Brief history of Anglican worship in Charleroi

Christ Church has not always been known as Christ Church. The name was adopted only in April 1995 when the church became an independent chapIaincy in the Anglican Communion. Services in English in the city, however, have been going on for 90 years which is what we are celebrating today.

Tracing the beginnings of an English speaking presence in the area is an interesting story and records tell us that this community was already being ministered to by Pasteur Poinsot of the Protestant Church in Boulevard Audent. In 1888 they signed a book dedicated to the 45 years of ministry of their pastor, writing in recognition of his ministry a “Reconnaissance à leur cher Pasteur”. It was probably the Iron and Steel Industry that brought this English speaking community to Charleroi.

But records of the first Services in English go back to 1921. About 20 to 30 people would meet once a month in individual homes until 1933 when Pasteur Zorn of the Protestant Church, Boulevard Audent, offered the community the use of the Temple which has been our place of worship ever since. We owe our existence as an English speaking Anglican Church in Charleroi to some Australian soldiers and their chaplain who were stationed here during the 1st World War. A few of these Australian soldiers married local Belgian girls and stayed on in the area after the end of the war. This wartime ministry blossomed into a small but fully fledged community worshiping in the Anglican tradition and ministered to by a visiting priest from the Anglican Church in Brussels. Indeed, one of the first marriage records in the community dates back to June 1939 when Madeleine Pullen, daughter of an Australian soldier, married Fernand Thibault.

No records exist for the 2nd World War period. When records resumed in August 1946 it can be seen that the monthly communion services had restarted and have continued through the years under the leadership of Holy Trinity, Brussels. Special occasions, such as Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953, were celebrated and the annual laying of the Poppy Wreath at the monument commemorating the war dead resumed as well. The 2nd World War brought in new members to the congregation: they were either English soldiers staying on here or English wives of Belgian soldiers who had been stationed in North East England and who had returned to Belgium. Also factories with English or English speaking connections brought in a few faithful. As the years have passed this community has sadly passed away but the Anglican community has renewed itself with the arrival of yet more people and families with English speaking connections, albeit few in numbers.

In 1995 our connection with Holy Trinity ceased and with Bishop John Hind’s support we started a new life as an independent chaplaincy. Father Dirk van Leeuwen, from St. Boniface in Antwerp, was our frst Priest-in-Charge. In August of 1995 we welcomed Revd. Clair Ullmann as assistant chaplain. Services were held twice a month and in the next five years with the enthusiasm and dedication of Clair, Christ Church came into being proper. From starting off with nothing but a few prayer and hymn books we soon acquired all we needed with gifts of altar linen, chalice, patten as well as vestments from America and together with the support from other clergy and lay people in the Diocese we were soon up and running. We became known to other Christian denominations in the city and were soon taking part in ecumenical meetings and celebrations. The Protestant Church in Boulevard Audent continued to offer us all the help we needed.
With the departure of Clair we were faithfully served by other Priests-inCharge, including Revd. Paul Yiend, Revd. Jean-Pierre Herman, and Revd. Patrick Irwin. Once Father Patrick had left in April 2010 there was no Priest-in-Charge to take over, but with the kindness of lay readers, notably Jennifer Lejeune, Andrew Graydon and Heather Roy, we kept on going. Our activities have continued and the highlight of the year still remains the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols held on the 2nd Sunday of December. In the last several years the dedication of Paddy Latham and his choir from All Saints Church have made this a memorable event for us at Chiist Church.

We are now on the threshold of another chapter in our long existence. All Saints, Braine l’Alleud, have, since the end of 2010, graciously stepped in and offered assistance – bearing out the already longstanding friendship that has existed between both communities over many years. We have returned to a monthly service schedule with a congregation which has maintained its numbers of around 15-20. Revds. Mary Ellen Dolan and Mark Barwick are still continuing to give us their support.

Christ Church will continue to forge ahead as it has always done through the efforts of both a dedicated clergy and a small but dynamic congregation.