Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe:
Bishop Pierre Whalon

What is the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe?

First, we are part of the Episcopal Church, based in the United States of America, a constituent part of the worldwide Anglican Communion of 80 million faithful in 165 countries. The Archbishop of Canterbury is our spiritual head, though the 38 “provinces” or national churches of the Communion are autocephalous.

The Episcopal Church developed from the colonial congregations in the American colonies of the Church of England. Independence from Britain required them to set up their own Church, beginning in 1784. With the approval of the first American Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church in 1789, as well as the consecration of the first Bishop in 1784, the Episcopal Church became the first member of what is now the Anglican Communion.

All Anglicans uphold the ancient faith of the catholic Church through four basic elements: the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation; the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as the other five; the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, regularly recited; and the episcopate, having retained the apostolic succession.

What we are in continental Europe today reflects of course where we came from. After the Revolution, American Episcopalians began worshipping from time to time at the American embassy in Paris. This worshipping community became our first congregation. As American interests developed in the nineteenth century, Episcopalians in various cities started congregations. Finally the Paris congregation petitioned the General Convention to find a way for them to become congregations of The Episcopal Church, and in 1859, the Convention passed the canon under which we continue to operate (I.15).

The canon prescribes how congregations “in foreign lands” can join The Episcopal Church. As long as they are not in an existing Anglican jurisdiction, they may form under a priest and be admitted to the General Convention under the jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop (who was of course a sitting diocesan until 1940). The Presiding Bishop could appoint a “Bishop in charge” to oversee congregations on his behalf. The first, William Andrew Leonard, then Bishop of Ohio, was appointed in 1897 by Bishop John Williams, XI Presiding Bishop, himself also Bishop of Connecticut at the time. I am the twenty-fifth and the first elected Bishop in charge. Two others were full-time besides myself: Edmond Browning (1971-74) and Jeffery Rowthorn (1994-2001).

Besides the Bishop in charge the canon also calls for a “Council of Advice” elected by an annual Convention, which functions mostly like both a standing committee and diocesan council. The Convocation is not however a diocese, although it does function like one, including sending a full deputation to General Convention.

By 1870 there were four Episcopal congregations: Holy Trinity, Paris; St. Paul’s-Within-the Walls, Rome; Holy Trinity, Nice, France; and St. James, Florence. As The Episcopal Church developed strongly after the Civil War thanks to the new capitalists like J. P. Morgan, the European congregations became the beneficiaries of their largesse in terms of buildings. Today we have congregations in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Talks continue about a possible Chinese-language ministry in Budapest, as well as an Anglophone ministry elsewhere in that country. We also helped the Diocese in Europe set up a congregation in Zagreb, Croatia.

To allow The Episcopal Church to own land in Europe, the Board of Foreign Parishes, the Board of St. James, and the Board of St. Paul’s were founded in the late nineteenth century by act of the New York State legislature. Their constitutions put them fully under the authority of the Church and especially the Presiding Bishop. Over the years they have not only held properties for various congregations but also managed endowments. The Board of Foreign Parishes, besides owning the Cathedral buildings in Paris and the parish hall in Frankfurt, also manages the Nice Fund, created from the sale of the American church in Nice in 1970, which helps support the ministry of the Convocation. It also oversees the Rowthorn Fund, which helps support new congregations and ministry with young people.

It is from these days of the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, and the founders of the Boards that we had until very recently the image of being, as one clergy wag here put it, “rich Americans playing at church waiting for the next steamer to New York.” If there ever was some truth to this image, however, it went down with the Titanic. As Americans fought wars in Europe, congregations sprang up around Europe, some of which have since closed, but many of which have survived. Church of the Ascension, Munich, is 103 years old, for instance, and Emmanuel Church, Geneva, which started out in 1864 as a Presbyterian church, became Episcopalian in 1878. All Saints, Waterloo, Belgium, and St. Augustine of Canterbury, Wiesbaden, Germany, began as chaplaincies of the Church of England. None of these were ever chapels of ease for wealthy New York magnates.

The longest serving Bishop in charge, before myself, was Stephen Bayne, from 1960 to 1968. At that time there were only six parishes in the Convocation. He was also put in charge of military chaplains in Europe. (These two appointments provided an income so he could function as the first Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion.) He found this work more taxing than it appeared at first. Bishop Bayne worried, according to his biographer, John Booty, that the six congregations were always in danger of becoming “Episcopalian Clubs.” He noted the beginning of a shift from retired Episcopalians who were “settled members” to a more transient population. As this trend has accelerated, the resulting mixtures of nationalities, languages, and cultures that characterize the Convocation today have eliminated the “Club” mentality completely.

