Another ‘Bishop’ in the Czech Republic?

Former Anglican Church in Mariánské Lázne © Sybille Yates

On Tuesday 17th, I returned to the flat from our Breakfast Study Group & visiting a family who had enquired about the baptism of their child, to a request that I return a phone call from a retired Pastor of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren.

The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren are a united Lutheran/Reformed Church and are by far the largest Protestant denomination in the Czech Republic. Once I got through, the retired Pastor asked me what I knew about the Anglican Church building in Mariánské lázne and about a person who claimed to be the Anglican Bishop of the Czech Republic and was conducting services there.

Mariánské lázne is a spa town in the far west of the Czech Republic, near to the German border. Better known in the past, by its German name of Marienbad, it was very popular with the upper classes of various European countries in the second half of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth centuries. King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, was one of many Britons who visited to ‘take the waters’. An Anglican Church was built there and opened in 1879. It remained in use for Anglican worship until sometime in the 1920/30s and following the communist takeover in 1948, was confiscated by the state. After the fall of communism in 1989, some limited financial compensation was agreed and paid into the accounts of the Prague Anglican Episcopal Congregation. These funds partly helped pay the deposit on the flat that Sybille & I live in. The Church building now belongs to the local council in Mariánské lázne who has restored it to good order and use it as a small concert venue & gallery.

All this I told the retired Pastor and he agreed that this was his understanding too. However, one of his colleagues in Mariánské lázne, had been in touch with him regarding someone calling himself the Anglican Bishop of the Czech Republic, who since the summer of 2008 had been holding services in Mariánské lázne, using the former Anglican Church building. What did I know about him?

This information immediately rang bells. Back in October 2008, we had a similar report from a member of an Anglican congregation in Switzerland. Unfortunately at that time, we were given a partially incorrect name and could not discover anything more. But now I had his full name, The Rt. Rev’d Dr. Edwin Wagner. And aided by that helpful friend called Google, a clearer picture emerged, even allowing for the fact that quite a bit of the material was in Czech.

Edwin Wagner is Episcopi vagantes – this Wikipedia article will explain. He belongs to an exceedingly small group who style themselves ‘Traditional Church of England’. Typical of such groups, they have four ‘bishops’ and only five other ‘clergy’. The expression ‘too many Chiefs and not enough Indians’ comes to mind. According to their website, they seek to ‘continue the best Anglican traditions and values’. Yet a few lines later they state that this includes the use of the Roman Catholic English Missal!!!!

In Mariánské lázne, Edwin Wagner has taken full advantage of the fact that a historic restored building is still known as ‘The Anglican Church,’ even though it hasn’t been used for Anglican worship for over seventy years. It was only when his delusions of grandeur got the better of him and he claimed that, what is a publicly owned concert hall and gallery, had now been upgraded to the status of a Pro-Cathedral, that the local clergy began to smell a rat, eventually leading to the phone enquiry of ten days ago.

Last Saturday, we drove the 100 miles/160 km out to Mariánské lázne to investigate for ourselves. The small town is beautifully situated in a wooded valley and had recently experienced a quite heavy snowfall. And after the years of communist neglect, many of the wonderful late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings have been restored to their former glory. Walking the streets, we heard more German being spoken than Czech with many day or weekend visitors from across the nearby border.

Mariánské Lázne in the snow © Sybille Yates


We found the ‘Anglican Church’ but were disappointed to read a notice on the door stating ‘Im Winter geschlossen’ and similarly in Czech. Likewise, there were no notices about Church services conducted by Edwin Wagner. This rather confirmed the information we had been given that he had not been seen around the town by the other Christian ministers since just before Christmas.

A few days ago, I decided to bite the bullet and rang the mobile phone number given for Edwin Wagner on the ‘Traditional Church of England’ website. He answered in person and I asked whether he was still holding Church services in Mariánské lázne. He told me that they were to resume in a couple of weeks time in the same building. I challenged him about calling his services ‘Church of England’ or ‘Anglican’, and he claimed in reply that he makes it clear that he is “not in communion with the see of Canterbury”. But if you look at this website, the German description ‘Die Anglikanische Kirche’ is used. My wife, who is a native German speaker, says that any German speaker reading that would inevitably understand that as being the Church of England. Likewise, I have sufficient Czech to know that any Czech person reading ‘Anglikánská cirkev’ would also understand that as meaning the Church of England. All he has done is put the letters ‘TCE’ on his publicity, with no explanation whatsoever as to what they stand for.

Now the Christian ministers and the Town Council in Mariánské lázne know that Edwin Wagner isn’t an Anglican Bishop in the sense of being a bishop in the mainstream Church of England, I think he might find it more difficult to resume his activities. But the whole affair has left me feeling very sad that an individual has been practising what is effectively a form of deception in the name of the Christian Church. I also felt that the response I received from the retired Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren Pastor was very pertinent. He thanked me for my detective work for which he was most grateful. But he concluded, “This is one of the troublesome realities of our time, that in spite of large secularisation and the small number of Christians in contemporary Europe, they still split and form further and further denominations. This is a reality even in the Czech speaking community”.

Update – 18th October 2010


Early in 2010, I discovered that Edwin Wagner was no longer in Mariánské lázne but was now living in Desborough, Northamptonshire, England. I believe he moved there in August/September 2009. According to the ‘Traditional Church of England’ website, he is leading a TCE congregation there. I have found no way to verify whether this is the case or not.

Then in June 2010, I received an angry letter from Dr. Wagner, claiming that I had ‘written and posted a libellous article on the internet’ about him. He gave no indication as to where on the internet this article was to be found and the internet is rather a large place! The letter threatened me with legal action through the English courts if I didn’t ‘make a public retraction and publicly apologise’.

It seemed fairly clear to me that Dr. Wagner had not actually read my blog post, (which I presumed he was referring to), but had only heard about it second-hand. His letter accused me of saying a number of things which are not in the text above. On 23rd June 2010, I wrote him a long reply, addressing all the issues he raised. In the meantime, I temporarily took down the post with a view to making one or two minor amendments to it. When I then received a phone call from him saying he would be coming to Prague in August & would like to arrange to meet me, I decided to refrain from re-posting until we had finally met.

In August, I received an email from Dr. Wagner saying that, because of family circumstances, his Prague visit would now be in September. I replied saying I would still be very happy to meet him in September as long as he avoided the dates of the Eastern Archdeaconry Synod when I would be in Vienna. I have heard nothing further from him since.

Therefore, I am re-posting the original article in a slightly amended form, together with this update. The small number of changes I have incorporated are simply to give greater clarity to what I originally wrote.

Comments are closed.