finally on the Arabian peninsula, it is extraordinary and moving that the work of Christ Church and its Ras Morbat clinic in Aden has persevered with only slight interruptions.  The Yemen, however, racked as it is by several wars and conflicts, is particularly vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus, alongside other serious threats to the people’s health.

There is nothing at present to record by way of news of church life in the adjacent Kingdom.

On the island of Cyprus, churches south of the Green Line including St Paul’s cathedral have been able to function for some time now and all are doing so.  Most used Zoom or another platform during lockdown.  There are at the moment no licensed or permitted clergy resident in the northern portion of the island.  The incumbency of St Andrew Kyrenia is vacant.  Crossing the Line recently became possible for some after many months, but only for those able to provide documents demanded on each occasion – not always consistently – by those controlling the barriers.  Help from the United Nations presence has recently been sought.

Canon Andrew Mayes of Limassol retired in May and with his wife Ann was successful in travelling to the UK.  His post has been advertised and shortlisted candidates will shortly be interviewed.

The elements of the Parish of Ammochostos in South East Cyprus are being reconfigured for practical purposes.  It is hoped that Christ Church Ayia Napa can be combined as an incumbency with what is effectively a student chaplaincy at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta north of the Line.  St John the Evangelist Deryneia, meeting in the Orthodox church of St Phanourios, now has Archdeacon Christopher Futcher as its Visitor and will look directly to him for oversight.

The discernment and testing of call to ministry continues, along with training and formation.  A Bishop’s Advisory Panel is planned for the autumn.  A Ministry Summer School is scheduled for mid-2021.  Canon John Holdsworth’s work as Honorary Director of Ministry is greatly valued.

The wider Province is now without the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, which has emerged and been recognised as a new Province of the Anglican Communion, despite current agitation against it, for spurious and ignoble reasons, by non-Anglican Protestant interests within the Republic of Egypt.  Our Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East is now therefore the three dioceses of Iran, Jerusalem, and Cyprus & the Gulf.  I was able – just – to travel to Jerusalem in June to be one of the three co-consecrating bishops at the episcopal ordination of Hosam Naoum, Dean of St George’s cathedral in Jerusalem, as coadjutor bishop with right of succession.  It was a joyous occasion.  Bishop Hosam will succeed the Most Reverend Suheil Dawani as bishop there, with the title Archbishop, next year.  

 Finally in this strange year 2020 I thank the Friends warmly, for the support they unfailingly give to the diocese generally and to me and Julia personally, in so many ways, and I pray for all of us to be given once more the blessings of unmasked social closeness and tangible eucharistic communion as the Body of Christ.

+ Michael Cyprus & the Gulf