Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Anglicanism is alive and well in Umbria

Women priests and gay bishops have severely tested relations between Canterbury and Rome, who admitted recently to rubbing along in an ‘imperfect communion’. Even so, during the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official visit to Rome last month he was invited to celebrate the Eucharist in the beautiful Santa Sabina church on the Aventine Hill, where the Pope himself preaches on Ash Wednesday each year. Across Italy, in fact, widespread co-operation between the faiths at grass-roots level is helping Anglicanism thrive. The pockets of worship may be small — in Orvieto, Ms Skillen has just 17 worshippers — but regular services are being held from Padua in the north to Sorrento in the south.

In Orvieto, the ecumenically minded Bishop Scanavino says he is keen to ‘normalise relations’, advising Ms Skillen to brush up her Italian so that he may more easily talk to this 53-year-old mother of four daughters who was ordained less than two years ago. Even so she is stunned when, at the end of the Advent service, he stands alongside her at the altar to perform a simultaneous blessing, having earlier preached a message of unity that left his Italian ladies visibly reassured.

‘Our Anglican brothers are surely our closest brothers,’ the bishop told the congregation. ‘We are instruments of God to create communion and unity. We have all heard the same words and we have told the same story of faith. That’s what unites us, and those things are great and important.’

Other bishops are equally generous with their churches. Venice’s sizeable community of Nigerians attend services in Padua. Near Naples, the Bishop of Sorrento allows the Anglican community to celebrate the Eucharist at the high altar in the town’s 11th-century cathedral between April and October.

In Macerata, in the Le Marche region, another group of Africans has been lent a 12th-century church for Eucharists accompanied by drums and tambourines. A similar arrangement exists for Anglican expats in Città della Pieve, in Umbria. The driving force behind both arrangements, as well as services in Assisi, Perugia and Umbertide, is Peter Hurd, a lay minister and cousin of Douglas Hurd whose affectionate nickname ‘The Bishop of Umbria’ reflects his priestly pester power.

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