A YEAR AS CHAPLAIN OF ST GEORGE'S VENICE A Spiritual and Practical Reflection to share with all who have a care for this Chaplaincy
The life of the Chaplaincy centres on the weekly offering of the Eucharist at St. George's Venice and this is mirrored at St. Anthony Abbot Padova. It is further enriched by the monthly celebration at Christ Church Trieste.
St. George’s, Venice
To say that the welcoming reception I received a year ago and that has continued throughout the past year has been absolutely wonderful would be a real understatement. The support of the Churchwardens, Treasurer, Secretary and Sacristan, as well as the Lay Archdeaconry Synod representative, has been stupendous as has that of all other members of the chaplaincy council and so many of St. George's regulars. This church is a community of friends who readily respond to one another's needs, including those of the Chaplain.
One tangible expression of this caring has been the trouble and care taken in making improvements to the chaplain's house. The bulk of the work done during the interregnum involved essential structural repairs and the cosmetic changes have transformed it as a home for the Chaplain. Unfortunately the work could not be done without borrowing £100,000 from the Diocese. The loan will either have to be repaid be June 2013, or the term extended.
Only very generous continued giving by full time resident members of our congregation, the many part-time resident members, visitors and other friends may help hold off the day of sale, and if generous enough perhaps prevent the need for sale altogether.
The generosity of the people of St. George's Venice has however been far from restricted to simply the meeting of our own expenses and needs; it would be a travesty of Christian life if it were. For the past three years we, in partnership with the Diocese and with the Chaplaincies of the Italy and Malta Archdeaconry have been supporting the ministry of St. George's Venice's daughter church of St. Anthony Abbot Padova. The ending in a few months time of the substantial contribution from the Diocese for this work now raises the question of the future sustainability of the church in Padova.
St. George's folk have also been supporting projects in both Nigeria and Tanzania via Fr. Sampson Ajuka, our Curate in charge of Padova and via Fr. Emmanuel Saninger who whilst studying at the Venice Ecumenical Institute has been helping out considerably at St. George's and in particular during the year long interregnum. Fr. Emmanuel left us at the end of May and is much missed.
The Chaplain in Venice quickly learns the importance of ministering to the needs of those outside the immediate church circle and discovers some expected but many other unexpected pastoral needs for ministry from the wider community of both expatriats and others with whom he comes into contact via various religious ecumenical and civic bodies. Also important are the expectations of so many couples, young and old who choose either to have a wedding blessing or renewal of vows service in this most romantic of cities.
Out of our proactive laity of around a dozen souls, several also effectively engage in ministries to those outside the circle of church membership and indeed all of our church members can rightly pride themselves on the warm welcome given to all who wish to make some use of the services provided by St. George's.
Highlights of the last year at St. George's were the Institution of the new Chaplain in October 2010 by Fr. Jonathan Boardman, Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, the church filled to overflowing and a wonderful and numerous ecumenical presence; the holding of a Memorial service at the cemetery on the island of San Michele on a very rainy and weather-wise turbulent All Souls Day; the Christmas Carol Service with the choir of Blundell's School Devon; the Christmas Day and Epiphany services; the packed Ecumenical Evensong (complete with incense) during the week of Prayer for Christian Unity; the visit of our diocesan Bishop, Geoffrey for Baptisms, Confirmation and a pontifical Eucharist in March; an interesting Lent study course on Liturgy; a lovely and reasonably well attended Holy Week, including Tenebrae on Holy Wednesday, Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, a moving and well attended Good Friday Liturgy and a glorious Easter day celebration with a full Church.
A particular highlight for me was, along with Gaspare Battistuzzo, as representatives of the Chaplaincy on the Venice ecumenical council, to have had the privilege of meeting personally Pope Benedict XI on the occasion of his pastoral visit to the Venice Patriarchate in May. We again represented the Chaplaincy at the farewell Mass for Patriarch Angelo Scuola in September.
Visiting choirs and musicians have given concerts and also sung at Sunday services throughout the year. Six wedding blessings, several renewals of marriage vow services and one funeral were conducted in the Church.
Of course a Church, or Chaplaincy, is only a Church insofar as it is a place where the Holy Spirit is at work and lives in the hearts, minds and wills of its members, the true meaning of that much abused word 'Spirituality'.
A true assessment of the strength and depth of any Church's spiritual life can of course only be done by God Himself who alone knows the secret intentions of hearts and minds. Nevertheless there are outward and visible signs that might be seen as clues.
