Father Clive Fairclough

Selection_020Interview by John Harrison

How did you come to be in Moscow, in brief?

Well usually priests serve for 5 or 6 years in their first parish, and then move on. An advert came up in the Church Times, for a job in Moscow. I said to my wife Joe, do you fancy going to Moscow? At the time it was a bit of a joke, and she said: “well that’s interesting, tell me more about it.” She had already worked out that the set of skills that I had exactly matched the set of skills they wanted and she said that yes, you should do this job, and secondly, I would like to travel! It took me a long time to decide because it meant a massive change for us, and I actually went on a week’s retreat before I did decide to accept the post.

Father Clive, we are living in Moscow in 2016, and we are faced with a situation where people communicate with other in a new way; especially expats – online. How do you communicate with your audience?

When I arrived here I found out that the way that somebody was replied to when they showed interest in the Church was rather out of date, people filled in forms which were entered into a data base by my secretary who is only paid for two and half days a week work, then that person was sent an invitation using a piece of software called MailChamp. To get a message out to just one person involved a lot of work. When you are trying to grow a church, people need to know what you are doing, because the Christian life, or life in general, is about having friends. So we developed the concept of a relational Church, a relationship with Christ, a personal relationship with ourselves, and a relationship with others – a key issue for all of us – and a relationship with creation.

So we needed a new way of communicating to new people, and to ourselves that reflected that relational attitude, and we found it – an amazing piece of software called ‘The City’, which we bought. It is designed by Christians, and it gives the individual a possibility to be cared for and guided by us on an individual level. It gives me the possibility to address different sections of the community in different ways. It’s a hub, a basis upon which the church can communicate with itself.

The key to this, which is also based on the theological principal of the body of Christ, are groups, which each individual can join as he or she chooses. For example, there is the Pilgrim group, where you can take part in 6 weeks of bible studies. So the newcomer feels that first of all we are alive, that we care, and he or she can be part of something. People understand that we are six day church, not a one day church, but that is only the beginning. Communication these days is about people choosing what you want to watch, which is classically different from being told what to watch by BBC 1.

We also have a Facebook site, which we are using specifically for evangelism. I use it by posting articles on it, which I think people will be interested in reading, if you are thinking about faith generally, and encourage you to think about your spirituality. We also use it for events. I also repost articles and topics on Twitter. Then there is the website, where you can find out more information on a range of topics. So, we decide how we want to set up these communication channels, but it is up to people themselves to decide what they want to click on. Which is completely the opposite of what it used to be.

I think the word to describe the way we communicate is organic. Something grows because you put it in the ground, you encourage it with the sun and water, and it grows. The Pilgrims group, for example, is organic. We developed the concept we launched it in October, and we now have 5 Pilgrim groups. That is organic growth.

Has the fact that the way we communicate has changed, changed you?

At the same time as being surrounded by technology, people say to me, well Clive the technology is great, but what about you?, you are supposed to be talking to people face to face. The answer is yes, I am a priest with a pastoral heart, and if I can do pastoral work 24 hours a day, I’d be talking to everybody all the time, because that is my calling in life. But the messages are so loud there that you have to remind people seven times, before they take notice. You have to use all the opportunities you get given to do that.

But your high tech approach is pretty rare in the Church of England?

Yes, I have only been in the Church of England for 10 years, but judging from the feedback I am getting from the Diocese of Europe, they are very enthusiastic about this. But I have to say that the personal side is still the most important. I make it quite clear to people the limits of technology. This will tell people what we are doing, about events, what books to read and so on, but in the end of the day it’s about you talking to a small group of people in The Pilgrims, or making an appointment to talk to the chaplain. If somebody rings me, I look at my diary and we fix a time to meet, that is my number one priority.

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Do you feel that your work here is also to do with bonding the community of Christians together?

It is a massive challenge and first of all we have to show respect to our Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters. I feel, and I will always consider myself to be a guest here, I like to behave like a guest. I am the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to The Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and this has changed my worldview as a westerner of the east. There are huge numbers of different denominations in this place. I basically try to encourage community. We did some market research with Moscow expat Life magazine, and we received what I thought was a pretty good response, and one thing we learned from that is that people are interested in community. We work very closely with MPC and with other groups.

The natural bridge for us is the British embassy, because I am also the honorary chaplain to the British Ambassador. If you imagine this to be a village church, we are the embassy’s church. But not only the British embassy, there are 56 members of the Commonwealth who have threads, some stronger than others, of Anglicanism so that is the next target. Then there are the Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, and now I will slowly work on the other 52 countries! But the Anglican Church is a welcoming church; we don’t have rules and regulations. If you wish to be baptised or confirmed in our church then there is a process, but for me, it is all about community.

Some Brits say that they have a problem relating to the Church here as it is too ‘establishment.’

It is a problem for the Church of England as a whole, because they do have the chattels of being the established Church. But if somebody comes to you with that particular understanding, you have to ask why do they think that? Is it a barrier they are putting up for themselves, perhaps they are not sure about becoming a Christian, or is it because they don’t really like the establishment? Of course people do have a choice, there are lots of evangelical churches in Moscow, and there is the Roman Catholic Church. So it goes back to my main point, that it is up to people to choose. What I hope, is that when somebody walks through the door here, they get a welcome, a smile, if they want to learn more, they can come and talk to us or go onto The City. It’s impossible to judge anybody; it is their journey, not mine.

What makes the Moscow diocese different from your previous appointment?

It is two jobs, it’s being a chaplain, and it’s being the Ambassador’s Honorary Chaplain. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow on my own Christian journey. For me it is a journey of great humility, because some of my fundamental understandings of the East have been massively changed and challenged, because for 20 years, I had looked at Moscow and said: you are my enemy. Now I am here as a guest and a friend, and that has dramatically changed my view. I am completely immersed in the way of life, I’m reading a wonderful biography of the Tsars, I go the opera when we can afford it about once a month, I’m making some fantastic Russian friends, and they are great people with great love, and passion and culture, and I am thinking that this is what it is all about. It is extremely challenging here, because of the environment as a westerner, but we have a lot to learn.