Barend (Bernd) Theodoor Wallet was born in Middleburg, Zeeland. He lived, studied and worked for eight years in Yorkshire. He was ordained deacon by Archbishop Sentamu in York and ordained priest by Archbishop Joris Vercammen in Utrecht, which makes for a truly ecumenical pedigree. Bernd’s consecration had been delayed for many months because of the pandemic. He was chosen for the role as long ago as February 2020. Saturday September 18th 2021 gave long-awaited opportunity for a truly international gathering to celebrate Bernd’s new ministry.
I was honoured and delighted to be invited to be one of the three principal consecrators of the new Archbishop. New bishops are required to be consecrated by (at least) three existing bishops. Alongside the Principal Consecrator, Bishop Dirk Schoon of Haarlem, and Bishop Matthias Ring of Germany, I was invited to participate as representative of the Church of England with whom the Old Catholics are in full communion.
The Old Catholic Church is present in seven broadly Germanophone European countries. Each country has its own bishop. The bishop of Utrecht does not have metropolitical jurisdiction over the other bishops in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury does in the Church of England. But he is the ‘first amongst equals’, he is the titular archbishop, and he is a key partner in ecumenical relationships with the Diocese in Europe.
The consecration took place in the lovely Dutch city of Deventer, in the Protestant Cathedral named after Lebuinus – an English missionary, who first built a wooden church in Deventer in the 8th century. The present building is of much later construction, and it is magnificent. In fact, the Old Catholics chose this building for the ceremony because it is one of the largest church buildings in the Netherlands and could therefore accommodate a big congregation, even with physical distancing.
Bishops from all of the European Anglican jurisdictions were present as were Old Catholic bishops from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and a bishop from the Independent Filipino Church. It was a long time since we had seen each other and it was a joy to be together. Of particular note was the presence amongst the consecrating bishops of Bishop Thomas of the Swedish Lutheran Church Diocese of Visby. The Old Catholic Church has a high doctrine of episcopacy and of properly catholic apostolic succession, and this was the first time a Lutheran has been invited to participate in a consecration of a new Old Catholic bishop.
The consecration was a grand occasion, lasting two and a half hours. Two Dutch television stations had come along, so the action took place under powerful stage lights. I can testify that it was hot under the lights! The service was both being live streamed and woven into a TV documentary on the Old Catholic Church, so there were technicians and cameramen everywhere. Those bishops robing in the sacristy had to manoeuvre around a huge microphone on a long boom plus a TV camera, positioned to enable the journalists to capture snippets of conversation between bishops as they struggled with putting on their robes!
Special mention needs to be made of this wonderful crozier, which is the historic staff of the Old Catholic bishops of Deventer. It was manufactured in Antwerp in the 16th century. Since 1982 it has been held in safe keeping in the Museum of Utrecht. Made of gold, silver and copper, it is evidently hugely valuable, and it was made available for our ceremony under strict conditions. I watched a suitably burly member of the Museum staff arrive with it in an unmarked steel box. He put on his gloves, unlocked the box, and assembled it with great care before – temporarily – entrusting it back to its owners, the Old Catholic Church, to add a sense of history and dignity to the consecration ceremony.
The whole ceremony was beautifully and elegantly conducted. There was much traditional Old Catholic plainsong, to which the new Archbishop had added items by William Byrd, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arvo Pärt. There was, what I thought to be, an encouragingly large and youthful congregation. And afterwards (as the picture shows) a delighted Bishop Dirk Schoon signed the documentation making it all legal.
I do believe that the consecration of Bernd Wallet has the capacity to open a new era of hope in Anglican Old Catholic relations. Bernd has a gentle and humble style coupled with personal warmth. His extensive experience of the Church of England from the inside makes him a natural and easy dialogue partner. I am very much looking forward to working with him.
In continental Europe smaller churches need each other. The Old Catholics offer historical rootedness in the countries where they are present. Anglicans offer a sense of connection with the worldwide church. Old Catholics normally worship in the local language; whereas chaplaincies in our Diocese normally worship in English. There are differences between us – in liturgy and ethics, and most significantly the fact that Anglicanism is a product of the Reformation, whereas the Old Catholic Church sees itself as historically and traditionally ‘catholic’. I hope these differences can be sources of mutual enrichment and dialogue so that we can journey together in faith. I hope that episcopal friendships and ecclesial friendships will both grow in the years ahead.
Bernd has chosen as the motto on his new episcopal coat of arms ‘In Christo Gaudium’. What an excellent note to strike at the outset of an episcopal ministry! I hope that Bernd will be able to bring joy to those with whom he ministers, and that he will retain a joyful spirit in the difficult work that will inevitably lie ahead. I pray for the flourishing of Bernd, his wife Elly and their four children and that God will give the whole family much about which to rejoice.