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Anglicans Online last updated 26 March 2017

an essay for Anglicans Online
29 January 2006

Anglicans in Europe—A Model?
The Rt Revd Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.

In a recent open letter (dated 16 October 2005) to Archbishop Robin Eames, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, cited Anglican jurisdictions in Europe as justification for a Convocation of Nigerian Churches in America that his province is launching. He joins a large group of people who quite wrongly invoke the Anglican experience in Europe as a model or precedent for jurisdictional novelties.

This writer was once assigned to a committee of the Episcopal Church to help the Church of Nigeria care for Nigerians living in America in ways that are appropriate and respectful of their needs as expatriates. There was to have been a Nigerian priest, paid by us, who would help begin organizing chaplaincies for this ministry.

This collaboration came to an end, sadly, after General Convention 2003. Now it would seem that these chaplaincies are to be established not under the authority of the American Anglican jurisdiction, but of Nigeria. The need remains, certainly, and we should be sympathetic. However there will now be yet another problem of jurisdiction, one more step toward the breakup of the Anglican Communion.

What is especially troubling for me is that Europe is invoked as a model or precedent. In fact, the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, in particular, is often brought up in various venues as a model for new-fangled jurisdictions of Anglicans who want to live in one place where there is an existing Anglican jurisdiction and yet be under the jurisdiction of a bishop who presides over a different region, even across the globe. “If they can have parallel jurisdictions in Europe, why can’t we?” is the cry.

This argument is wrong on two counts: first, misunderstanding our situation, and second, not comprehending the very real obstacles to mission that even legitimate non-geographical jurisdictions can present. First, the situation in Europe is not one of parallel Anglican jurisdictions. There are two geographical jurisdictions, the Churches of Spain and Portugal, limited to their respective borders. The Church of England’s geographical jurisdiction ends with England (just England, not the United Kingdom) and her territories overseas. One of those is Gibraltar. Similarly, the Episcopal Church’s jurisdiction is exercised in eight countries, including the United States and her territories, of course, but also including seven other nations. None of them is in Europe.

Then there are expatriates who need pastoral care adapted to their own culture and situation abroad. Of course, where there is no existing Anglican jurisdiction, this care still needs to be provided. For centuries the Church of England has provided such chaplaincies to English expatriates in Europe and elsewhere. This effort became so successful that after a long history, the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, the Church of England’s newest diocese, was created in 1980.

Similarly, the Episcopal Church saw European chaplaincies of its own established, first in Paris, France, and then in other major European cities. Both the English and American congregations needed episcopal ministry, the work of oversight that should keep congregations healthy and on task. This then required both Churches to create non-geographical jurisdictions, though neither planned to. Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, the present Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, often refers to his jurisdiction as “a network.” It exists wherever there are enough people to warrant sending a priest and beginning to hold services for them, along with providing other pastoral ministries, thus forming a chaplaincy. The diocese is the network that connects them, not the geographical area it serves. The Episcopal Church Convocation is not a diocese, but has most of the decision-making structures of an Episcopal diocese. It too exists not in a geographically limited jurisdiction, but wherever people need it.

In 1859 the General Convention created a special canon to allow the Church formally to establish such “Congregations in Foreign Lands” (see Canons of the Episcopal Church, I.15). It should be pointed out that this canon is not about Europe: the Episcopal Church can plant churches wherever there is a need in the world, with the stipulation that they are not to be located in an existing jurisdiction with which we are in communion.

That stipulation is crucial. There is a very long history concerning geographical limits for episcopal and archiepiscopal jurisdictions. The first official pronouncement on the question dates back to the First Council of Nicea, held in 325 A.D., in that town in what is now Turkey. Then as now, bishops were crossing into others’ jurisdictions to ordain priests and deacons who were in line with their position. (They followed the ideas of Novatian, a rigorist priest in Rome who felt the then-Bishop of Rome was too soft on people who had caved in to persecution under Emperor Decius. So he had himself elected rival Bishop of Rome in 253. Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose.)

