Dean's Blog

Sabbatical: February 14th – May 7th 2017

Following the Diocesan Synod in Cyprus we returned to Bahrain for a couple of days before heading off on a three month sabbatical. We are very grateful to the Bahrain Anglican Church Council for generously supporting us in this, for Stephen Thanapaul who took on extra responsibilities, for the support of Archdeacon Bill Schwartz and Canon Ian Calder and his wife Penny who provided pastoral cover while we were away. It has been an opportunity for a different rhythm of life for which we are truly grateful.

A Time for Travel

01We travelled first to Bangalore and then travelled by car to Coorg, a fascinating area of natural forest, inhabited by wild elephants whose habitat is increasingly under threat due to the pressures of forest clearance and cultivation and which has many coffee estates. We were staying on the estate and the coffee was being harvested while we were there, so we could witness the various processes: picking, drying, winnowing, packing while we were there. We were in India for just a week.

02We flew on to Hong Kong for two weeks, where our daughter Hannah (who was born there) is working with her partner Tom. We had spent seven and a half years in Hong Kong in the 1980’s and this was our first return of any length of time, an opportunity to see the changes in this dynamic city.


Our final country was Australia the country of Tricia’s birth, and where most of her family are o3still living, but also a place where we have many friends from past parishes and from my theological college days. We spent three weeks in Brisbane and three weeks in Sydney where our youngest daughter, Philippa, now lives (with a two-day trip to Adelaide). We then flew on to Tasmania for a week, to Melbourne for five days and Western Australia for our final week, arriving in Perth, but driving to Albany, on to Margaret River and back to Freemantle. We flew back to Bahrain from Perth through Dubai.

As perhaps is inevitable with so much travel, we had some challenges : Bangalore was enshrouded with fog and our plane had to fly on to Chennai Airport. It was clear that they did not know what to do with us there. After several delays, we were offloaded into the terminal and found ourselves having to write our own boarding passes for the flight back to Bangalore, once we had received clearance six hours later! Between Hong Kong and Brisbane we had a very tight transit time in Singapore, but just managed to get on the plane; our luggage followed the next day. Singapore Airlines were very efficient however and provided us with an emergency bag with essentials for 24 hours and delivered our luggage to where we were staying.

A Time for Study

0405Both Tricia and I went loaded with books: Tricia continuing her PhD studies and I took books on Islamophobia and Islamic extremism. Since my arrival in Bahrain, I have been very conscious of the respect in which faith communities and people of faith are held; I am also aware that in the last few years in Europe, the UK and in the United States there has been a growing narrow nationalism, an anti-migrant and anti-Islamic stance.

I write this in the immediate aftermath of the atrocities in Manchester and then two days ago in London, so there is plenty to fear from Islamic extremists, but a blanket Islamophobia that portrays all Muslims as jihadists or extremists only encourages the polarization of communities.

So I have read lots of books on the subject and made many notes, but now I need time to distil what I have read and noted.

A Time for Retreat

06Before I left Bahrain I had booked a week’s retreat in St Teresa Spirituality Centre: Retreat Centre Brisbane, which belongs to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of

07It was a lovely centre to stay for the week: a beautiful setting on the coast, though fringing mangrove swamps meant you could see, but not get near to, the sea; a garden with mature trees and outdoor spaces for prayer; two chapels which had large plate glass windows looking out over the garden to the sea; comfortable en suite accommodation and excellent food. I was the only person staying there for the first five days, so I had my personal chef. At the weekend two groups came in; a multi-disciplinary palliative care team and a senior management team from a Brisbane Roman Catholic School. An Anglican lady was leading the retreat for the school team – her first time, and she was obviously anxious – so when I offered to pray for her, she was so appreciative.

