Early 20th Century
The first Anglican service was held on 13th November 1904 in the Examination Room at Gerberstrasse 13 (Barviřská ul). It was conducted by the Reverend Walter Naish who was employed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. He was appointed for a six-month period and built up a congregation of 32 members with 25 communicants. Many of these were drawn from the music students in Prague studying under Professor Ševčík. In 1907 the Reverend Edward Mayo was appointed Chaplain in Prague and from either 1909 or 1911 the post was fulltime. It is recorded that in 1909/1910 the Anglican Chaplaincy consisted “almost entirely of Governesses who contribute nobly to the Chaplaincy”.
Before Edward Mayo left in 1911, either at the end of 1909 or the beginning of 1910, the Municipality made over the Church of St Martin-in-the-Wall to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and according to a report from that Society it was used for the services of the Church of England “exclusively”. From 1911 to 1914 the successive Chaplains were: W A Norton, R P Dodd, and C B Andrew. It is suggested that they were probably young priests gaining some experience.
From 1914-1918 Britain was at war with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and any British citizens in Prague would have been enemy aliens in the eyes of the Imperial authorities. It is doubtful whether many of the music students or governesses who formed the nucleus of the pre-war congregation would have remained in Prague, and the use of St Martin’s Church for Anglican services was almost certainly discontinued.
Before the 2nd World War
Although there is evidence that services in the English language were held in St Martin’s during the period from 1918 to 1938, possibly by American Methodists, there is nothing to suggest the presence of a resident Anglican priest. The British Legation to the new Czechoslovak Republic was established in Prague in 1918 but annual editions of the Foreign Office List in years between the wars show no Legation Chaplain. Since the normal practice in European capitals where there was a resident priest was to appoint him as Chaplain to the Embassy or Legation, this is itself prima facie evidence that none resided in Prague between 1918 and 1939. Although Crockford’s Clerical Directory in 1936 and 1937 shows a Chaplaincy at Prague as one of those of Northern and Central Europe, i.e. coming under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, exercised through the suffragan Bishop of Fulham, it names no incumbent.
The Reverend Robert Smith, who was full-time Chaplain for the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland Mission (to the Jews) in Prague in the 1930’s, confirms that there was no resident Anglican Chaplain in Prague in his time. The British Minister from 1930-1937, Mr C E (later the Reverend Sir Charles) Bentick, regularly attended the English language Sunday services conducted by Mr Smith in the Jan Hus house in Jungmánnová ul. Mr Smith was asked by the Legation to conduct the memorial service for King George V in early 1936. When the war came worship in English in any ecclesiastical tradition presumably ceased.
After World War II the Reverened Robert Smith returned from Scotland to Prague. There was, again, no resident Anglican chaplain. Mr Smith conducted English language services in St Martin’s and, during a visit by the Archbishop of York, acted as his chaplain. In 1948 Mr Smith left Prague. By 1945 the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren had become the sole tenants of St Martin’s. In addition to allowing Church of Scotland services their records also indicate that they made their church available for Anglican services. However, those records do not say who conducted the Church of England services, how often they took place or when they ceased to be held in St Martin’s.
At some time after World War II an English-speaking Church Committee was formed in Prague, mainly comprising British Embassy staff. Sometimes it also comprised representatives from the American and Canadian Embassies. According to the records it had a somewhat variegated existence. Over periods it held formal meetings and kept minutes; during others it operated, if at all, on an informal basis. It was rarely solely Anglican in composition.
From the 1950’s at least services were taken by the Anglican Chaplain in Vienna; by the Bishops of Fulham and, later, of Gibraltar; or by other clergymen visiting Prague. Some services, usually in the US Embassy, were held by visiting Service Chaplains and Ministers of other denominations. At least before 1967 a room (no longer identifiable) on British Embassy premises seems from the Committee minutes of the time to have been permanently set aside as a Chapel, but from 1967 the normal place for services was the Embassy cinema. The Committee minutes indicate that in the 1960’s Lay Readers conducted Evensong on at least some Sundays. Visiting priests have on occasions conducted house communions in the Ambassador’s Residence or (Ascensiontide 1981) at the reputed Hussite stone altar table on the Northeast terrace of the Embassy.
Vienna’s daughter church and the communist years
During the 1980’s the Anglican Church in Prague continued to be served by the Vienna Chaplaincy. In fact it was a daughter church of Vienna until 17th September 2000. The Chaplains of Christ Church Vienna, the Reverend Canon John Phillips and later, the Venerable Jeremy Peake, were from 1982 included on the Prague Diplomatic List as Honorary Embassy Chaplains, resident in Vienna, and were as such recognised by the Czechoslovak authorities. This did not mean that they always found it easy to carry out their duties as they were viewed by the authorities with suspicion and suffered harassment and administrative difficulties. As with other churches in Czechoslovakia the Chaplaincy had to be careful about its activities. During the communist years there was no consistent or systematic policy for the suppression of religious observance but in practice there were considerable disincentives. In the 1980’s especially professional advancement for Czechs and Slovaks was largely through the ranks of the communist party, membership of which would have been seen as incompatible with church worship. Seminaries were closed, bishops were not replaced and periodically the authorities made lists of those attending church. The position was essentially that people were allowed to attend established churches for the purpose of regular worship but the churches were not allowed to become springboards for protest or dissent. Attendance was not high and was mainly by older people and a few younger people wanting to make a tacit protest against authority.
