Old Catholics and Episcopalians in Europe have agreed to enter into deeper communion, seeking new ways to collaborate, preparing a common structure, and leading the way towards the ultimate goal of becoming one church across the continent.
The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe passed two resolutions during its 17-20 October 2013 convention in Rome following a charge delivered by Old Catholic Archbishop Joris Vercammen, in which he encouraged the churches to “overcome our borders” and become “agents of transformation.”
One resolution commits the congregations of the convocation to seek to collaborate with their neighboring Old Catholic congregations by developing mutual ministries in worship, programme and outreach, and by increasing knowledge and awareness of each other’s traditions.
Another resolution supports the bishop-in-charge of the convocation and the archbishop of Utrecht “in their joint efforts to foster and develop our common life in Christ.”
The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht is the Episcopal Church’s longest-standing full communion partner, dating back to the Bonn Agreement of 1931.
“The work of full communion is meant for fuller communion than we can envision,” Vercammen told the delegates Oct. 18 at the convocation’s convention. “I hope I am able to seduce you to the freedom for which the Holy Spirit wants to open our minds.”
The Rt Rev Pierre Whalon, bishop-in-charge of the convocation, said that Vercammen had planted a seed “for us to pray about who we are together ... [and to] determine that we no longer consider ourselves separate churches ... We need to think outside ourselves.”
Whalon told the Episcopal News Service (ENS) that there is a strong desire to form “a communion of churches that can have a common witness in continental Europe” and that such a communion would bring the Old Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church “as close as possible to full visible unity without giving up local autonomy of individual jurisdictions.”
The deepening of relationships between Old Catholics and Episcopalians, he said, might encourage other Anglican churches and full communion partners in Europe to work more intentionally towards unity.
The Church of England’s Diocese in Europe also includes parishes throughout the continent. The Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain and the Lusitanian Church of Portugal are the two other Anglican jurisdictions in Europe.
“On the very long term it could be the aim to have only one ecclesiastical structure that would be really both Old Catholic and Episcopal,” Vercammen said. “For the time being we have to organise the steps we have to take in order to realise this long term goal.”
“I’m guessing the Old Catholics might help us to become new Episcopalians,” President of the House of Deputies the Rev Gay Clark Jennings said in her address to the convention, meeting at St Paul’s Within-the-Walls, an Episcopal church in the centre of Rome.
She described Vercammen’s proposal as “a radical form of community, a new way to be church, the church we’re called to be.”
American Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, after hearing news about Vercammen’s appeal and the convocation’s response, told ENS that she is “deeply grateful for the growing awareness of the possibilities of full communion in Europe, and the increasing commitment to make it a greater reality."
“Imagine the missional witness and possibility of a seamless Anglican-Episcopal-Old Catholic-Lutheran Christian community!” she added. “The strong and deepening relationship between Old Catholics and Episcopalians in Europe is the forerunner, which just might lead other parts of the Body of Christ into greater partnership.”
Jefferts Schori was a guest of the Old Catholic Church in 2011 when she visited Utrecht and delivered the Quasimodo Lecture, an annual event that explores issues of faith in contemporary society.
Vercammen, during his remarks to the convocation’s convention, quoted from that lecture, during which Jefferts Schori said that ecumenism “is basically housekeeping work – cleaning up the household, setting it in order, so that it can be a home ... Ecumenical work begins in the baptismal vision of a restored body of Christ, but it cannot stop at any limited version of what God’s body includes. We are here to help the whole, and that’s the future I want to point toward in being catholic beyond borders.”
With acknowledgements to ENS.