A Time for Family and Friends

08Wherever we went we were not far from family and friends and it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with so many people from different periods of our lives. So in India we were hosted by Ayesha, who was here in Bahrain for several years and always stays with us when she returns, and her mother, Lyra, and we travelled together from Bangalore up to Coorg where we all stayed with a school friend of Lyra’s, Nalini, a retired headmistress, who welcomed us into her home on her coffee estate and showed us around Coorg.

09In Hong Kong we stayed with Hannah and Tom, but met up with so many friends from our Hong Kong days, several who’d been part of Emmanuel Church, when we were there in the 80’s. I write further about our time in Hong Kong under a separate heading.

10In Australia the only time that we were not staying with family or friends was in Brisbane, where we rented a simple flat on the river. In each place we visited we had a large family reunion over a meal. It was really the first time we had attempted to meet up with all the family since the year that we were married (1980), but of course now there are not only nephews and nieces, but grand nephews and grand nieces.

11In Sydney we were able to stay with our youngest daughter Philippa in her apartment. We met up with Doreen (from Kenya and ex-Bahrain) now in Sydney, three couples from our Hong Kong years in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide; two college friends – Steve Williams and his wife Gillian in the Blue Mountains, Steve was my best man and David and Gretta Jones with whom we did a parish swap, when they were in Parramatta in 1992; they are now in Melbourne. We also caught up with Vic and Delle Roberts, who live in Bowral, where Sir Don Bradman played cricket; they’ve visited us in every parish we’ve served in, including here in Bahrain, when they spoke to both a men’s group and women’s group. In Adelaide we had lunch with Nic and Julia Denny Dimitriou, who were in our Diocese in Paphos, Cyprus, but now happily settled in Adelaide, Nic a parish priest and Julia a school chaplain.

12In Melbourne we met with a second cousin of mine and his wife, whom we met for the first time at my aunt’s 80th birthday a few years ago; it was an opportunity to get to know them and to hear their story. They have been glad to connect with family over these past few years.
It has been special too to see Hannah and Philippa, to stay with them, to meet their friends and to see the communities and places where they are living through their eyes. So much of what we have done over these three months has been over meals and in going for walks. If it had only been the former, I am sure that we would have broken the scales on our return.

A Time to Reconnect with the Church in Hong Kong

13I realize now how important the years that we had in Hong Kong were in shaping my life and ministry, so in many ways the two weeks we had here were a time of pilgrimage. Without the experience of Hong Kong, we probably would not have considered a post in Bahrain.

I had the privilege of preaching both Emmanuel Church, where I was priest-in-charge in the 80’s, though it’s now meeting in a different place (Bethanie Chapel, an old French Mission) and also the following week in St John’s Cathedral. There were a few familiar faces in both churches, but of course the Church has moved on and the contexts of their ministry are different.

14I joined the weekly Diocesan/Provincial Thursday morning Eucharist, breakfast and meeting, a great institution for a small diocese/province allowing the clergy to meet regularly with their Bishop/Archbishop; I was delighted to see that tradition had continued. One of the Bishops, Andrew Chan, said that, as a student, he had attended a retreat that I had led in our home on Julian of Norwich. I had lunch with Archbishop Paul Kwong, who was a young curate when we first came to Hong Kong and Dean Matthias Der, whose father was a priest in HK in the 80’s, took us out to a dim sum lunch and he kindly gave me a history of St John’s Cathedral, Imperial to International, which I have read with interest.

15I visited St James’ Church and Settlement at the invitation of the Rev’d Lysta Leung and was shown around their impressive new facilities. I was intrigued to see a photo from 1983 on the wall featuring both Tricia and I, and Lysta rang 16Archbishop Emeritus Peter Kwong to see if it was convenient for me to call on him in the Provincial office and he seemed genuinely delighted to meet me. Tricia had acted as his English secretary, essentially being on the end of a fax machine and dealing with his English correspondence.

