Bishops John and Paul travelled to Croatia to take part in a meeting of European GAFCON bishops held at Osijek, Croatia, 12th-14th October 2018.
The meeting was the fourth in a succession of bishops’ meetings established at the request of the Third Anglican Unity Forum (part of a process which the Free Church of England initiated in June 2017) held on 4th December 2017.
The bishops present were: Jasmin Milic of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Croatia, Gavin Ashenden of the Christian Episcopal Church, Gerhard Meyer of Die Anglikanische Kirche in Deutchland, Paul Hunt and John Fenwick. Apologies had been received from Bishops Wallace Benn, John Ellison and Andy Lines.
The group was hosted by Bishop Jasmin and his people in Osijek. Most meetings and activities took place at his diocesan headquarters in an historic part of the city. Friday and Saturday began with Morning Prayer and a time of open prayer (led by +Gavin and +Paul respectively). On the Sunday morning the bishops worshipped at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Osijek and in the evening at the Church at Tordinci, about half an hour’s drive from Osijek. The latter is the oldest Protestant Church in that region of Croatia and was the location of a Reformed synod in 1551. It was badly damaged in the Balkan wars of the 1990s but has been lovingly restored by its congregation who are now loyal Croatian Anglicans. A television crew from the national channel recorded the service for transmission later in the week.
For most of the meetings the bishops were joined by the Revd Dr Jonathan Riches, Dean of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia, and by the Deans of the St. Benedict Seminary, Germany, and the Michael Starin Protestant Theological Seminary in Croatia. Prior to travelling to Croatia Dr Riches had spent some time in the UK with the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon who is currently the FCe Director of Training, so that he was aware of the UK situation.
The meetings were constructive and cordial and those present experienced a new sense of purpose and of the Spirit’s leading. The Anglican Unity Forum of December 2017 had asked the bishops to form a vision and begin to chart a way forward and at the Bishops’ Meeting at Swanwick on 22nd March 2018, those present (including Bishop Lines) agreed: We believe we are able to form a Council of Bishops whose vision is for a renewed authentic Anglicanism in Europe. In Osijek there was a strong sense that God was calling those present to take the next step to make that vision a reality. They therefore agreed unanimously:
1. That a council be formed consisting of Anglican bishops with episcopal responsibility in Europe who have signed the Jerusalem Declaration and are committed to the forms and practice of traditional Anglicanism. [‘Europe’ includes both continental Europe and the British Isles.]
2. That all decision making would be on the basis of conciliarity, and that meetings would take place three times a year, rotating both location and chairmanship.
3. The name of the council shall be The European Council of Anglican Bishops (ECAB).
The rightness of this decision emerged from the fact that in the tackling of a particular issue the representatives of different jurisdictions and nations found themselves working as a team. The main business of the meeting had been to discuss a way forward for orthodox Anglican theological education in Europe. GAFCON officials Charles Raven and Andrew Shead (who heads up the Theological Education Network) had therefore been notified in advance so that the meeting was ‘logged’ as an initiative under GAFCON.
There was general agreement that, on their own, each of the Churches present were too small to mount a comprehensive programme of selection and training. The decision was therefore taken that they should pool our resources and co-ordinate both in terms of syllabus and procedures. There was also agreement that Dr Riches would be the best person to co-ordinate all this as he is not only full-time in theological education, but has the resources of an ACNA-approved seminary behind him.
The meeting therefore agreed to form a confederation for the theological education of biblical, orthodox Anglicans in order to equip leaders, missionaries and presbyters/priests for the future of the Anglican mission in Europe. With regard to the syllabus, Dr Riches will be making sure that it meets the GAFCON Primates’ criteria for theological education.
It is anticipated that at this stage the pattern and curriculum of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia will be followed and courses will be validated by that institution. Other options may, of course, emerge in the future as ways of delivering the training in the various countries are explored, but it is important to start somewhere.
The working title of the unified programme is The European Anglican Theological Seminary (EATS).
Dr Riches will be collaborating with the representatives of the other seminaries and others involved in theological and ministerial training and formation who will be invited to join this initiative. Reports will be made to the thrice-yearly meeting of the European Council of Anglican Bishops (or more frequently if necessary).
It is anticipated that the next meeting of the ECAB will be in Germany in late February or early March 2019.
There was a strong sense that the Holy Spirit had guided those present to a significant development to enable the Anglican Churches in Europe outside the official Provinces to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations of our continent.