Parish of St Matthew the Apostle,
Douglas, Isle of Man

Dear Friends,

I am now half way through my time in Venice at St George'sChurch. It is now moving into the heat of the summer, and the humidity causes the place to feel much warmer than it really is.

What have I been doing with my time here?  Well every day seems to be different from the last.  Every day one can rely on the door bell being rung.  That is the collection of rubbish which all has to be recycled in different bags.  Of course I am not used to this, and I sometimes get it a bit wrong.  This does not seem to worry the good people who collect, and load it up on to a boat in the canal. What is not being recycled is used for building up two of the many Islands in the lagoon of Venice.

On Whit Sunday, there was a great regatta of all sorts of rowing boats.  Several hundred gathered early and many of them with mixed crews.  It is an annual event, and it is not about winning, so it is not a competition, but just good fun for all. Everyone tries to make it an event, and we lined the Grand Canal to see them off, went to Church, and then cheered them as they returned from going around the Islands in the Lagoon.  I suppose it was something akin to the Castletown tin bath race! These events may seem crazy, but they are all about community.

Yesterday I had to represent the Church of England at an Ecumenical Service.  It is something the Venetians take very seriously. We were all summoned by the Patriarch of Venice to the oldest of the one hundred Churches in Venice.  It is a comparatively small Church, but very proud of its heritage.

I waited outside St George's to meet up with our Churchwarden.  He was coming along to make sure I reached the right place.  He also has more Italian, indeed far more that I will ever have!   Our Church congregation goes back for four hundred years, and is much respected as a long standing community here on the Grand Canal.

 There was an armed police man standing on the steps of St George's when I arrived.  It was a salutary reminder of the events have been going on in England whilst I have been away, and indeed elsewhere in the world. It could easily happen here, especially in the summer season when the crowds are so vast.  Soon we were all to have had a very clear reminder of what the world has been suffering.

We took a boat up the Grand Canal, and got off at the RialtoBridge, and there we were just by the Church.  There was a hive of activity. There were many religious fraternities, and religious orders robing together. I found a very fine woven cotton alb in the back of a Church Cupboard.  I washed it, and ironed it, as I could not afford to let the Anglicans down.

The bell of the Church clattered away, crowds of people in the square started to take an interest as our procession made its way down the length of the Square, with cross and lights, and lots of Holy Smoke from a Baroque silver censer.  

The Church doors were flung wide open, and we turned around and processed into the packed Church where a good choir was singing away, and all the congregation fanning the heat away with their rather fine fans.

I sat next to Fr Franceso who seems to be our equivalent of Bishop's Chaplain. We were seated in front of the Altar, with the Orthodox and Coptic priest, and a tall lady from the Lutherans.  She was very pleasant, but was the only one in the building not in some sort of uniform or robe!

The Coptic Priest told us that the Churches in Egypt are full.  He was clearly finding it hard to speak about their terrible situation.  He said their Church is a Martyr's Church.  He received much sympathy. We all had to make a prayer.  I had thought much about this, and eventually recited the John Henry Newman hymn, Lead Kindly Light.  Fr Francesco encouraged me beforehand, as Newman is held in great respect by many in the Catholic Church. It seemed very relevant to what our Church has gone through, and indeed what so many of our brothers and sisters are going through in the world.

After the service I took a boat further up the Grand Canal, and made my way to supper in a house that had a beautiful garden.  That is very rare in Venice.  It was midnight when I eventually found my way to home and bed. The place does not seem to be somewhere that one needs to fear.  They are all gentle people, although they are not all saints, and apparently are brilliant pick pockets -  at least some are!

I shall soon be back in Douglas, and looking forward to seeing you all again.  I am in London on Sunday to Baptise a little child. It is Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate the full glory of our God.  I shall suggest that the child has Trinity in his name, as he is being baptised on Trinity Sunday.

With all my good wishes, and prayers,
Father Robert

Fr Robert