A word from bishop Whalon

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. 

Challenges

  1. You will travel a great deal. There are several meetings to attend in the United States each year, plus dozens of visitation and meetings in all our countries and the United Kingdom, plus other countries as well. Some can be done by train, but most of it is by airplane. I organize all my travel. There is no budget for a car, nor is one advisable in Paris. Your spouse, if you have one, will travel with you part of the time, as the travel budget and his or her time permit. But you must realize that you will be spending a lot of time apart, as you adjust as well to living in a new country. Raising children adds more difficulties. This can strain even the best of marriages.
  2. I mentioned tolerating ambiguity and having the need for patience. This begins with yourself. All of our congregations, large and small, need their bishop, sometimes more than they know at first. “Who am I?” and “What do I have to offer?” will be questions you will have to be comfortable asking.
  3. Your income will be in dollars, so you will always be juggling exchange rates. Taxes are high, since the housing allowance is taxable income in France. And the salary is not high nor the raises frequent, frankly, as you will be paid according to the standards of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. 
  4. Staff support is excellent, but with only two employees, you will do more than you might expect. Your office is small and under the eaves of the parish house in Paris.
  5. All bishops are isolated, by virtue of our office. This office is particularly so.

The benefits

  1. This is the best job in the House of Bishops, if you want extraordinary adventures in ministry, and fabulous possibilities for mission.
  2. You will get to work alongside people like the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, and his successor, as a trusted part of a worldwide team. 
  3. Our priests and deacons will amaze and challenge you with the depth of their faith, their willingness to confront unusual challenges, and their competence. 
  4. You will have the opportunity to learn and speak new languages, appreciate different cultures, and grow in your understanding of the real mission of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, in a world that either does not know the Gospel, or spurns what they think they know. Our way of being church works in every language and culture, offering hope across the globe, and seeing that up close and doing your part is a huge inspiration to keep going despite the challenges.

May the Holy Spirit bless your discernment, as you go forward in seeking God’s will.

                          

Bishop Pierre Whalon