I came to Montreux in Switzerland at the end of July to be the first of the interim Chaplains at the Anglican Church of St John, and I will be leaving in two weeks time. It has been a fascinating visit, and I thought you might like to share some of the highlights with me.
First, for those of you who do not know the Church of England Diocese in Europe, I should explain that it covers the whole of Europe and even Turkey and Eastern Russia in Asia, and Morocco in Africa. We have, at the latest count, 314 Chaplaincies scattered throughout the Continent, some of them large and flourishing, others very small. About half can afford a full-time priest; the others have either retired priests or visiting clergy.
Montreux has just lost its full-time Chaplain, who has returned to his native Australia. Two points here: we call our clergy Chaplains rather than Rectors, because they have the specific job of ministering to English-speakers, not running a territorial parish as a Rector or Vicar does in England (this is because we are always situated in a Roman Catholic or Lutheran or Orthodox parish, and are not there to make Anglicans out of our fellow Christians); and secondly, the Diocese employs clergy not only from England, but also from many of the other Churches of the Anglican Communion, not least the American Episcopal Church.
St John’s, Montreux, was built in 1875. It was Anglo-Catholic from the beginning, being under the patronage of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, a high-church missionary society. (Similarly, the next-door Chaplaincy, All Saints, Vevey, a few miles away, has always been Evangelical, since its patron was the low-church Church Missionary Society). Hence it has a lovely carved reredos of the Crucifixion and a fine Lady Chapel, with a life-size stone figure of Our Lady and the Christ Child with trays of votive candles always burning in front of it. The sacristy contains an astonishing number of copes and chasubles, including a fine collection of about forty old “fiddle-back” chasubles, left to the church by a former priest. Using my height (or lack of it!) and the great heat as my excuses, I have used a couple of these latter ones only, avoiding the voluminous modern ones which are made either of something like sackcloth or else glittering Indian sari stuff, and made for much taller clergy. The church has a very fine organ (though in dire need of repairs) and a remarkably good volunteer choir, which is augmented Sunday by Sunday with visitors as well as regular residents.
When I said in July that I was going to be interim Chaplain of St John’s, Montreux, one of the commonest comments was “Oh, you will get to go to the Montreux Jazz Festival”. I pointed out that I would not be arriving until the week after the Festival, and tried to look slightly sad, but in reality I was delighted to miss it: I am not a jazz fan. And St John’s actually had a Jazz Mass, missing which increased my happiness! I was able to settle in to a delightful four-bedroom Chaplain’s House next door to St John’s and to explore Montreux without the crowds who come only for the Jazz.
Montreux is situated at the end of Lake Geneva where the Rhone enters the Lake. Forty miles away, at the other end is Geneva where the Rhine leaves the Lake. Someone told me that it takes the water seven years to flow the forty miles from one end of the Lake to the other – I suppose somebody must have spent seven years researching this; I only hope he had also a wild social life!
This part of Switzerland is known as the Swiss Riviera, and the title is justified by the fact that it has a Mediterranean micro-climate. Palm trees are everywhere, and gardens and the miles of the Walk along the lakeside are planted with an enormous variety of flowers and flowering shrubs. A visitor from Edinburgh who came to stay for a couple of weeks pronounced it “Paradise”. And all around the Lake tower high mountains, Alps which the Swiss inhabit nonchalantly, building chalets on the most unlikely ledges, running funicular railways up to soaring peaks, skiing in the winter and hiking all over the mountains in the summer. Right behind the Chaplain’s house (literally just a few feet away) is the beginning of one of these funiculars which takes one up a thousand feet or so to the village of Glion. And there, one can join another train which wends its way up for forty minutes or so through dark forests and meadows filled with wild flowers to the Rochers de Nyon at 6000 feet.
All over this countryside are private hospitals and incredibly expensive international boarding schools. The former are much reduced from their heyday in Victorian times when thousands of Brits with tuberculosis or weak lungs were packed off to live or die in Switzerland. Modern medicine has made this drastic remedy unnecessary, though I must say I have seldom felt better than here in the pure mountain air. But the schools seem to be increasing all the time. Some are specialized such as the world-famous hotel schools; others are just places where modern millionaires can send their children from all over the world, notably the Middle and Far East.
St John’s is looking for a new Chaplain, and when they come to advertise they will have to emphasize that the opportunities to build up an ever-growing congregation here are not just dependent on the permanent English-speaking residents but should also include the huge number who come to holiday houses for three or six months. They will also minister to the huge number of tourists who fill the grand hotels all along the lakeside, though this is inevitably a transient ministry. Nevertheless I was disappointed not to find notices about St John’s Anglican Church in every hotel I visited (unlike the practice, for example, of the Church of the Ascension in Cadenabbia on Lake Como, where such notices are posted in all the hotels and even guest-houses up and down the Lake). Then there are the schools and colleges, where connexions do already exist, thanks to English-speaking teachers who bring choirs to sing in St John’s, and chaplains who have established good relations with head teachers and therefore are welcomed when visiting the schools. It is a more exotic setting than many English parishes, but the priestly ministry is much the same – caring for those who come to church, with well-conducted Masses, good music, faithful visiting of the sick and housebound and those in hospital, and then devising ways of spreading the Gospel outside that inner core, through their ministry to their neighbours, nurtured by the Faith they learn in public worship and private study, encouraged (but not monopolized) by the priest. I have been to Lausanne to talk to the Archdeacon of Switzerland about this, and will be writing a fuller report for the Bishop and the Diocesan Office, and it will be a very up-beat report: I am certain that there is a prosperous future for this Chaplaincy set in Paradise and am very grateful for the two months I have spent sharing the lives of its faithful people.