Episcopalians began worshiping together in a few European cities in the early 1800s, and were able to join The Episcopal Church by a canon (I.15) added by General Convention in 1859. By the end of the century, these parishes collectively became known as the Convocation of American Churches in Europe which changed in 2009 to the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. However, in many respects, the Convocation goes back as an active entity only some 25 years. Before that, the Bishops in Charge were part-time, and doing little more than overseeing the parishes and visiting them for confirmation – with the exception of Bishop Edmund Browning, 1971-74. Not much was happening at the Convocation level, beyond an annual convention largely for “business” purposes.
When Bishop Browning became Presiding Bishop, he recognized the need for something more, so in 1994 he appointed Bishop Jeffery Rowthorn as full-time Bishop in Charge. Visitations quickly became more regular and more purposeful. One of the first things Bishop Jeffery did was to establish the Commission on the Ministry of the Baptized (COMB), purposely “of the Baptized,” for he believed that all of us, not only those discerning a possible call to ordination, were called to be ministers, and all could benefit from opportunities for more training, spiritual formation and other activities that would strengthen us as individuals and parish communities, and bring us together. Initially COMB was divided into two groups: one to consider discernment and training for ordination, the other to develop programs for laity.
Taking up a suggestion from Father Karl Bell (Wiesbaden), a cross, known as the “Canterbury Cross,” was made for the Convocation out of old wood removed from Canterbury Cathedral during renovations, and inscribed with the dates: 597/1997. Coinciding with the 1400th anniversary of St. Augustine’s pilgrimage from Rome to Canterbury, the Canterbury Cross made its own pilgrimage from Canterbury through all of our parishes and missions, finishing in Paris for the annual Convention, with PB Browning. COMB wrote a study guide and prayer to go with it: the first written for our parishes, used by all our parishes. This pilgrimage and the Canterbury Cross, which continues to go to the parish next holding Convention, symbolizes the coming together of our parishes into a real Convocation, working and growing together. Spurred by Anne Rowthorn, COMB had also taken on organizing the first Youth Across Europe event, coinciding with the 1997 Convention. All of this involved more people than just the delegates to Convention, interconnecting our parishes and missions in new and exciting ways.
As the Convocation’s work grew, the Convention was extended by one day from one-and-a- half days to two-and-a-half days. In 2009 the Convocation grew from eight to nine parishes when the mission of Christ Church in Clermont-Ferrand, became a parish. During this time, there was also more purposeful interaction with the other European members of the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, and various ecumenical partners.
In May 1999, representatives from all the parishes and missions gathered in Nice, France. Led by the Rev. Ian Douglas and Bishop Nazir-Ali, the representatives were encouraged to dream and imagine the future for the Convocation and to seize the moment. The consultation and the six goals that came out of the meeting became known as Mission 2000. One of those goals, local education and training, led to the formation of the European Institute of Christian Studies (EICS), responsible not only for setting standards and guiding training for ordinands, but also for establishing learning and training programs for lay leaders. Another outcome was a goal to elect our own bishop when Bishop Jeffery retired.
At a special convention at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris, on June 22–23, 2001, the Convocation elected Pierre Whalon. Under his leadership, EICS was officially launched. A Youth Commission was split out of COMB. Soon it became apparent that to grow outward we needed to solidify within. In 2005 representatives from all the congregations came together again, many of them new, who brainstormed about all the things we could/should do. Convention 2005 pared the many ideas down to a Vision Statement, known as Mission 2006. The Vision identified six priorities: youth, training and nurture, building missions, spirituality and worship, social and environmental justice, and leadership and visioning. Concrete goals for the next six years were established for each of these, which were largely achieved. A further Convocation visioning process took place in 2011, resulting in Vision 2012 in which we were invited to look for “the other” and find partners to work with.
Throughout all this time we continue “running to keep up with the Holy Spirit,” as Bishop Jeffery had often said. More and more people have become actively involved at the Convocation level, and more and more parishioners have become aware of and benefitted from the many Convocation activities which have been developed over the last two decades.
Today, we are a Convocation of parish and mission congregations working together, eagerly looking ahead, excited by what the future might bring, and ready to face the challenges of Christianity in the Europe of today.