Wednesday, 11 August 2010

"Any group of congregations ... can become an Anglican province"

Robert Van Der Weyer is, I seem to recall, something of a maverick. Nevertheless, I also remember him as a stimulating speaker at a conference I attended many years ago. Recently he has written a piece for New Directions which is, to say the least, challenging. I cannot, unfortunately, vouch for his understanding or otherwise of Church law, but he has suggested that legally a diocese or province is a voluntary association of parishes, and that therefore any group of Anglicans could set one up pretty much when they want. Here is the beginning of his article, and you can read the rest by following the link.
When the idea of a new province in England for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals emerged a few years ago, it was assumed that only General Synod could institute it by means of legislation. In fact, this is legally incorrect, and contrary to historic precedent. Traditionalists have the right to form their own province without reference to General Synod; and this seems the moment to exercise that right.

English ecclesiastical law contains no definition of either a province or a diocese. But Halsbury’s Laws of England, an authoritative commentary, defines a province as ‘the circuit of an archbishop’s jurisdiction’ [vol. 14, para. 428], and a diocese as ‘the circuit of a bishop’s jurisdiction’ [vol. 14, para. 454]. Thus a diocese is a voluntary association of congregations that choose to put themselves under the oversight of a particular bishop; and a province is an association of one or more dioceses placing themselves under an archbishop.

The voluntary nature

The voluntary nature of dioceses, and by implication provinces, was confirmed in 1841 by the Bishops in Foreign Countries Act (still in force), which gives permission for such ‘Protestant congregations as may be desirous of placing themselves under [a bishop’s] authority’ [s2]. Thus the thirty-six Anglican provinces outside England formed not because the convocations of Canterbury and York passed laws allowing them to do so, but because congregations chose to form them. Once created, a province can devise its own constitution and laws. Read more

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  1. The passages in Halstead cited by Van Der Weyer do not in themselves support his conclusion. If an (arch)diocese is "the circuit of an (arch) bishop's jurisdiction," the further question arises of what determines such jurisdiction. Van der Weyer's conclusion seems to require the assumption that jurisdiction is created and defined solely by voluntary acceptance thereof; if on the other hand the Laws of England somewhere else define the jurisdiction of C of E (arch)bishops territorially, or some other way, then congregational choice doesn't enter into it.
    (As a Unitarian Universalist I have no dog in this race, I am simply interested in clarity...)

  2. I suspect that those opposed to the ordination of women could create an traditionalist province in an "ACNA" / GAFCON type move. I don't know how appealing and successful this move would actually be. First of all, I think that relatively few bishops and clergy - and more importantly churches and lay people - are so vehemently opposed to the ordination of women to make it a very strong movement. Secondly, the thought of legal suits over property and churches might deter. Thirdly, those opposed include those at the extreme end of the spectrum - Anglo Catholics and fundamentalist evangelicals, and they have never really been happy bedfellows.

    As the proposed legislation has to pass through dioceses and then go back to a new Synod, where we might be back to square one, I can't see anyone taking this move right now, unless it is really the fact that we will have women bishops and NOT the nature of the provision for traditionalist which is their problem.

  3. Suem, read again. IF (it is an IF)RVDW is right, then all you need is a group of Churches (that's 2 or more) setting up the arrangement. This wouldn't have to be a 3rd Province... it could mean a 4th, 5th & so on.

    There could be the will, because as a rule, certainly in what you call "Fundamentalist" circles, there is more money, but it is still tight and percieved as being wasted by clunky Diocesan structures (not to mention others not viable, due to incompitence or not preaching the gospel, or just with no generosity). So, there will be a will.

    Also IF he is right, then a Parish is only in a Diocese and PRovince by mutual concent/covenant, if they choice to move that elsewhere, there is no come back. As I say - IF.

    Darren Moore

  4. There is, of course, a very simple solution to all this, which is for our Synod to accept the lead given by its most senior Bishops and make a proper provision for traditionalists - i.e. one which meets their needs and thereby lives up to the commitment of the Lambeth Conference.

    If enough bishops got behind this it could be done - particularly if the House of Bishops said, as I am sure they are entitled to, they would not vote through any legislation which failed to do this.

    Surely that is not too much to expect in an episcopal church?

  5. I don't know that much about the law in this respect, Darren, maybe you do. I would ask, if it is that simple, why all the fuss anyhow? Why haven't FIF and evangelical churches just opted out and created their own dioceses a long, long time ago - perhaps when women were first ordained and we were told that so many would leave the church?

    Allogenes seems to question Van Der Weyer's conclusions, and I suspect it would not be entirely clear cut - but as I say, I am not lawyer.

  6. And IF it were the case, then could liberal churches form their own dioceses and start to ordain gay priests and conduct same sex blessings?
    (At least everyone could do their own thing!)

  7. My suspicion, actually, is that the legal situation in England is not as 'open' as Robert's article suggests, due to the historic differences between the formation of the Church of England in the dominions, and its establishment in England itself.

    Nevertheless, the principles he identifies, namely that dioceses can be formed by the association of congregations with one another, rather than by the extension of episcopal authority, may have important theological implications.