The core membership of St. George's Venice is not large, numbering roughly 38 adults, three quarters of whom live only part-time in Venice, but most of whom who would claim to belong to that core, are devoted to the Church and know that its continued existence depends greatly upon their commitment and dedication, exemplified by:
First, in always placing the worship of Almighty God as their first priority Sunday by Sunday;
Second, in being ready to love and serve one another in communion and fellowship, realising how important it is to be with the worshipping community on Sundays as a strengthened to faith in God, in his church and in one another;
Third, in giving freely of time, talents and money to the many tasks involved in the maintenance and running of the church, it’s buildings and its services.
It is the faithful souls, together with the Chaplain, who ensure that St. George's vital ecumenical, broad and inclusive Anglican Christian witness in not lost to Venice and who make possible the church's important role as a spiritual home from home to the many visitors from all over the English speaking world who join us on Sundays throughout the year.
St. Anthony Abbot, Padova
The Padova congregation is probably one of the most numerically strong congregations in the Diocese of Europe. It has an electoral roll of some 82 adults and a regular congregation of 150 persons that includes several dozen children.
The Curate-in-charge makes an average of 15 hospital visits per month; he visits church members and members of the larger community of which they are a part on an almost daily basis; he leads weekly Bible Study groups and directs women's, men's and Sunday school groups - a full-time chaplaincy priest's job.
The present diocesan funding will end as from June 30th 2012; there is a consequent very possible loss of the generous support from the Chaplaincies of the Archdeaconry for Padova. Thus the future priestly ministry necessary for this thriving congregation presents a major challenge to all the parties involved in the setting up this Church and that challenge can be simply put “ Is it going to be let wither and die”? That is the question now facing the Diocese, the Archdeaconry, including of course the Venice Chaplaincy and the congregation at Padova.
The responsibilities of the Chaplain in Venice assume that the continuing and on-the-ground, priestly pastoral care of the Padova congregation will be met by a full time priest in Padova. The present Curate, Fr Sampson Ajuka, will be leaving us by the end of December 2011; he will be sorely missed. However, unless money is found to pay stipend, pension, accommodation costs and expenses next year, Padova will be without the full time priest that the congregation and community deserve. The amount needed is €35-40,000 p.a.
It is quite beyond the scope of any Chaplain and congregation of St. George's Venice, both financially and pastorally to provide the necessary ministry in Padova. Financially, in the light of the debt to the Diocese, the need for urgent repairs to the interior of St. George's church building, and the running costs of both Church and house. Pastorally, the needs are well beyond the ability of a retired non-stipendiary Chaplain in Venice to meet them.
The vibrant church life in Padova was built up with full support from the Diocese, the Archdeaconry and its chaplaincies, in particular Venice, and most importantly, by the energy of the priest and people in Padova. Clearly all believed that the Holy Spirit was leading them in this endeavour. Surely it cannot be allowed to fail or fall? Do we not all continue to have responsibility under God to fulfil the plan embarked upon, that the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people of Padova would be met?
A number of solutions are under consideration. However, without adequate financial resources none of these can be expected to come to fruition. Christ Church, Trieste
This small, yet dynamic and very loyal congregation is a joy to minister to, albeit in general only once a month. The Chaplain goes to Trieste after conducting the Sunday service in Venice and if he is to be of any pastoral use to the congregation in Trieste needs to stay overnight. Chaplaincy council meetings, other organisational and pastoral demands are met on the following Monday morning.
During the past few months we have had cause to rejoice in holding the first wedding blessing service in Christ Church for many years and a Choral Evensong sung by the chapel choir of St. Peter's College Oxford, the first in living memory. The diocesan Bishop also visited Christ Church this year and was 'royally' and joyfully received.
Church Council members do several jobs each and are amazingly efficient. The regular flock of seven or eight deserves all the support they can get. We have been grateful for the support and help of Fr. Richard Major of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Future Plans for Priest and Laity
1. Resolution, along with the Diocese and Archdeaconry, of an immediate and a long-term solution for Padova, which must include working towards its establishment as an independent chaplaincy. 2. Greater trained lay involvement in the liturgical life of St. George's along with the further development of our musical tradition. Greater attention to be given to deepening our spiritual life, both corporately and individually, including study groups. 3. Stewardship of what we have, where and to whom we need to expand our support.44. 4. 4.Improved publicity and communication making our churches better known. 5. Restoration and refurbishment of the interior of St. George's Church and acquisition of decent robes and sacristy linen in Venice and Trieste. 6. Creation of a better archive and record keeping in Venice and Padova. By the gracious gift of our God it is with joy that the present Chaplain looks forward to at least a further year of being part of a spiritually maturing team of priest and people nurtured by our commitment to and participation together in the Eucharist and in living out together in pastoral service to one another, and to others, the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to whom be the glory in the Church and in the world now and forever. Amen.