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May 2018

This month’s letter comes from Rev Anne Futcher.

“We sent 2,000 palm crosses to Exeter and in return, we get Anne!”  So the Very Reverend Chris Butt, Dean of Bahrain Cathedral and Awali Church told his congregations before I arrived in Bahrain.

That’s a lot of palm crosses to live up to!

As a curate, I have the chance of a placement to experience a different kind of ministry.  And, after meeting Chris Butt back in Spring 2017, it was agreed that I‘d visit Bahrain during Lent  – to join the ministry team at the Anglican Cathedral.

It couldn’t have been more different from East Devon!  Bahrain is an archipelago on the north-eastern coast of the Persian Gulf, linked by a 16 mile causeway to Saudi Arabia.  Over half its population is non-indigenous – coming mainly from Australia, Kenya, India, the Philippines, Kenya and the UK.  And it was hot!  While I was there, the temperature reached 29 degrees centigrade – in the evening!

Bahrain is a Muslim country and Friday is the rest day for most people.  Accordingly, church services are held mainly on Fridays with smaller services held on both Saturdays and Sundays.  ‘Mothering Friday’ takes a bit of getting used to!

Bahrain has a proud tradition of hospitality to other faiths.  Apart from its churches, it hosts both Buddhist and Hindu temples, and a synagogue.

In its widest sense, hospitality loomed large during my visit.  I was overwhelmed by the generosity I received.  The sharing of so many personal stories – and wonderful meals – will stay with me.

I was intrigued, too, by how the Anglican Church was both a guest and a host.  As guest, the cathedral community was privileged to worship freely on land gifted by the Royal Family.  As host, it offered worship space to forty-three different local church communities.

I was struck afresh by the privilege of sharing in key moments of people’s life and faith journeys: in baptisms, weddings and marriage blessings – celebrations that melded together traditions from different cultures and backgrounds.  One wedding blessing service of an older couple particularly touched me.  Their Christian and cultural diversity was honoured by a reading in Arabic and in English from the Book of Ruth – a poignant acknowledgment of love and welcome offered to strangers in a strange land.

I was struck, too, by how the church family, in all its diversity, not only offered hospitality to one another, but also to its local community – through running a thriving thrift shop, supporting migrant workers in local labour camps; and, through its work with the Mission to Seafarers, to those in need at the Port.   I had an opportunity to spend time in each of these contexts during my stay.

My first Sunday back in the Holyford Mission Community was on Palm Sunday. As I held up my palm cross to be blessed, it felt even more special than usual.  It brought vividly to mind those Christians I’d met in Bahrain, and the journey we’d shared through Lent. And that morning, I had a sense we were all celebrating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem together.

Looking at my palm cross, I recalled some incidental meetings that spoke deeply of hospitality.  In one such meeting a local woman told of how, desperate for a child, she’d found herself drawn to the cathedral to pray to Mary.  Proudly showing us a photo of her small child, she spoke of looking forward to dropping in once more to share in a prayer of thanksgiving.

I recalled the welcome I received preaching to the Urdu congregation at the New Evangelical Church, presiding and preaching to the Tamil Cathredral congregation on ‘Mothering Friday’, and co-leading the vibrant and colourful worship on Women’s International Day of Prayer.

Was my visit worth 2,000 palm crosses? I can’t say.  It was certainly a very rich time of learning and ministry.  And despite being greeted by snow, it’s very good to be back  – in time for a Devon spring!

Anne Futcher

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