The Council ruled that bishops should not unilaterally interfere in others’ dioceses. The reason is simple: to avoid chaos. The Council Fathers realized what would happen if within dioceses there were parishes belonging to different bishops. There would be a de facto schism, with the crippling of the work of the Church, as proclaiming the differences of the various congregations—and thus exalting their respective bishops—would become more important than the proclamation of the Gospel itself.

Today, inspired by the Internet, there are those who think that such arrangements are finally feasible. They envision non-geographical jurisdictions that will span the globe, networks of congregations under a bishop whose physical location is less important than the particular ideology to which said bishop subscribes. And it is here especially that people begin to talk about the Convocation in Europe as a model.

There are some historical examples of jurisdictions that are allowed to overlap for various reasons, like religious orders, for instance. These arrangements can work as exceptions to the rule where there is full communion and no hostile schismatic intent, though experience shows they are always unwieldy. Nevertheless, the situation in Europe has been decried by the Lambeth Conferences of 1878, 1968, 1978, 1988, and 1998. Those who believe (as does this writer) that Lambeth Resolutions should receive the greatest respect—just below that accorded law or statute—should pause therefore before invoking Europe as a model or precedent.

What the situation in Europe does show positively is the perennial strength of the Anglican ethos, its adaptability to different contexts and unusual situations. As Bishop-in-charge I am very proud of the accomplishments for the advancing of the Gospel and the mission of the Church of the people and clergy of the Convocation, in the face of real difficulty and hardship. It has also been my privilege as a licensed assisting bishop in the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe to visit many English congregations and witness their vital ministries that bring salt and light to those communities. Not to mention to see the exciting work being done in Spain and Portugal by those Churches.

But this is being done in spite of any strategy for Anglican mission in Europe or even a plan among the four jurisdictions. Lack of coordination over the years has often led to congregations of one jurisdiction nestling alongside others, duplicating efforts and even being sometimes unwilling to work together at all. Moreover, the Old Catholic Churches, with whom all Anglicans are in full communion since 1931, have begun to ask pointed questions about the implications of various Anglicans setting up shop, so to speak, in their jurisdictions without consultation.

And lastly, while the Anglican Communion is in communion as a whole with the Old Catholic Churches, the Church of England is in communion with the Scandinavian and Baltic Lutheran Churches through the Porvoo Agreement, while the Episcopal Church is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America through the Called to Common Mission agreement. Yet these are unilateral: the Americans are not in communion with Porvoo churches and the English are not in communion with the ELCA. So we have odd occurrences like joint celebrations with Finnish Lutherans with only one part of the Anglicans in communion. In Geneva the two jurisdictions have churches a few blocks apart who have a good relationship and host joint annual confirmations. However when two ELCA pastors recently served the American parish as interim rectors, they were not able to function with the English chaplaincy.

While this complex situation might serve as a good rationale to adopt Article 17 of the proposed “Anglican Covenant” attached to the Windsor Report, calling for closer collaboration on full-communion agreements, more importantly in the European context this patch of willy-nilly connections and disconnections only gets in the way of mission. While we should rightly celebrate the vitality of Anglicanism in Europe, we must recognize how unusual jurisdictional arrangements can sap that vitality, cast a shadow on our credibility with Europeans, and work against more growth and strength.

A glance at history

How this all came to be concerns not only the English and American chaplaincies, whose Churches established them independently of one another. By the mid-nineteenth century the situation was already becoming complicated. No one planned these non-geographical jurisdictions. But it soon became much more complicated. The reaction to Vatican I engendered the Spanish and Lusitanian Churches, supported not by the Church of England but other churches of the nascent Anglican Communion. Both of the Iberian Churches are true national churches, founded not by missionaries but by Spaniards and Portuguese. The Church of Ireland, following upon a request to the 1878 Lambeth Conference, supported the formation of the Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal, by extending episcopal oversight to the founding congregations in 1880. Interestingly, Episcopal Bishop Henry Riley, just consecrated in 1879 as missionary bishop to the Mexican Iglesia de Jesús, presided at the first meeting in 1880. [1]

At the same time, in 1880 some Portuguese Roman Catholics threw in their lot with the Spanish and formed their own Lusitanian Church, under the same Bishop Riley and with the support again of the Irish Church. Several of this writer’s predecessors, among others, provided episcopal oversight over the years. Today it is known as the Igreja Lusitana Catolica Apostolica Evangelica.

