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A Word from Archdeacon Christopher

I last wrote for Bible Lands in the Autumn of 2019 soon after arriving in Cyprus to begin as Archdeacon in Cyprus and Parish Priest of St Helena’s Larnaca. You will appreciate that it has not been a ‘normal’ start to a new ministry.

In March 2020 like so much of the world we went into a first ‘lockdown’ on Cyprus in response to the Coronavirus pandemic (before we started describing it as Covid 19). Thankfully at St Helena’s Church in Larnaca we have had the cheerful and willing technical support of a former BBC sound engineer and cameraman, who lives here working for a mission agency. He helped us with recording services on a laptop in the vicarage for transmission through YouTube. In this way we observed Sundays, Holy Week and Easter and since we returned to church, we have continued streaming our Sunday services, as we have found that those away from the island and housebound members have valued being able to join with their church community in worship.

Most churches across the diocese have become adept at streaming services, meditations, Bible studies, and prayer meetings and have found they are being followed from various parts of the world as people are able to continue or renew connections with a church to which they have belonged. In many parts of the diocese lockdowns have lasted far longer than in Cyprus.

Here we have had two periods of lockdown and we are again gradually having restrictions eased. We can carry papers which allow us to leave home for work purposes, and to go out up to twice daily for personal reasons – we SMS the police with an activity code to get permission. Cyprus started testing and tracing very early and now we have a rapid test weekly to be able to work. The same rules apply to volunteers, so several church members are also tested each week, if they are assisting with duties at the service.

The needs of the many asylum-seekers in Cyprus have not diminished during the lockdowns. Charities and churches have responded, often co-operatively by providing, and sometimes delivering, meals and food packages, and during the winter, warm clothing and blankets. In the Gulf, parishes have been supporting many migrant workers in desperate need when they have lost jobs and not been able to return to their home countries because of travel restrictions. The Mission to Seafarers chaplains have also been offering support and advocating for seafarers stuck for many months on container ships, not allowed off to use the resources of the ports – it has been a gang-plank ministry.

An important area of work in our diocese is the formation and training of future and early years clergy and readers (our learning community). We do this by forming local groups studying academic modules with a facilitator, gaining experience in their home churches, and doing placements. Local groups have met by zoom, but when restrictions are lifted, we shall need to catch up on the formation that is provided by experience of ministry locally and on placements.

With Zoom, the sessions we have previously offered face to face in one part of the diocese have been used to bring together the whole learning community from across the countries and time zones of the diocese. These have been valuable and popular, and we have looked together at Lamentations and preaching, Hymns and Intercessory Prayer in worship, and most recently the Gospel readings and liturgical resources for Holy Week.

We have also launched an opportunity for all clergy and readers to join with this learning community for Continuing Ministerial Development (CMD). Our first Zoom meeting focussed on Discipleship in Mark’s Gospel and in April we shall be joined by a speaker from the UK to look at Theologies of the Resurrection.

For many years the diocese has rented a village house in the hills as a retreat centre. We had to close at the end of 2020, because sustaining it without any bookings has not proved viable. However, we are delighted to have started a co-operation with a nearby hotel, Angel’s Hills. We rent a room as a retreat resource area and visitors can use all the hotel facilities for a day or a longer stay.

In Cyprus and the Gulf over the past year, it has been Zoom, Zoom and Zoom – and our annual Synod meeting in February, which is usually held residentially in a hotel, was also by Zoom. Once we had dealt with our feelings that this was not what we wanted, it was a good Synod.

Much careful work went on in advance to set it up, and we were served throughout by a ‘tech team’. Our theme was ‘God’s Gift of Community’. Over 70 participants and observers joined the sessions, which were spread over 3 days. We were able to handle the business agenda and join in worship together.

he Synod approved new guidelines for SSM (selfsupporting ministers) previously described as NSM (non-stipendiary ministers), which will try in practical ways to include them more in the life of the diocese. Synod also initiated a full review of ministerial provision last done in 2013. Radically reduced budgets for 2021, 2022, for the diocese were also agreed.

The Venerable Robert Jones, Archdeacon of Worcester, and a long-time friend and contributor to the Synod offered reflections during the worship, and led by Archbishop Michael the clergy and Readers renewed their ministerial promises in the closing worship. To add a range of social possibilities, there was an evening coffee-shop, a quiz, and even an exercise class.

A Synod video was shown, ‘Church, Community, Covid’, offering some brief snap-shots of activity around the diocese during the extraordinary circumstances of 2020. Two of the key words that emerged from group discussion after seeing the video were – resilience and adaptability. We have recognised that while there are many aspects of living with the pandemic that we want to move beyond, we have also learnt a lot which will have a longer impact on how we are a diocesan community.

And the last word – we are still here, still a church rejoicing in being called to a mission of celebrating and proclaiming God’s kingdom in all situations.