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Auf Wiedersehen, Colin!

On 31 March, Colin Williams retires from full time ministry and will stand down from his role as an Archdeacon in the Diocese.  We spoke to Colin about his career in ministry, in the Diocese, and over the past 37 years: 

Colin graduated in Law from Pembroke College, Oxford, trained for ministry at St Stephen’s House, Oxford and was ordained at Petertide in July 1981, in Liverpool Cathedral.  He began his ministry by serving for eight years in the city of Liverpool. 

Colin recalls his early experience: 

"Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I trained for the priesthood, you were trained as if you were going to be a super hero in the places in which you served, singlehandedly making things happen by the force of your personality.  Forty years on, I am glad that we are now a very different Church, with priest and people working together for the sake of the Gospel." 

His ministry continued in Lancashire, and in 1999 Colin was collated Archdeacon of Lancaster in the Diocese of Blackburn.

Colin’s roots in pan-European ecumenism developed from his appointment in 1996 to the Meissen Commission governing relations between the Church of England and the German Protestant Church (the EKD).  This was followed by serving the Conference of European Churches as its General Secretary between 2005 and 2010.

Through a rural incumbency in Ludlow, Shropshire, Colin returned to parish ministry for five years.

How did Liverpool, Lancaster and Ludlow take Colin to the Diocese in Europe ..?

Colin reflects: 

“One fine day, out of the blue I saw an ad in The Church Times for an Archdeacon post in the Diocese in Europe.  I was slow to follow that up, because I had always said that I would end my years of service as an ordained minister back in parish ministry.  But as I thought it through, I came to see that in this post God might, at the end of my active ministry, be giving me the opportunity to pull together threads which had characterised my ministry since 1981; parish priest, Archdeacon experience, ecumenical experience, and relationships with churches in Germany in particular as well as my knowledge of the German language.”

Colin followed his calling and was appointed to the Diocese as Archdeacon covering Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Turkey.  He began his work as Archdeacon in September 2015 

How has he managed to cover such a vast geographical area?

“I decided from the outset that a full-time Archdeacon needs to be out and about among the   chaplaincies.  And Frankfurt has been a great base to do that, as almost every one of the 65 congregations for which I have borne responsibility is accessible in 3 hours travel from Frankfurt.”  

We ask about the “B” word: How can the Church of England weather the storm of Brexit?

Colin reflects deeply, and reaches back to the speech by Jacques Delors on ‘Finding the Soul of Europe’ in the mid-1990s:

“I go with that agenda of helping Europe to find its soul. Europe is about something much bigger than who sells cars to whom. In profound ways which we are now in danger of forgetting, Europe has been shaped by its religious, and especially its Christian, heritage.  If we do not understand that, then we do not understand Europe properly. 

And, of course, at the heart of the Christian Gospel is Christ’s call to friendship and reconciliation, with Him and with each other.  One of our key tasks as servants of the Gospel still needs to be to break down the walls of suspicion and hatred which we still too quickly build up. To enable strangers to meet and to find that all that unites us across European boundaries is much stronger than all that divides us.  The challenge of Brexit will be how not to lose a sense of community, and to call people to reconciliation in an age of nationalism.”

Looking across the Diocese, and in our mission to proclaim the Gospel, Colin identifies a number of important priorities: 

“We need to avoid being congregational and to ensure equal worth of all chaplaincies; good safeguarding practices; and to be a web of inter-connectedness.” 

Colin also commends Deanery and Archdeaconry Synods as places “where can spend real time together and have a place for fellowship. Above all we must not lose our confidence in all that the Gospel of Jesus Christ still has to offer to our continent.”

And then we move on to ask Colin about a little competition he entered …

“The Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE) ran a competition to find the best typo in a Church document. Once when I was presiding at a marriage service in Ludlow, I found myself dealing with a service sheet which in the Lord’s Prayer asked God ‘to deliver us from email’! I shared that with friends on Facebook.  The next thing I knew, CRE picked it up and it was in competition and judged to be the most notable typo nationally!”

Colin won the national competition, and the story was carried in the Manchester Evening News as well as Church media.

He goes on to add a more serious point about the way we communicate with each other, especially when under pressure or when in disagreement:

“Please, please skip writing so many emails, an email in haste might well cause us to repent at leisure. Let’s make the default reaction one of speaking to each other.”     

Looking ahead to retirement, what is Colin looking to do next, and what will he miss … ?

“I will miss Frankfurt and living in Germany, I will miss the fellowship which I have found in congregations across Europe, as well as the group of sister and brother Archdeacons with whom I have been privileged to work closely.”    

He adds:

“I hope to have the Bishop of Blackburn’s permission to lead worship in the parishes of Lancashire   when I return to my roots there.  And I look forward to having more time for reading, singing and walking.”

And Colin will assuredly be ‘delivered from email’ without a bulging inbox to attend to!

“Until we see you again, Colin.”  We look forward to staying in close touch with Colin, as friends in the Diocese he has lived in, and served faithfully.