Many are surprised to learn that the Episcopal Church, my particular family within the Jesus Movement, has a significant presence in Europe. Last weekend, I had the privilege
of attending the annual convention of The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, held at one of its parishes, All Saints in Waterloo, Belgium. The convention went from Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning, a long affair for those dioceses used to conducting their conventions in a day or less, but it is a spacious time that supports building up the body of Christ across a diverse, international group of congregations that otherwise do not have much occasion to break bread together. (Oh, there was also an exciting bishop election, an important event already extensively covered.)
I had the joy of listening to stories of how people came to value their particular faith communities, from the large American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris, to parishes like Christ the King in Frankfurt, mission congregations like Grace Church in Montpelier and experiments in Christian community such as Christiana Fraternitas, an Episcopally-based ecumenical monastic order located in Taranto in the south of Italy. As I listened, I asked the question: What is it that makes the Convocation unique? What charisms, or gifts might the Convocation offer the wider Church?
At this point in my reflection, I have two related answers. The first has to do with the diversity of our churches and their context in Europe. The Convocation is a kind of wonderful laboratory for the Anglican penchant to seek Christ in the languages and cultures of a particular people at a particular time. This “vernacular moment” (thank you Bishops Ian Douglas and Pierre Whalon) is a powerful approach to seeking and joining God’s mission.
The second answer came to me on Sunday afternoon, when several of us spent a few hours in Brussels before our departures. We came upon a musician playing a waltz in the Place de la Bourse. I was deeply moved, because it was a waltz after all, and on a lovely fall afternoon with new friends, surrounded by happy crowds and great beauty. And I also saw in that solitary musician a reflection of the stories I had been hearing. Stories of pilgrims, of people sojourning in a strange land, who found the grace of God’s manna in community, becoming a pilgrim church, and in the process creating together music of great beauty.
We are a people on the Way, seeking the already here and not yet reign of God. The people of the Convocation seem to deeply feel what it means to be a pilgrim. It is part of the air they breathe. It gives life to their communities, and builds up the body of Christ. It is a charism that bears witness to the wider church. I give thanks for the pilgrims of the Convocation and pray that their experiences may inform our own journeys, as we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.