Being the first elected Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
The Right Reverend Pierre W. Whalon
I write to all those souls who are wondering whether the Holy Spirit is calling them to put forth their candidacy for Bishop in Charge. If you are one of these, read on, friend.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for the right person. As Bishop, you will have challenges that no one outside the States will understand. You will also have possibilities for mission and ministry to encourage and support that your colleagues will not share. It is considered a bit exotic, after all, as if all you will do is sip espressos on the banks of the Seine, the Arno, the Tiber, and so on, after a visitation in a pretty church. Trust me, that has nothing to do with this ministry―or any episcopal ministry, for that matter. But that will be how some perceive you.
From 1974 to 1994, my predecessors were retired bishops. However, the large majority of my predecessors since 1875 were diocesan bishops who also took this on to help the Presiding Bishop. Many were outstanding and holy men. They worked hard to serve far-flung congregations, under travel conditions even more daunting than now. My immediate predecessor, Jeffery Rowthorn, inspired the eight parishes and a few mission congregations of the Convocation to spread their wings and become a true missionary enterprise that would function like an Episcopal diocese but with more flexibility, since this jurisdiction is not geographically limited. It was Bishop Rowthorn who persuaded then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to allow for the election of his successor, as a first step toward the goal of real autonomy.
I interpret my ministry as “putting legs” under his vision. By the time you are consecrated, I will have been the longest serving in this office at over 17 years. I would hope that you are considering this opportunity in the same light.
The canonical title is “Bishop in Charge,” and you will exercise jurisdiction as if you are a diocesan bishop. You will have certain powers that devolve by canon only to you as Bishop in Charge, but you will be responsible to the Presiding Bishop alone (see Canon I.15) The three Presiding Bishops whom I have served under never interfered in my handling of the jurisdiction. But this office is ambiguous in many respects, due to our history, and you will need a high tolerance for such ambiguity and a lot of patience with people who do not understand, both in Europe and outside.
You would serve in the midst of the other non-geographical jurisdiction in Europe, the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, the Church of England’s newest diocese (1980), deemed to be part of the province of Canterbury. There have been chaplaincies (as they call their congregations) of the Church of England since the end of the fifteenth century.
By contrast, American Episcopal ministry began in Europe in Paris in 1815. Maintaining close relations with the Igreja Lusitana Catolica and the Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal is equally important. We also have relations with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Anglican Communion’s oldest full-communion partners. We have also established a similar relationship with the Church of Sweden, and are presently discussing very seriously a full-communion relation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria.
If inter-Anglican and ecumenical dialogues and relations are a key part of being Bishop in Charge, the heart of this ministry, of course, is our parishes and mission congregations. An amazing corps of lay and clergy leaders have made our progress possible. In order to succeed in establishing and growing a congregation, one has to have an entrepreneurial ability to adapt to circumstances unlike those that prevail in the United States.
The challenges and the joys of this ministry are many.
May the Holy Spirit bless your discernment, as you go forward in seeking God’s will.
Bishop Pierre Whalon