Europe’s 4 Anglican Church Bodies Form Tighter Bond

American Cathedral, Paris | Photo: Guillaume Cattiaux, Wikimedia,

By Mark Michael

The bishops of Anglicanism’s four church bodies in continental Europe have formally committed to consultation in electing new bishops and appointing clergy to serve in their geographically overlapping jurisdictions. On December 15, the bishops of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe (also called the Episcopal Church in Europe), the Church of England’s Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe (also called the Diocese in Europe), the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church authorized and released the Porto Covenant, a statement of mutual commitment that was drafted during talks in the Portuguese city in 2006 and refined through additional conversations hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“Each of our churches is present on the continent of Europe for different reasons;,” said the Rt. Rev. Mark Edington, bishop in charge of the Episcopal Church in Europe. “It turns out all of those are valid reasons, and they guide us — each in our own ways, and all of us together — into God’s future mission in a place so rich in Christian history.”

The bishops pledged to a process of “full consultation” when the time comes for one of its number to be replaced, stating that those responsible “will, prior to the selection of candidates, inquire of the other three jurisdictions as to what qualities and other attributes they consider important in selecting candidates.”

They also promised closer cooperation in appointing clergy in places where another jurisdiction also has a congregation and to coordination of new mission work in these communities. The jurisdictions of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches and the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe fully overlap, and the Church of England diocese also has several congregations in Spain and Portugal, the home of the Spanish and Lusitanian Churches.

The covenant also formalizes the structure of the College of Anglican Bishops in Continental Europe (COABICE), a body that was created several decades ago. The bishops agreed to meet at least annually to discuss “the many issues and questions arising from our unique situation in multiple jurisdictions in a rapidly-changing Europe,” and made allowances for summoning a consultative body of lay and clerical delegates from each church when necessary.

Jurisdictional integrity, the idea that a single bishop should exercise spiritual care over believers living within set geographical bounds, is a longstanding principle of Anglican church governance. But both the Episcopal Church in Europe or the Diocese of Europe are constitutionally structured as networks of churches, without a claim to geographical jurisdiction. These networks, however, overlap in ways that can look similar to the “overlapping jurisdictions” famously criticized in The Windsor Report, with churches of two different jurisdictions being located in several European cities.

Edington said that the church leaders were urged by the Archbishop of Canterbury to move beyond this paradigm, saying of overlapping jurisdictions, “Last year, as the COABICE bishops met together at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Justin encouraged us to set aside that way of thinking, and rather to see ourselves having a unique opportunity to demonstrate how collaboration and collegiality might be modeled among different provinces in communion with the See of Canterbury. That distinctive quality of all four of our churches, the cornerstone of our Covenant, is now a basis upon which we can seek deeper relationship and more substantive cooperation in the ministries God calls each of our communities to in Europe.”

In the 1990’s the four churches had proposed uniting as a new province of the Anglican Communion, a resolve which had been approved by the 1968 and 1978 Lambeth Conferences. A 1997 joint statement suggested that the national church allegiances that resulted in the formation of different jurisdictions were waning in significance. “All our parishes are `Anglican Episcopal’ and typically contain a wide international membership,” the bishops said then.

The current proposals for unity fall short of such aspirations, as divisions within the Communion over human sexuality have created tension between the church bodies. Most congregations of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe offer same sex marriages and several of the church’s clergy are married to same sex partners.

The other three churches officially uphold traditional Christian marriage, though the Spanish Church did register its protest in 2017 when an evangelical church association that liberalized its position was expelled from a Protestant church association in Madrid. The Intercontinental Church Society, an evangelical patronage trust, appoints the clergy of about 15% of the Church of England diocese’s parishes, including many of the largest and strongest ones. While the ICCS does not have a specific policy about human sexuality, evangelicals are the strongest public advocates for traditional teaching about marriage in the Church of England.

The new covenant brokers connections between church bodies with distinct histories and theological and social cultures, rooted in diverse patterns of expatriate settlement and Anglican mission work.

English expatriates began gathering as distinctive worshipping congregations in the Low Countries in the late Middle Ages, when the lucrative wool trade led to the establishment of significant communities of English merchants. In Antwerp, Belgium, for example, a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket, with ornaments imported from England, was established in the 14th or 15th century.

The English Reformation strengthened links between Protestant scholars across Western Europe, and the expansion of trade and military alliances led to the founding of many guild and garrison chapels to serve English expatriates in the 17th and 18th centuries. An English church was founded at Izmir, Turkey, for example, in 1630, and Turkey’s eight Anglican churches are part of the Church of England’s present-day Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe (instead of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East) because of their expat heritage.

