The View from Europe

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Even before I arrived in Austin, the most wondrous messages about events were showing up in my email box.

A Celebration of Earth and the Cosmos. The Harvest Prayer Network. The Provincial Gathering. Racial Healing. A prayer service at a detention center for immigrants. And that was before I heard Michael Curry blow our socks off at the opening Eucharist.

Not only is it all new to me, my deputation came from, arguably, farther away than any other. (Yes, I measured the distance from Alaska). We are from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. We’re like a diocese, but smaller and more spread out.

Our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, is a suffragan bishop to the presiding bishop. You can’t imagine how fun it was to say to my French friends (I live in Paris) that the preacher who rocked the royal wedding was OURS. “You mean he’s your Archbishop?” was the usual response.

Many of our number are repeat attendees, and my husband is a three-time deputy. I’m told, though, that you have to experience convention to believe it. So far that seems to be true. I’m struggling to develop a position on the blizzard of propositions on the table. (But please do vote yes on new translations of the BCP into Spanish, Creole and French. The current ones make our native-language parishioners snicker.)

Every diocese has its own issues, and we are no exception. Far fewer well-off American expats are sent to Europe by their employers, and the Europeans who love our message of inclusion and openness often haven’t grown up with a tradition of tithing, or giving at all for that matter.

Some of our costs are high. In how many dioceses does every member of the Council of Advice/Standing Committee have to take a plane or train to the quarterly meetings? Others are low: Monasteries offer great prices and decent food. And please don’t think I’m complaining about meeting in such charming cities as Wiesbaden, Germany; Waterloo, Belgium (you can walk to the battlefield!); or Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The same topics—same-sex blessings, open table—galvanize our parishes as they do in the U.S., though they vary by country. In France, we are a home for gays who aren’t welcome in the Catholic Church. In Germany, at least in Bavaria, that struggle is over and the right side won. That’s good, but it means our Munich church has to look hard for new members. We try to plant new mission congregations, but here, as at home, they sometimes don’t grow and flower.

We glory in our diversity, though it has a somewhat different meaning than across the ocean. It’s the first ordained woman priest in Italy holding weekly services in a converted room in an abandoned Milan factory. It’s a refugee center in Rome that serves people of all nationalities who’ve washed up on Europe’s shores. It’s a 146-year-old church in Geneva; a mission congregation in Augsburg, Germany, about to get its own priest; 80 French-speaking Christians of mostly African descent gathering in Mons, Belgium; a chapel and retreat center in the Austrian Alps, a Gothic cathedral in Paris that serves 65 free lunches to the unfortunate every Friday, and much more.

Our deputation comes to Austin at an exciting moment. After 17 years, our bishop is leaving, and we have chosen four nominees; the petition process is getting underway too. Some hopefuls will be at convention, I’m sure.

The walkabouts will take place at the end of September in Paris, Munich and Rome, and the election will be at our convention in Waterloo Oct. 18-21.

Some of us—Bishop Whalon, for starters—are old General Convention hands. They are rushing off to committee hearings and exchanging the latest compromise positions. For me, it’s all new, from breakfast tacos to sharing the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement with more than 1,000 fellow travellers from near and far.

Anne Swardson, a senior editor for Bloomberg News in Paris, is a deputy and member of the Council of Advice of the Convocation of Episcopal churches in Europe.