The chaplaincy was founded in 1819 when (believe it or not!) Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Portugal. Lisbon had been besieged by Napoleon on land, and by British Royal Navy ships from the sea. The Portuguese court took the British ‘invitation’ to flee across the Atlantic, and the royal court was soon established in Rio de Janeiro. The whole story is memorably told by Patrick Wilcken in Empire Adrift. (Tragically, one of the palaces from that era suffered a dreadful fire in September, with the National Museum collection it housed nearly all lost.)

The British asked for three things: trade (coffee and sugar mainly), a cemetery and a church. The papal nuncio wanted to block the church, as a Protestant encroachment in a Catholic country. The King compromised, insisting the church couldn't look like a church, and couldn't have a bell to summon the locals—and he added that the British don't go to church in any case!

So we look back with gratitude for our unique English-language ministry to the traders, the diplomats, the industrialists, the vagabonds and so many others over 200 years. But we also lament the church's willingness to remain closed for so many years.

Where is God leading us now? We go back to Matthew 5:14-16, the text imprinted on both my and Revd Alex Cacouris’ hearts as we sought God before coming here. People don't light a lamp and hide it under a bowl, do they? As we have let the Light of the Gospel shine out, this church is becoming more diverse, more joyful and a little bit messier. Expatriates are volunteering to teach English to children the nearby favela community every week. Refugees are being welcomed, given food and clothing and an opportunity to find work and housing. Foreigners who have made a home in Rio are now looking to serve the city's homeless.

Our history means that we are in a shared site with a school, and schools need to protect their pupils. Churches need to be open. In fact, in the Anglican tradition, public worship is held twice every day – and public means open gates! Our hope is rekindled by Isaiah’s vision of the nations being drawn to God’s light, reflected through his people. ‘Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night’ (Isaiah 60:11 NIV). As we move forward, we pray that the light of Christ would shine out more and more in this city.

Mark Simpson, Chaplain at Christ Church Rio de Janeiro