It's Monday evening in Geneva. I've had an interesting few days travelling from France to Switzerland.
First of all on Saturday we were sharing in the historic service of Union between the Old French Reformed Church and the French Lutherans. It was a deeply moving experience especially for those gathered who had been working for the past five years to bring about this moment. As the service came to a climax, candles were lit and both denominations prayed and sang the Lord's Prayer together. It was an important reminder to all of us especially at this time in the Church of Scotland that we are called to seek the unity of God's people.
On Saturday at lunchtime we were met by Ian Manson the minister of the Church of Scotland in Geneva. He joined us for lunch as guests of the new united church on board a boat restaurant moored on the river Rhone just in front of the Church where the service had been held. Ian had arrived to drive us to Geneva later in the afternoon.
Meanwhile there was not a sausage roll insight as I surveyed the purvey; instead, an outstanding buffet with some very fine French cheeses.
And healthy salads filled the tables.
We met quite a few interesting people including a Salvation Army Major from Glasgow and her Italian husband . Together they are responsible for the ministry of the Salvation Army in France and Italy. I found our conversations informative and encouraging as we exchanged our very similar views of mission and ministry. It was also a reminder to me that the Salvation Army is an amazing international organisation involved in some truly ground breaking ministries all around the world.
Before long the lunch was over, Iain's car was packed with our cases and we were on the road to Geneva. It's over forty years since I was in Switzerland. The last time I was here was when I took part in a Summer Mission with Operation Mobilisation back in 1967. On that occasion i drove through Switzerland on the way to Italy in the back of a lorry. Health and safety today would ban such a trip. We arrived in Geneva in the early evening and got settled into our hotel.
Sunday morning came and I found myself preaching in the building that Calvin used to give his lectures. It was a memorable feeling. It was even more evocative when you consider that John Knox the first ever Moderator of the Church of Scotland also preached regularly in this building when he was the minister of the English speaking congregation from 1556/58.
The interesting thing about this for us today is of course that many of those who were in Knox's congregation would have been what we would call political asylum seekers. They were people who had escaped persecution because of their reformed views and had sought sanctuary in Geneva. Knox once wrote of his feeling about Geneva calling it the most perfect School of Christ since the days of the Apostles. I don't know the modern church well enough to comment in such detail but we certainly were welcomed and the sermon was well received.
The link for us today is that a good number of our congregations in Europe act indeed as spiritual homes for many of the current refugees and migrants who are seeking sanctuary in countries like the Netherlands and also Malta.
Later in the day I had a very pleasant visit to the Scots Kirk in Lausanne . I was encourage to hear from the congregation about the visit that Ian White the psalmist had made last Advent and delighted he will be returning later this year.
Ian had been invited by myself to share in the Assembly last year and I had encouraged congregations to use his talents.
In all I'm finding this to be an interesting visit as I begin to prepare to hand over to Lorna and reflect on what has been important for me this year. It's hard to know. In my family I've had two weddings and a funeral to attend. Then there has been the Queen"s Diamond Jubilee in Glasgow Cathedral and St Paul's Cathedral in London. So many special experiences.
The week with Crossreach was so memorable as was the visits around the prisons. Then there was the overseas visits to Korea, Zambia, and South Africa and the Czech Republic . So you see I'll have no shortage of material to draw on when I find myself addressing the Assembly this coming Saturday evening the problem will be what to leave out.