Anglican clergy serving in capital cities have often combined a chaplaincy role to the English diplomatic and military establishment with their parochial responsibilities. Most continue to use the language of “chaplaincy” for Church of England congregations to differentiate their ministry from the larger Roman Catholic and Protestant churches that serve most Christians in their host countries. Expanded travel in the nineteenth century led to the founding of dozens of Anglican chapels in European holiday destinations, especially in the Alps and along France and Spain’s Mediterranean coasts.

Matthew Luscombe, the chaplain of the British Embassy in Paris, was consecrated in 1825 as the first bishop with oversight of European Anglican congregations, and in 1842 the Church of England established the Diocese of Gibraltar, based in the British overseas territory on the Iberian Peninsula’s southern tip, to serve chaplaincies along the Mediterranean. The Northern European chaplaincies, many of which were founded by the Intercontinental Church Society, were overseen by the Bishop of Fulham, a suffragan of the Diocese of London.

The two jurisdictions were amalgamated in 1980 into what is now officially the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. The Church of England diocese, which is by far the largest of the four jurisdictions, now has 295 churches, and is served by 131 clergy. Two bishops, Robert Innes and David Hamid, exercise care over the far-flung territory, which covers about a sixth of the world’s landmass. Former diocesan bishop Geoffrey Rowell loved to tell the story of his first meeting with then-pope Benedict XVI, who whispered to him, “So, I hear I’m in your diocese.”

American expats also founded several congregations, beginning in 1859 with the ancestor of today’s American Cathedral (officially the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) in Paris. The American Cathedral, Florence’s St. James Church, and Rome’s St. Paul’s Within the Walls, are all grand architectural monuments, built in large part through the philanthropy of J. P. Morgan, a committed Episcopalian who vacationed frequently in the three cities. A mosaic in the apse of St. Paul’s Within the Walls even depicts St. Ambrose with the face of Morgan’s father, Junius.

General Convention created what was then called the Convocation of American Churches in Europe in 1859, under the oversight of the presiding bishop, who generally appointed a retired bishop to exercise spiritual care of the congregations. Since 1971, the convocation’s bishop in charge has been a full-time post and the convocation has gradually exercised more responsibility for self-governance. The Convocation has nine parishes and 15 missions. Worship conducted in the vernacular instead of English has been an important mission initiative in recent years, and about half its congregations worship in French, Spanish, or Italian. The current bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Edington, was elected in 2018.

The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church were both founded out of the Old Catholic movement of the mid-19th century. Old Catholics were Roman Catholic clergy and laity who protested the growing popularity of the doctrines of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction, which were eventually defined as binding by the First Vatican Council in 1870. The European center of the movement was in the Netherlands, and from its inception, Anglicans have enjoyed warm ecumenical relations with the independent national Old Catholic churches who joined together in 1889 to form the Union of Utrecht.

The Spanish and Lusitanian Churches differed from Old Catholics north of the Alps by seeking a closer connection with Anglicans from the beginning of their lives. Juan Bautista Cabrera, a former Roman Catholic priest, organized what is now the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church in 1868. The church has always had a more Protestant ethos, worshipping in Spanish and counting former Roman Catholic and Reformed ministers among its founding clergy.

Cabrera had asked the Church of England to send a bishop to Spain in 1878. But the Episcopal Church took the initiative, sending its first Bishop of Mexico, H. Chauncey Riley, who convened a synod that formally organized the church in 1880. Riley had recently undertaken a similar process in Mexico, creating the Episcopal diocese there out of an independent Old Catholic Church called “the Church of Jesus.” The Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Haiti had been formed in a similar manner in the 1860’s and 1870’s.

Cabrera eventually became the church’s first bishop, and oversight for the church’s work was exercised by the then-firmly Protestant Church of Ireland for several generations, though contact with the wider Anglicanism was sharply limited during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime.  The church, which is led by the Rt. Rev. Carlos Lopez Lozano, currently has 22 priests, who serve 20 parishes across Spain.

Bishop Riley also oversaw the organization of the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church, which gathered several Portuguese Catholic congregations that had withdrawn from the Roman Church. Lusitania was the ancient Roman province comprising present-day Portugal and part of Western Spain. In its founding documents, the Lusitanian church agreed to maintain the liturgical and doctrinal standards of the Anglican Communion, and a Book of Common Prayer in Portuguese was published for its use in 1884. The Lusitanian church traditionally maintained closer links with outside Anglican churches, especially the Episcopal Church. The church now has 14 parishes and about 5,000 members. Its bishop is the Rt. Rev. Jorge Pina Cabral.

Both the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church were formally integrated into the Anglican Communion in 1980, becoming extra-provincial dioceses under the metropolitical oversight of the Archbishop of Canterbury (like the Anglican churches of several British territories and, by a strange fluke of history, the Church of Ceylon). Both also maintain full communion agreements with other Old Catholic churches and with the Lutheran churches of Germany and Scandinavia.

Editor’s Note: several historical and canonical details were clarified after this story was first published. Thanks to the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, bishop retired of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe for additional information.


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