    Interestingly, Thomas Cranmer stated quite openly that the secular authority could 'restart' the Church in the absence of bishops or in any newly-conquered territory where there didn't happen to be a church already. Not everyone will agree with him, but it is hard to accuse him of not being truly 'Anglican'!

    Meanwhile, on Suem's point as to whether Liberals could set up their own structures, the problem, as Robert identifies, is with the resolution of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, that the characteristic feature of Anglicanism is to ‘uphold and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer' - which I take it would include the 39 Articles.

    The real problem with modern Liberalism regarding its place in the Church of England is its inability to adopt the formularies referred to in the Declaration of Assent as an actual expression of living faith, rather than as simply past historical documents. Liberal clergy must, therefore, make the Declaration with little sense of actual commitment.

  8. I too think that an ACNA - type development is more likely after the pattern of recent events in the U.S. The congregation I belong to is unlikely to jump before we are pushed, so I don't think we'll be leaving the C of E until (a)women bishops are appointed (b) a woman is appointed Bishop of Ely (c)We appoint a new incumbent (d)the new incumbent is required to swear an oath of canonical obedience to the woman bishop. Prior to that crisis point we'd probably give any new province all the support we could but wouldn't actually join it, I don't reckon.

    We have, in addition to passing resolution B, passed a resolution that we wouldn't ask any of our clergy to take an oath of canonical obedience to a woman bishop, with the partial aim of concentrating the minds of the Bishops as they make proposals for Synod. I'd suggest other PCCs might like to do the same.

    Peace and love,
    Jonny Kingsman
    Cambridge, U.K.

  9. What continues to baffle me is that members of a reformed church find it so very difficult to accept new reforms. Did humanity take precisely 16 centuries to arrive at the one true, infallible, unchangeable Christian faith, not one century less, not one century more? Who appointed Thomas Cranmer as Pope and Holy Father, for all eternity, even beyond the grave, of the Church of England? Is there truly nothing about the way our Church is ordered that could warrant reassessment?

    And then there's the lie that traditionalists cling to, that liberals arrive at their beliefs only by throwing the Bible out of the window. I have yet to hear any advocate of liberal reform within the Church say, "Pfff, you can't believe everything the Bible says." On the contrary, the Bible, and in particular, the generous Gospel of Jesus Christ stands at the very heart of their arguments. Of course, traditionalists will dispute their interpretation of the Bible, but can we please stop being so arrogant that we end up presuming that our interpretation, and ours alone, represents the infallible understanding of Scripture and all who disagree with us are simply Bible deniers.

    As for the Declaration of Assent, John, you yourself declared in a post only a few days ago that, "The BCP is not perfect." How many reservations do you have to have against the historic formularies before you are properly condemned as showing "little sense of actual commitment"? One, two, three, three and a half?

  10. Would such a Province be willing to accept Vagante bishops or embrace convergentism?

  11. RM, I'm not sure I would be in a position to speak for a province - especially one as putative as that which Robert suggests!

    However, it seems to me personally that a proposal could be put forward for something which would not involve the bishops being 'vagantes' in the sense in which that is usually understood, insofar as they would belong to a body of Anglicans (no one is talking here about 'leaving the Church of England') and would be ministering in a specific territory, namely England, along classical 'Church of England' lines.

    As to convergentism, there is an essay here which seems to provide a good description, but one which I think is more fitting to our so-called 'Open Evangelical' constituency than to traditionalists.

  12. James, on your first paragraph, I think you are basing your argument on a misconception regarding what the Reformers thought they were doing. Your presumption appears to be that the Reformation was the outcome of a movement in the Church’s understanding from A to B to C. As the Reformers saw it, however, it was a movement from A to B to A, ie, they saw the Reformation as a recovery of primitive doctrine, not a further development away from that doctrine, following the ‘precedent’ set by Rome.

    Those, therefore, who see themselves in the ‘reforming tradition’ cannot be compelled, thereby to embrace ‘new reforms’ as you seem to be suggesting.

    Regarding the traditionalists view of liberals, I think on the one hand you have a somewhat caricatured view of the former and a somewhat over-optimistic view of the latter. We traditionalists do not all think that liberals have thrown the Bible out of the window. However, I recall the situation in our own diocesan synod where a senior member of the clergy stood up and read from passages in Leviticus precisely to create the impression that ‘we all think these bits of the Bible are a bit daft, don’t we’.

    Though we do see simplistic approaches to the Bible being taken, the question is really don’t to the status and function of Scripture as God’s word from him and to us.

    On the formularies, there is a very serious discussion to be had within the Church. Obviously we cannot claim infallibility for them. Yet at the same time, we cannot have a situation where the Declaration of Assent is effectively just a nod to the past, whilst allowing theological ‘free for all’ in the present.

    Just as the Canons allow liturgical variations which do not signify a departure from Anglican doctrine, so (I would suggest) there is the possibility of divergence from the Prayer Book and Articles which are not departures from Christianity. At very least, however, such divergence should be conscious, conscientious and open — not merely an expression of indifference as if they no longer counted for anything. Being open, it should also be open to challenge.

  13. Well, I am a lawyer (with a more than passing interest in the laws ecclesiastical), and Van der Weyer is talking absolute nonsense. Note that his specialism is Economics and Philosophy, and not law.

    I am led to believe a fairly conclusive rebuttal will appear in a future New Directions.