Diocese in Europe offers reassurance

Published on: 1 March 2019

Did you know that the Church of England has a Diocese in Europe? Some of their Ordinands train alongside ours through the Eastern Region Ministry Course. Charles Read asked the Diocesan Bishop, The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes, a few questions.

How many countries does your diocese cover?

Forty-two: Continental Europe plus Morocco, Western Russia and Turkey – an area about the same as that covered by the Council of Europe.

What sort of opportunities are there for the chaplaincies and the diocese to relate to the governments and political life of European countries?

Typically, we do this as part of national level ecumenical groupings. In Belgium, for example, the leaders of churches including the Anglican church meet twice a year with the Prime Minister. I take part in an annual ‘high-level dialogue’ between religious leaders and leaders of the European Union. The EU Institutions are very open to dialogue and discussion with church and NGO representatives.

How does the diocese relate to the EU?

I am the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Institutions of the EU. In practice, I delegate much of this responsibility to my attaché, Damian Thwaites, who has a senior civil service background.

What impact has Brexit had so far on the work of the diocese in Europe?

Well, positively, ‘Europe’ has never been so much in the news in the UK as it is following the Referendum. I have noticed an increase in talented clergy wanting to leave the UK and work in Europe!

On the other hand, there is a lot of anger, bewilderment and disappointment in my diocese about the UK at present – especially since many of my people didn’t get a vote in the Referendum even though they are the most affected by it. Overall, I think it has never been so important for there to be a Church of England Diocese in Europe as a means of reassuring our European partners of our commitment to them.

What are some of the best things about your diocese and being its bishop?

Diversity! Our diocese is incredibly diverse, with people from all over the world, from refugees to diplomats. We also have lots of working-age people and families. And, to some extent, we’re bucking the trend of Church of England decline. As bishop, I can certainly say I have one of the most interesting jobs in the Church of England. Last weekend I was in Helsinki; next weekend I’m in Athens; a bit later I’m visiting South East Turkey.

And what are the challenges?

How to build strong communities out of people from so many different countries who may only be united by their faith and possession of English as a second language. For me: all that travelling can be tiring, so I have to work hard to stay fit and energetic.

How could people in our diocese support the work of your diocese?

You can follow my blog or twitter account and I would really value your prayers as diocesan bishop. If you are on holiday in Europe, check out our chaplaincies and come and visit. And if you are ordained with a good level of experience you might even think about applying to us for a job!

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