Visits from the Vienna Chaplains to the Prague Chaplaincy were usually timed to coincide with the major church festivals and services continued to take place in the Embassy with the chaplain staying with a member of the congregation or in the embassy transit flat. The congregation was drawn almost entirely from the British and other Embassies and the foreign business community. Because of the ad-hoc nature of these visits it was difficult to bring them to the notice of casual visitors and in any case the press was entirely state controlled.
The fall of communism brought new freedoms for all including the Christian community. In 1990 the Anglican community were offered and accepted the use of Kostel sv Klimenta/St Clement’s Church, a Church building belonging to the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, as their permanent base. The first priest was from the Community at Mirfield. Revd Father Hilary Greenwood established the work in its present form. He was followed by Revd Roger Kent and then Canon John Philpott. Other clergy have had input into the life of the church over the years – Emile Gordon from Jamaica, David Kodia from Kenya, David Holeton and William Watson both from Canada. Particular mention should be made of Patrick Otosio Okechi who came to Prague in 1990 as a pastor and evangelist amongst African students in Central and Eastern Europe, stayed on as a student and worked at St. Clement’s firstly as Lay Assistant, then as Deacon and Priest before going to England in 2002.
The appointment of John Philpott as Chaplain in 2000 also saw the involvement of involvement of the Intercontinental Church Society (ICS) an Anglican Mission Agency which recruited him and supported him and his wife financially. ICS’s brief is to support English-speaking Anglican worship and mission in Europe and elsewhere. It has recently been involved in establishing new chaplaincies in Kiev and Klaipeda as well as rural areas of France where English-speakers are settling.
The post communist years also brought a great increase in Prague of people who have English as their first or second language and who are happy to worship using that language in an Anglican context. Increasing Czech people are speaking English and some have joined the congregation.
What overall impressions of Anglican life here does this account leave? One is of being subject to the ebb and flow of historical events, wars playing a not inconsiderable part in the story. Another is of a desire for God’s people to meet together for worship in a language with which they are familiar, overcoming political and logistical difficulties to do so. Thirdly there is the link between the State and religion. In the case of the British Embassy (and others) protecting it; in the case of the communist state seeking to minimise its influence. Lastly there is flexibility – being prepared to worship in a tradition that is not your own and in a place which is not home, yet becomes home.
We are the inheritors of those who have gone before us. What will we leave for those who follow?
St. Clement’s Church is one of the oldest in Prague. Though the earliest existing written mention comes from 1226 it was possibly founded sometime around 1065 or even earlier.
The dedication is to St. Kliment – the Greek as well as Church Slavonic version of the Latin ‘Clement’. The first Christian mission in the Czech lands was that of Cyril and Methodius in 864. Those two missionaries brought with them the relics of St Clement. Both they and their followers then dedicated churches to him. St Clement is the patron of all those who navigate the waters which may be the reason why this particular church, so close to the River Vltava, is named after him. The church’s original structure was Romanesque.
With the rise of the Czech reformation the church was one of those where communion was served in both kinds. An evident memento of that period is the inscription carved in stone with the date 1578, ‘The Word of the Lord Endureth Forever’. Following the triumph of the Counterreformation in 1620 the church was once again Catholic and several altars were placed in it.
In 1784, during the Enlightenment, the ecclesiastical use of the church was discontinued and for more than half a century it served as a miller’s granary. Some years after the Patent of Toleration by which the Habsburg monarchy allowed previous rural sects of protestants to emerge from secrecy, the first congregation of the Reformed Church was organised in Prague (1847). In 1850 this congregation bought St Clement’s from the city. In the years 1894-1896 the congregation undertook extensive reconstruction. It was then that the church acquired its present neo-gothic appearance as well as its present furnishings.
The last major repair of the church together with changes to its interior was undertaken in the years 1975-1981. In the process the Romanesque foundations of the church were uncovered and carefully documented. In the apse remnants of wall paintings came to light and were carefully restored. These frescoes, dating from the 14th century, evidently represented Jesus’ Way of the Cross from Palm Sunday to the resurrection and extended all around the apse. Churches from foreign countries shared the expenditure for this renovation of the church and their contribution is welcomed by the home church with gratitude.
When the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918 full religious freedom came and the Czech Protestant Reformed Church and the Czech Lutheran Church joined to form a church which took the name of Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren. This is the Church which St Clement’s serves to-day and which the Chaplaincy uses on a rental basis. Thus Anglicanism is now part of a rich mix which stretches back to Orthodoxy (Cyril & Methodius came from Byzantium), through Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. We are very grateful to those whose kindness makes this possible.
Mozart did not play on the fine 3 manual organ, but Dr Albert Schweitzer did! The current organist is Michal Novenko, Professor of Improvisation at the Prague Conservatoire.