The Iberian Churches developed, but not without controversy among Anglicans. It took until 1980 to fully recognize these Churches as members of the Anglican Communion. They are presently extra-provincial dioceses under the metropolitical authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht trace their origin back to St Willibrord, who founded the See of Utrecht, Holland, in 695 A.D. Having survived the Reformation, the archbishops of Utrecht came into conflict with the papacy for being “not Catholic enough.” This lasted throughout the seventeenth century and by 1724 with the election of Cornelius van Steenhoven Utrecht was no longer in communion with Rome.

The same wave of sentiment that drove the Spanish and Portuguese movements against what were seen as the novel ideas of the universal ordinary jurisdiction of the Pope and papal infallibility also awakened similar communities which made common cause with Utrecht. The latter had already been calling itself “The Old Catholic Church” since 1853 to distinguish itself from the “innovations” of Pius IX. These innovations passed by Vatican I were to be the motive for what has been called since “the Old Catholic movement.” The Old Catholic Churches today are in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Austria.[2] In 1931 the Anglican Communion entered into full communion with them through the Bonn Agreement.

These developments thus added their own layers of complexity to the European situation, with which we are still dealing today. But the controversies which these developments engendered continue to burn, now inside the whole Communion itself. An example outside Europe might help clarify this.

A great debate arose around the move to establish an Anglican episcopate in Jerusalem in 1841. Conceived as a way of providing ministry to Anglicans and Prussian Lutherans in the Holy Land, the concept provoked such controversy that many (though by no means all) commentators have agreed with John Henry Newman that its establishment was the final straw that propelled him into the Roman Church. Naturally, Low- and Broad-Church sympathizers generally saw the new bishopric as a good thing, indeed, a way to return the episcopacy to Prussian Lutherans, whose king desired it. Some also spoke of restoring the See of St. James, adding thus to the glory of the Church of England. (Of course the project had its critics in those parties as well.)

The High Church party saw it quite differently. First, the notion of exporting the Anglican succession to Jerusalem seemed to disregard completely the existing episcopacy in that city, creating an unacceptable overlapping jurisdiction. Second, they did not think the Prussian Lutherans were “orthodox enough” to be eligible for the episcopacy, other than their king’s desire for it. Third, they were afraid that the new bishop would strengthen his numbers chiefly by sheep-stealing from the Eastern Churches.

These objections to a project that so exercised English Anglicans in the 1840s keep arising over and over: how to justify creating overlapping jurisdictions of geography or of people: how to determine the orthodoxy or validity of our various partners or would-be partners; the fear of a proselytism that can only offend and make hostile the local historic church. These questions were raised again among Anglicans, often with similar passion, as relations with the Spanish, Portuguese, and Old Catholic Churches developed. They are not quite dead yet among us European Anglicans. Surely it should be clear that the same concerns are being raised all over again around the Communion: what if anything can justify planting an overlapping jurisdiction into an existing one; questions of doctrinal sufficiency or even heresy; and destructive proselytism, this time among Anglicans.

For those whose ecclesiology is focused on the local congregation, such considerations can seem lofty and far-removed. For the pragmatic expatriates, who wish only “to get on with the work,” all will be well, so long as we “keep to our own.” In the short term, they are right.

And yet, in the long term, the High Church considerations inevitably weigh in. For instance, the presence in Lisbon of an English and, eventually, an American chaplaincy had much to do with the first germination of the Lusitanian Church. There are rules in both the English and American jurisdictions against aggressive membership development at the expense of other churches. However, there will always be those who are attracted to the healthy life of a congregation, even a chaplaincy. For while chaplaincies are necessary for civilian and military expatriates, if they are faithful and succeed other time, they begin to function like local parishes. Their ministries inevitably begins to attract some of the local population, who will want to become Anglicans or Episcopalians. Presently in the Convocation, the presence of significant numbers of French and German Episcopalians is raising the question of how best to integrate them into the life of the Episcopal Church in Europe. Similar developments in the Diocese in Europe are raising the same issues.

