The following is a guest post by Josh Peckett, CEMES intern at Holy Trinity Brussels, in the Diocese in Europe. He has been on a 10-month placement in Brussels while exploring his vocation, and recently attended this pilgrimage.
Between 25th & 28th May, 21 young people from various Anglican and Old Catholic churches across Europe came together in Echternach, Luxembourg.
The aim was to meet and talk, worship and enjoy time with one another. Out of this we hoped to share our vision for the future of our two Churches. Much work has been done formally over the years by senior members of the Churches, but we wished to explore how building relationships between young Christians, across national borders and church boundaries, might further unity between us.
A few words of background…
Old-Catholics are a group of national churches which at various times separated from the Roman Catholic Church. They are Catholic in faith, order and worship but reject the Papal claims of infallibility and supremacy. The term “Old-Catholic” was adopted to mean original Catholicism.
The Anglican Communion signed the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht in 1931. This agreement of “full-communion” has formed the basis for an ongoing relationship mediated by the Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council (AOCICC), who organised the pilgrimage.
They have participated in the World Council of Churches since its beginning and are in formal dialogue with both the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Among them the Archbishop of Utrecht holds a primacy of honour not dissimilar to that accorded in the Anglican Communion to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anglicans and Old Catholics are welcome to participate fully in each other’s worship and receive communion at celebrations of the Eucharist; clergy may act fully in each other’s churches, with proper episcopal permission. This was the first agreement of its kind that Anglicans had ever concluded.
Echternach is a small town in eastern Luxembourg. It is the place where St. Willibrord is buried. For over 1200 years it has been regarded as a holy place. Willibrord was born in the Kingdom of Northumbria in 7th century England, educated in Ireland and went on to travel across the Netherlands to teach people the Christian faith. Given his background in Britain and Ireland, and becoming the first bishop of Utrecht, Willibrord has always had a special unifying significance for Anglicans and Old Catholics. In a world in which people want to build walls and erect barriers, Willibrord might inspire us to build bridges between different nations and cultures, and stand up for what we believe: justice and God’s love for everyone.
The 21 young people who gathered represented a variety of churches:
- The Church of England (mainland England & Diocese in Europe)
- The Church of Ireland
- The Lusitanian Church of Portugal
- The Old Catholic Church of Austria
- The Old Catholic Church of Germany
- The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands
- The Old Catholic Church of Switzerland
Also in attendance were members of the Anglican and Old Catholic clergy, older lay members, and the co-ordinators of AOCICC, bishops Michael Burrows (Diocese of Cashel Ferns and Ossory, Church of Ireland) and Dick Schoon (Diocese of Haarlem, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands). Altogether we represented countries as varied as Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland.
Our 4 days together were a mixture of prayer, formal discussions, and free-time in which we could get to know each other. Early on we presented to each other about the important aspects of Anglicanism and Old Catholicism, which really allowed everyone to get a feel for the contexts from which we came.
There were workshops on topics including: ‘Writing your own spiritual biography’, ‘Faith and Identity’ and ‘Curating your identity’. In the workshop on ‘Faith and Identity’, discussion centred on what defines our identity and how identity is constructed. I thought that this was an incredibly important conversation to have when many in society across Europe are asking the same questions of themselves. These practical, often personal conversations set the theme for what we would produce next.
We spent time in groups wrestling with the following questions:
- What does it mean to be a Christian in the context that you live?
- What challenges do I see?
- What visions and hopes do I have?
- What must the Church do to address these issues?
The results of those conversations were then formed into a declaration on unity and faith in action, called the Willibrord Declaration. We offer it to AOCICC and the wider Church for consideration. It can be found, in English and German, here.
Beyond the formal conversations, the most important aspect of our time together was the space to chat, share stories, and build friendships. If unity is to mean more than formal agreements between churches, it must involve building ties between the members of our congregations. A beautiful reflection, given on the Friday’s evening prayer, asked us to consider the abiding presence of God with all people, and reflect on the call to unity. “He will lead us all into the New Jerusalem, where there will be no temple because people will know God by themselves, and will not forget that they are one.”
My deepest thanks to all those involved in the Pilgrimage. The memory of our time together in Echternach will remain with me for years to come, and in this time of Pentecost speaking the psalms together all at once in many languages during our closing service around the lake was an experience filled with great resonance.
A Prayer for Anglicans & Old Catholics:
Merciful God, we give thanks for your grace that we, Anglicans and Old Catholics, may walk together on the way. You gave us each other and united us, to become signs of reconciliation and unity for the world. As you called Jesus, so you call also us and fill us with your love for humankind. As you strengthened Jesus with your spirit, so you also strengthen us, so that we never lack strength and inspiration, creativity and courage. Teach us to see the opportunities which you offer us, and give us trust in you, who are with us on the way, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our God for ever. Amen.