The Anglican Episcopal Congregation who meet in St. Clement’s Church in the centre of Prague, is part of the rather unusual 44th Diocese of the Church of England with the unwieldy title of ‘The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe’. Fortunately, it is usually shortened to ‘Diocese in Europe’. It covers the whole of the European continent, together with Turkey, Morocco, Mongolia and all of the former Soviet Union in Asia. Within that area, (which is roughly one sixth of the world’s landmass), there are about 250 congregations. You can find out more about it at Diocese in Europe website.
As well as being part of the Anglican Diocese in Europe, we also function as the English-speaking parish of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic or Starokatolická církev v Ceské republice if you would like it in Czech. The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht were formed in the late 19th century by Roman Catholics who could not accept the doctrine of papal infallibility and other teachings that came out of the First Vatican Council of 1870. The Church in the Netherlands has a slightly earlier history. As well as the Netherlands, there are Old Catholic Churches in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republic, together with a scattering of outposts elsewhere. More information can be found in this Wikipedia article and their own website .
The Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion have been in full communion with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht since the Bonn Agreement of 1931. For both ecumenical and practical reasons, a Covenant was signed in September 2000 between the Czech Old Catholics and the Diocese in Europe, whereby the Anglican Episcopal Congregation is deemed to be part of both Churches. Amongst other things, it gives the Congregation the right to have a legal bank account and allows me to conduct a wedding without the couple needing a civil ceremony as well. But it also means that I am responsible not to one Bishop but to two; Bishop Dušan Hejbal of the Old Catholic Church and Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese in Europe, together with his sidekick, Bishop David Hamid, the Suffragan Bishop in Europe.
Once a year, the Old Catholic Bishops get together for a few days for their International Bishops Conference (IBK). The IBK used to be held in each different country by rotation. However, a couple of years ago, they realised that it costs half the price to hold it in the Czech Republic than it does in Austria, Switzerland, Germany or the Netherlands. So now they give the money to the Czech Church and ask them to get on and organise it. So, from the afternoon of Sunday 25th to the afternoon of Thursday 29th January, the 2009 IBK took place in a small hotel at Karlick, a little village about 25km south-west of Prague.
As well as the IBK, there has also been an annual meeting between the Old Catholic Bishops and those Anglican Bishops working in Europe. This not only means Bishops Geoffrey & David, but also the American Bishop based in Paris who looks after a scattering of Episcopalian congregations in Europe, many but not all, associated with US military establishments. Then there are two small Anglican Churches in the Iberian peninsular, the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church & the Lusitanian Church in Portugal. Each has their own Bishop. Sensibly, it was agreed last year to have the meeting between Old Catholic & Anglican Bishops in Europe, tacked on to the end of the IBK in the same location. Thus it took place from the evening of Thursday 29th – the morning of Saturday 31st January.
One of the joys of living in Prague is the city’s wonderful integrated public transport system. Although I brought my British right-hand drive car to Prague and am nearly through all the hoops of getting it registered here, (another story in itself), I now only use it to get bulk supplies from the supermarket and for the occasional trip out into the countryside. But as part of our (my wife Sybille & me) efforts to strengthen the Anglican-Old Catholic Church relationship, we volunteered to help with meeting some of the Bishops flying in to attend the two conferences, and transporting them onto Karlik.
Our first customer was Bishop Mike Klusmeyer from West Virginia who is the Episcopal Church in the USA liaison Bishop to the IBK. He flew in on Saturday afternoon in order to have 24 hours to get over jetlag. We delivered him to his Prague hotel and agreed to pick him up on Sunday morning so he could worship with us at St. Clement’s. This we duly did, and thus, for only the second time since we’ve been in Prague, we went to Church by car. Soon after we got to Church with Bishop Mike, a second Bishop appeared, Bishop Jonathan Gledhill, the Anglican Bishop of Lichfield. He is the Church of England’s liaison Bishop to the IBK but, according to my instructions, wasn’t arriving until a couple of days later. But, he and his wife Jane, wanted to have a few days leave together in Prague before the conference so they came earlier.
I was prepared to have one Bishop in the congregation on Sunday 25th January but now I had to preach to two! Certainly this was something I had not been trained for at Theological College 20 years before. However, both Bishop Mike and Bishop Jonathan were very kind and spent a lot of time talking with various members of the congregation at Coffee Hour following the service. After lunch with Bishop Mike, we delivered him safely on to Karlik.
During the week we collected the Spanish Bishop who arrived three days earlier than he should have done; delivered Bishop Jonathan from Prague city centre to Karlik: and on Thursday afternoon, picked up Bishop Geoffrey & Bishop David, who helpfully arrived on the same flight, and took them to Karlik too. Then it was a mad dash back to the airport for the Portuguese Bishop arriving an hour later. But he didn’t arrive! After Sybille had held a piece of paper with ‘+Fernando’ on it for more than half an hour, a phone call came through to say he wasn’t coming after all. We’d had an email earlier in the week entitled ‘bisschen chaotiosch’. It certainly was!
In the end I drove nearly 300 miles/480 km, more than I’d done in the two previous months put together, and thought seriously about re-spraying my car purple! But all our Episcopal passengers expressed their appreciation for our taxi service & the general view seems to be that both meetings had been very worthwhile.