And as these continue to develop, along with the growth in Anglophone congregations across the Continent, the working relations among all these jurisdictions become ever more important, a point raised again most recently by the Old Catholic Churches but also regularly raised by the Iberian Anglicans. What does full communion mean if we are not seen to respect each other’s jurisdictions? The presence of English and American congregations in the same cities (Paris, Rome, Florence, Geneva, and Brussels) raises the same concerns. The Lambeth Conference 1878 deplored that situation, and made recommendations, which seem to have been subsequently ignored until fairly recently.

To sum up, there is wonderful ministry being done in all four Anglican jurisdictions in Europe. The Gospel is preached faithfully and the sacraments duly celebrated. Churches are growing and branching out. The poor are tended to. Refugees get real help. Ecumenical cooperation at the local level is often extraordinary, and inter-Anglican cooperation is growing as well.

In particular, this writer ventures to say that the experience of the Convocation’s parishes and mission congregations offers much instruction and encouragement to Episcopalians in America. I have even been so bold as to suggest to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the Diocese in Europe offers the same to the Church of England.

But at the same time, the lack of any joint continental strategy for mission, the lack of attention paid to jurisdictional questions, and the peculiar and serious difficulties of keeping non-geographical jurisdictions afloat—spiritually, organizationally, financially—mean that any attempt to claim the Anglican experience in Europe as a model or an excuse for jurisdictional novelties is seriously in error. The European experience is rather a caution, a warning to be heeded. Here I am thinking not only of the Nigerian chaplaincies in America, but also the attempts to create non-geographical or parallel jurisdictions in America, Canada, and even England. The European experience gives rich lessons of what to do, and what not to do.

Speaking as Bishop in charge of a non-geographical jurisdiction, having no real geographical limit makes life much more difficult, not easier. For example, there are presently parishes in America cutting ties to their local diocese to join another diocese in foreign countries. Suddenly they may discover that they actually do not like or relate to their new bishop thousands of miles away (some already have). Or they learn that the new province has canons they cannot abide (no divorced and remarried clergy, for instance). So should they disaffiliate with the new diocese and search for a third, more compatible diocese? Does episcopacy then mean anything anymore? And from the bishop’s point of view, now he must try to be chief priest, pastor and teacher to foreigners so far away that he can never be sure what is actually happening in those congregations, even if he does speak their language. Not to mention getting people together for standing committee, commission on ministry, and other meetings, as well as the diocesan convention. There are linguistic and cultural barriers. Then there is the question of financial support. Can the diocese give support to a faraway American parish in trouble? Or will it become enthralled to the money First World congregations can give? And what of clergy discipline?

Non-geographical jurisdictions also suffer from identity problems. The Diocese of Texas, for instance, doesn’t. It isn’t the Diocese IN Texas (which one?). The ties that bind bishops and clergy are looser, and congregations feel disconnected and isolated, as well as their pastors. Ordinary diocesan life is very hard to pull off, as well as expensive. And money is an even greater problem than in a regular diocese. Not to mention all the issues that have already been discussed about overlapping jurisdictions.

Yes, the Holy Spirit can and does work despite the roadblocks that our institutions throw up. Of course—it has ever been so. But we should imagine and work toward structures based on the mission of the Church that at least will not impede the work of the Spirit. God is calling us to be so much more today than we are.

In this hour when clever ideas of the moment seem to make ancient wisdom uncouth, the Anglican Communion needs to heed the lessons of our past and move toward structures that will allow us better to do the work we have been given to do. Not only in Europe, but throughout the world.


[1] Francisco Serrano Àlvarez, Contra vientos y mareas (Editorial Clie : Barcelona, 2000), p.7ff.

[2] There are also legitimate Old Catholic groups in America, which by agreement the Episcopal Church is responsible for certifying. The Polish National Catholic Church, despite its roots in the Old Catholic movement, seceded from the Union of Utrecht in 2003.


Bishop Whalon welcomes comments or questions about this article. You can write to him at bppwhalon@aol.com.


THE RT REVD PIERRE W. WHALON is Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.