I spent the week, (Monday 29th April – Friday 3rd May), attending the annual Intercontinental Church Society (ICS) Chaplains and Families Conference held in Beatenberg, near Interlaken in Switzerland. ICS is an international Church of England mission agency seeking to make known the good news of the Christian Gospel to people who speak English, who find themselves living, studying, working or holidaying away from home in countries where English is not the main language. ICS mainly works in continental Europe and other countries that surround the Mediterranean, together with few far-flung outposts such as the Falkland Islands.
ICS has financially and prayerfully supported the Prague Anglican Chaplaincy since August 2000, their support allowing the appointment of the first full-time Chaplain in Prague, my predecessor Canon John Philpott. They have continued to be incredibly supportive during my time as Chaplain and it is fair to say that without their financial help, the Prague Anglican Chaplaincy might easily have ceased to exist.
Every year, ICS organise a conference for all Chaplains and their families who work in Chaplaincies that they are involved with. The location of the conference alternates between continental Europe and the UK. I attended my first conference in April 2009, also held in Switzerland, but surprisingly did not write a blog post about it! I have missed the last three conferences, mainly to save the Prague Chaplaincy some expense with our financial position being so precarious. One of the nice things this year was that the governing ICS Council, agreed to subsidise the conference to a greater degree than in previous years, thus reducing the cost of my attendance.
Whilst the conference centre venue was excellent and its location absolutely spectacular, there was the practical problem of how to get there from Prague and get back home again afterwards. After considering the various possibilities, I opted to drive. I left the Chaplaincy flat in Prague just before 07.30 on Monday morning and finally reached the Beatenberg conference centre some ten hours later at 17.30.
The journey took me through four countries, (Czech Republic, Germany, Austria & Switzerland) and was almost exclusively on autobahn/motorway, with the exception of the crossing from Austria to Switzerland and a most ‘interesting’ crossing of a mountain pass between Luzern and Interlaken. Unfortunately, my journey took thirty minutes longer than it should have done when I struggled to find my way through and out of the western extremity of Interlaken, onto the twisty mountain road leading up to Beatenberg. It was very much a case of being so near yet so far 🙁
The conference itself had been well planned and struck a nice balance between prayer, worship and teaching, and the opportunity for some rest and recreation surrounded by spectacular scenery. The main Speaker was Canon Chris Neal who I had known and heard speak previously over ten years ago, when he was Rector of Thame and I was Rector of the Shelswell Group of Parishes, both of which are in Oxfordshire. His analysis of the world in which we are called to ‘bring the grace and truth of Christ to this generation’ was both incisive and challenging.
Another most helpful part of the conference was the opportunity to learn from each other. On two of the evenings, a series of workshops were on offer, led by various of my fellow ICS Chaplains. I had the privilege of helping to jointly lead one of them with my colleague Paul Vrolijk, the Chaplain of Aquitaine, France, entitled ‘Starting new congregations’. I shared my experience of starting the Brno congregation as Paul in turn, explained how he has started new congregations across the the three French départements that make up the area of his Chaplaincy. There then followed a series of questions and answers regarding the various issues involved. For me, it was an opportunity to both give, but also to receive.
If I have any little gripes, it would be that many of the ‘worship songs’ that we sang, were totally unknown to me. We also sang them with the words projected onto a screen, rather than having the printed words in our hands. I have no problem in doing this and can see the value of people not needing to hold books or leaflets in their hands. But the screen onto which the words were projected, almost totally obliterated the congregational view of the cross on the wall at the front of the chapel, which I found disorientating to say the least. And I do wish that several of my ministerial colleagues would be able to offer extemporary prayer, without needing to constantly use the word ‘Lord’, as a comma 🙂
The conference was also the first opportunity to meet the newly appointed Mission Director of ICS, Rev’d Richard Bromley. It was also his first real opportunity to meet most of us as he only took up his post at the beginning of this year. Also present, was the Chairman of the ICS Council, Ven Julian Henderson, along with several other Council members. Between them, they are now providing firm leadership for ICS after a somewhat rocky last couple of years.
I hope both Richard and Julian will forgive me posting this photograph of them both, which was taken during a fun ‘awards ceremony’, held during the Thursday evening celebratory dinner. They were two of the three nominees for the award for having the least hair on the top of their heads. I was actually surprised that I wasn’t nominated in this category as well 🙂 . However, by the almost unanimous vote of the audience, the award went to Clive Atkinson, the Chaplain of Vevey and Château d’Oex in Switzerland.
The views all around the conference centre were absolutely stunning as I hope the accompanying photographs show. On the Wednesday afternoon, Mark Collinson, Senior Chaplain in Amsterdam, acted as Sherpa and guide to a group of us as we climbed up the mountain behind Beatenberg, to Vorsass where we enjoyed some well-earned refreshments. However, I could not help contrasting the price I paid for my 0.5l of beer on a Swiss mountainside, with what I would normally pay in a bar-restaurant in the suburbs of Prague – four times the price 🙁
The return journey back to Prague went smoothly and took nine and a half hours including stops. I made a slight detour from the route I had taken to get to the conference, and successfully added Lichtenstein to the the list of countries I’ve now visited. Whilst there, I filled up my car with petrol as it is reasonably priced because of relatively low taxation. So my car, which was originally British (it is right-hand drive), but constructed in France (it is a Renault), which is now registered in the Czech Republic, was filled with petrol in Lichtenstein, which I paid for in Swiss Francs 🙂