My plans to send a daily report were frustrated by the business of the schedule at the conference, which left me very little free time, and by the complete lack of a reliable internet connection. I ended up paying for some small amount of mobile data just to stay in touch with the world
In am now staying at the monastery in a pleasant guest room and there is
I cannot easily remember the order in which things took place, though I
have a schedule so can through things sequentially later. There was a
morning Liturgy at 6:45 each day. I made sure that I was always present at it to receive the blessing of the gift of Christ by the Holy Spirit,
however much my tired body wanted to stay in bed. How grateful I was that the dear brother priests made sure that I could participate. I always had
someone stand with me, using the excellent Coptic Reader app, which has
all the liturgical material of the Church in English, Arabic and Coptic,
to make sure that I knew where we were, and was also able to pray at the
altar when asked to do so.
Bishop Kyrillos of Milan was not always with us, and in his absence and usually,
Father Daoud led the Liturgy.
After the Liturgy we had breakfast in a large dining room, and people
talked and relaxed among themselves until the first session took place. Then
there were often discussion groups organised until lunch. More meetings
and discussions in the evening. Then dinner, then more meetings and
discussions until Midnight Praises, and then often discussions after
than until very late, sometimes sitting in the grounds as it grew dark and when it was to cold then inside one of the buildings.
There was lots of time for fun and enjoyment. Much of the meeting time
was taken up with presentations about the mission work being conducted
in various countries. These presentations were inspirational
and informative. In most cases I had not known that our Church had quietly started to engage in such ministry.
Outside of the meetings people always wanted to talk, and much of my time was taken up in conversations about mission and about the spiritual life. Everyone there spoke Arabic, and
it was the lingua franca. But many were Italian Copts and so there was
quite a lot of Italian in the Liturgy and in other situations. I would
always have someone sitting next to me providing a really excellent live
translation, and I would guess at least 10-15 people served me in this
way all very competently. When I participated in anything, Father Daoud
would usually translate what I said himself into Arabic.
I spoke especially about what a Missionary Church is, and about our
experience and vision in the UK. I presented us as we are, a community
committed to mission. Indeed I spoke about needing the right time, the
right place and the right people for God's will to come together in
fruitfulness and stressed that our own dear bishop, Metropolitan Seraphim, given to us at this time has
been key to our development over the last 20 years. I also spoke about
the desire of us all to see more communities established each year and
that the priests were all presenting such proposals at our last Synod.
There were many participants from Egypt, all serving in mission in one
way or another. Quite a few from Italy because of the location of the
event. A few from France. Even Australia, Canada and the US had some
representatives. We had a day with some games for a while, and another
day when we visited Venice. It was busy and hot but we went inside St
Marks and I went with some to pray before the relics of St Athanasius,
and walked over to the Rialto.
The participants were not children or teenagers. Egyptians seem to
consider youth to be up to 40 and beyond! Most were professional people
in their mid to late-20s up through to my age and much beyond. What
united them was a love of the Gospel and mission. I was as unaware of
such a movement as most of them were unaware of us! This is an Egyptian based movement, and especially driven by Father
Daoud Lamie who has a life time of developing service in his Church. It
is only recently, in the last 5 years, that this movement has sprouted and
begun, in a tentative manner, to bear fruit.
Those who were at the Conference, 80 or so from Egypt, and others,
are especially the leaders and supervisors of a thousand others who are
committed to supporting mission. They have a structure and organisation
and have sent many mission teams to 25+ countries in Africa and Asia
where they have a growing number of resident workers.
In the end I did not use notes for my two main talks. I had prepared things but
nothing seemed to be right. So I ended up speaking from my heart about
what I love best, mission and our British Orthodox Church. It went down
very well. There was a lot of applause. Even my dream of a mobile
mission unit which the folk at Stoke think is one of my crazy ideas got
a round of applause!
It was a great privilege and blessing for me to be invited to attend this Coptic Orthodox Mission Conference and to find friends among clergy and laity who love the mission of the Gospel as much as we do in the British Orthodox Church. I am hopeful that as God wills this new relationship will flourish to the benefit of us all and for the salvation of many.