Bishop Bayne, the driving force behind “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence”, the 1963 agreement of the Toronto Anglican Congress that revolutionized the Anglican Communion, was a man of great missionary zeal and energy. His leadership began to energize congregations, especially since he could attract good clergy to a ministry that was considered for a long time a dead-end or the last stop before retirement. When Ed Browning became Presiding Bishop in 1985, he remembered his sense of the Convocation’s potential he had when he was Bishop in charge, and in 1994 appointed a full-time Bishop in charge, Jeffery Rowthorn. Very quickly, the Convocation’s parishes and the Convocation itself began to try to realize Bishop Rowthorn’s vision of a mission-driven Episcopal Church in Europe.

Today: the Convocation has tripled in size since Bishop Bayne’s days, with nine parishes (financially independent and paying a full-time priest), plus nine other congregations (two italophone and one hispanophone), and two military chaplaincies. In the recent past I oversaw for three years a small house church of Episcopalians in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

As provided for by the 1859 General Convention, the Presiding Bishop’s jurisdiction is wherever there are people who ask for it—a true non-geographical jurisdiction, and one of only two in the Communion, the other being the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. It is worth noting that congregations in the Presiding Bishop’s jurisdiction could in theory be located anywhere in the world where there is not an existing Anglican jurisdiction.

This European jurisdiction today is a rich mixture of nationalities, languages, and cultures, as well as religious backgrounds. A survey by our Strategic Planning Committee in fall 2006 found that at best only 25% of our members are Episcopalians or Anglicans originally. And we have several ministries of outreach which I think do the whole Church proud: the refugee center in Rome, the deportee ministry in Frankfurt, the NGO work in Geneva (which launched the UN program for AIDS in Africa), homeless ministry in Paris, college ministry in Florence, among others. Since 2003 the Convocation has supported the Millennium Development Goalss.

One project that has also enriched the wider Church is the creation of our four bi-lingual Prayer Books in Italian, French, Spanish and German.

Ongoing challenges: A non-geographical jurisdiction has plenty of built-in challenges. Crossing national boundaries means that churches are differently organized. For instance, Anglican clergy in Belgium receive a salary and housing stipend from the King. In Italy, on the other hand, we are not even considered churches, just some sort of non-profit corporation. When people get together, they have significant differences to overcome as a result. (Not to mention that I need to understand several nations’ ways of doing church.) Ordinary diocesan life is very hard to pull off, as well as expensive, because of the distances involved. And money is an even greater problem than in a diocese in the United States, since the culture of stewardship is generally non-existent. Each country has its own way of supporting churches, but no European nation has a tradition of giving like in America.

The “diocese”: The Council of Advice and I work closely together to model the biblical example of sharing leadership (Acts 15). The Commission on Ministry of the Baptized oversees a working ordination process that has produced the highest numbers of ordinands in our history, including introducing permanent deacons. COMB continues to develop continuing education and mentoring programs for clergy. Our European Institute of Christian Studies continues to develop excellent means for formation of both lay and ordained.

There is a Committee on Mission Congregations that is slowly drawing our mission congregations together. We are learning how to incorporate existing congregations into the Convocation, and how best to plant new ones. A number of initiatives are expanding and improving youth ministry around the Convocation, which we call Youth Across Europe. We have recently re-defined youth ministry to include people from age 10 to 29.

The annual Convention (synod) brings together clergy and lay delegates from all our congregations under the presidency of the Bishop in charge. This body makes decisions of policy for all Episcopalians in Europe and with the Bishop, maintains our connection to the wider Episcopal Church in 9 other countries. It is worth remembering that Haiti is the largest diocese of the so-called “American” church.

My ministry as Bishop in charge: In my first meeting with Bishop Griswold in July 2001, he made it clear that I was to exercise fully jurisdiction in Europe. The vision I inherited—a mission-minded Episcopal Church in Europe using creative strategies (like bi-lingual Prayer Books) to welcome all sorts and conditions of people in order to meet Jesus Christ—excited me. It still does, and I have a special perspective that lets me see how rich and deep it continues to become. My challenge was and continues to be to lead in creating the programs and structures that will help people realize that vision.

Today the Episcopal Churches in Europe are seeking to discern and realize the portion of God’s mission that the Holy Spirit is entrusting to us in our time. It has always been to bring the life of the Church to those who need it, especially those who are called to follow Jesus in our Anglican/Episcopal way of being Christian.

2 Responses to Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe:
Bishop Pierre Whalon

  1. Michael Adams says:

    Wonderful to read, I am glad that my sister in Baltimore found and sent this link. I am living in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and was given (rather surreptitiously) a slip of paper with the contacts for the Roman Catholic and Chabad orders, but nothing for Episcopalian types like me. Where might I find a group here? Is there a site I might look to?

  2. admin says:

    Dear Michael,

    we asked Bishop Whalon about Episcopalians in Kazakchstan. Unfortunately, it turns out that the home church there disbanded two years ago, as Americans working for USAID left the country.

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