We had wonderful lunch with Emmanuel Church members and Father Robert Martin and met up with the only founding member of Emmanuel still there May Large (Auntie May). We caught up with Stephen and Catherine Miller, Stephen with Mission to Seafarers, Hong Kong, hearing of his big plans for building a multi-storey block on the current Mariner’s Club site in Kowloon; Catherine is on the staff of the Cathedral. 17We met up with Jenny Wong and her husband Andy, who have visited us in Bahrain; Jenny is an Anglican priest and former headteacher and having been ordained in Canada, but with Hong Kong roots, was always a helpful interpreter of events in the Diocese, when were there.

We were also able to return to places that were important to us and in particular our home in On Lee, Pokfulam and Pokfulam Reservoir, an enclosed reservoir, a concrete tank with a grassy top, where we occasionally had games and picnics after church on a Sunday.


A Time for Different Experiences of Worship

1819Holy Week was especially rich in this regard in that we attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney on Good Friday, which was followed by a performance of Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion in the Sydney Opera House on Holy Saturday.


On Easter Day we attended the early morning Communion Service in the Cathedral, at which the Archbishop of Sydney was preaching. I gave the Dean greetings from St Christopher’s Cathedral, Bahrain after the service. On Good Friday and one other Sunday, we attended the local parish church near to where Philippa’s apartment was located, but sought out a church that had rather more liturgical content on Palm Sunday.

At other times we attended worship in a variety of different churches over the three months.

20While in Sydney I rang Robert McLean, the Partnerships Coordinator for the Anglican Board of Mission , Australia, who have been very supportive of the student chaplaincy in Famagusta. We had lunch together and he introduced me to all the staff, who were in the office. I was given an excellent little book, with beautiful photos, of forty days of Bible Study: Into the Desert. In the introduction Rowan Williams is quoted, describing Australia as a country with a desert at its heart, a desert that it has only begun to explore spiritually. It is a booklet that we might well find helpful in our own desert areas in the Gulf.

A Time for Holiday

21The final week of our sabbatical was unashamedly family holiday and we headed to Western Australia to Perth, which was at least in the direction of Bahrain! Alex and Dan flew out from the UK, Hannah and Tom from Hong Kong, and Philippa from Sydney. Our first evening was a very interesting time, meeting up with a contact of Alex and Dan’s. We had a shared dinner with refugees and those working with refugees or in the area of social justice. 22It was fascinating group of people. One man from Afghanistan had just heard that his citizenship had been accepted and the opportunity was opening up for him to bring his family in Pakistan. Understandably he was full of joy. We all met up for the first night in a motel in Perth, and having hired a couple of cars, on the first full day together, headed in the direction of Albany.

It was perhaps the first holiday that Tricia and I had really very little hand in organizing and the girls and Dan did most of the driving. Our first 23three days were spent in a large house sufficient for the seven of us on a lovely estate not far from the sea. Again much of our time was spent walking, talking, eating with occasional forays into the surf of the beautiful Western Australian beaches, trying to keep a wary eye for any great white sharks! Some of the coastline is very rugged and the surf is often dramatic.

24After three days we drove on to Margaret River area, staying in another house near the sea for a further three days and added to the mix of walking, talking, swimming and eating the added pleasure of wine-tasting. Philippa had taken us up to the Hunter Valley one day from Sydney, so we were becoming connoisseurs.

Our final night was in Freemantle and Alex had arranged a night tour of Freemantle Prison, a grim place at any time, but perhaps especially at night. What I hadn’t realized was almost the economic necessity of prisoners for the young colony to build the infrastructure (including the prison) as there were relatively few people to do this heavy work.

25We were flying out of Perth on the Saturday evening, so we all took a ferry to Rottnest Island for our final day together. The younger ones hired bikes and cycled round the island and we met up for lunch before catching the ferry to Freemantle, returning to our lodging, showering, returning the hire car and getting out to the airport.

The journey home thankfully proved uneventful and Emirates delivered us safely to Bahrain Airport from where we caught a taxi home.