Brussels minister reflects on a hard year for the city

Brussels minister Rev Dr Andrew Gardner
Brussels minister Rev Dr Andrew Gardner has been minister at St Andrew's Church for the last 12 years.

Over thenext few weeks we will be publishing aseries of reflections on what 2016has meant andwhat the new year will bring. In the firstreflection, Rev Dr Andrew Gardner from St Andrew's Church of Scotland in Brussels looks back on what has been a difficult year for the city, and how the congregation has risen to the challenges and uncertainties they are facing.

"For those of us who live and work in continental Europe, this has been a year that has brought many uncertainties and concerns for the future. I have lived and ministered in Brussels for over 12 years. We are blessed to have a vibrant Church community of all ages and made up of about 30 nationalities, which is constantly changing; a reflection of the transient nature of the city.On the morning of 22nd March this year, associates of Saladh Abdeslam bombed Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station in the heart of the EU quarter.Twenty twolives were lost that day and hundreds of people were injured.Some members of our congregation were on the metro train at the time, but escaped without serious injury. Others had close connections with some of the deceased. Others still were locked into their offices as the emergency services went about their work. For months afterwards, the city was full of armed soldiers due on maximum security alert and there remains a very visible military presence in Brussels today. The same can be said of Paris, where I serve as interim moderator.

Another shock for those of us who live in Brussels was the result of the June referendum, in which the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU. The issue that troubles me the most is that Scotland, which has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707, voted by a clear majority to remain; but as things presently stand Scotland will be made to leave. I am pro-EU, but I am not naive enough to think that the European Institutions are not in need of radical reform. At the moment, however, the political will appears to be lacking. Yet the EU has done much good that we ought not to lose sight of. Nations that were once enemies have worked together over the past 60 or so years. There has been joint collaboration in terms of scientific research and Erasmus programmes for university students in the EU. The cost of mobile phone calls across Europe has fallen as a result of legislation agreed by the European Commission. The British community that lives and works in the EU has deep concerns about the future. What will our status be when the UK has fully exited the Union? What will happen to reciprocal agreements on pension payments and health care for British people living abroad post-Brexit? These are the obvious concerns and as the exit process continues more complex issues will arise that may have a direct impact upon us.

The third issue that challenges life across the whole European continent is the movement of people, who arrive in our cities as refugees. During 2015 and into 2016, a make-shift camp was established outside the World Trade Centre in Brussels. Many agencies, including local churches, cooperated with one another to provide help and support. We at St Andrew's have worked in conjunction with the local Salvation Army, collecting toiletries for those who occupy their migrant centres. This Christmas, we are gathering bedding and foodstuffs for the Centre Social Protestante. We have provided financial support to charities such Olivier and Maison d'Espoir that support the integration of refugees into the community. Moves are afoot within the congregation to provide more hands-on support to a refugee family. It has been heartening to see the initiatives taken by the Christian community at St Andrew's.

2016 has been a challenging year in Brussels. Whatever happens in 2017, under the providence of God theresilient congregation of St Andrew's will rise to that challenge."