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Perthshire minister describes year spent offering solace and support to city touched by terror

A Perthshire minister spent 2016 offering guidance and solace to the troubled residents of a city touched by terror.

For the past 12 years, Reverend Dr Andrew Gardner has lived and worked in Brussels, where he heads the St Andrew’s Church of Scotland.

He grew up in Callander and served time as assistant probationer minister at the High Kirk in Dundee but in recent months has been helping Belgium’s capital city through some of its darkest hours.

Reverend Gardner said: “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.

“It is a reflection of the transient nature of the city.

“On the morning of March 22, associates of Saladh Abdeslam,bombed Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station in the heart of the EU quarter.

“Twenty two lives were lost that day and hundreds of people were injured.

“Some members of our congregation were on the metro train at the time, though they escaped without serious injury.

“Others had close connections with some of the deceased. Yet more were locked into their offices as the emergency services went about their work.

“For months afterward, 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.”

Reverend Gardner said the terrorist attacks were just one of the shocks experienced by those who live in Brussels during 2016.

He said the city had also been rocked by the result of the UK’s EU Referendum – Scots such as himself more so because the country had voted decisively to remain.

“The British community that lives and works in the EU has deep concerns about the future,” Reverend Gardner said.

“What will our status be when the UK has fully exited the Union?”

The minister said the movement of people and the arrival of refugees had also tested the city and seen its people rise to the challenge.

Many agencies, including local churches, cooperated to provide help and support to refugees, with the congregation at St Andrew’s collecting toiletries for those in the local Salvation Army’s migrant centres and spending Christmas gathering bedding and foodstuffs and providing financial aid to charities that support the integration of refugees into the community.

Reverend Gardner added: “2016 has been a challenging year in Brussels.

“Whatever happens in 2017, under the providence of God, the resilient congregation of St Andrew’s will rise to that challenge.”

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