Monday, 18 October 2010

And now — a Conservative Evangelical 'Flying Bishop'?

Some years ago I was quite rightly ticked off by an archdeacon (now retired) for saying that the system of Provincial Episcopal Visitors, or ‘Flying Bishops’, had been set up “for Anglo-Catholics”. Of course, it was not. It was set up for everyone and anyone where there was a Parochial Church Council wanting to avail themselves of the provisions of the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.
It is also worth observing that the system of PEVs was only one, and indeed not the foremost, way of providing the necessary oversight. The first option was actually to have local, diocesan, schemes, follow by regional arrangements between dioceses. Only thirdly would the Archbishops appoint extra suffragans to act as PEVs.
This is why, although the Act provides for only three PEVs, two in Canterbury and one in York, there are four bishops commonly identified with this system, the Bishop of Fulham having been appointed under the local ‘London Plan’.
Now it would be interesting to note, first of all, that the other arrangements made possible under the Act of Synod either never took off or quickly fell into desuetude. One of the key reasons for this was surely that the first provision of the Act itself was simply ignored from its inception. This is the clause that states,
There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Though it is possible even now to be ordained whilst opposing the ordination of women (as has just happened with our local assistant curate), senior office has pretty well been closed to such opponents since the year women began to be ordained.
And this must also, incidentally, mitigate against the suggestion that provision for opponents of women bishops can be made satisfactorily by means of a Code of Practice. Since an Act of Synod has been so roundly ignored, how much more, experience tells us, would a Code of Practice similarly be sidelined.
Since 1993, episcopal opposition to women’s ordination has been eliminated by the simple expedient of not appointing such bishops to diocesan and suffragan posts. Those that were appointed as PEVs, however, were dedicated Anglo-Catholics, and this has had a somewhat ‘chicken and egg’ effect on the wider Church.
Clearly in 1993, it was the Anglo-Catholics who most felt the need for episcopal oversight consistent with their theology of priesthood.
By contrast, Evangelicals were generally neither interested in episcopacy, nor particularly beholden to their local bishop.
This was partly due to a lack of ecclesiological clarity, but also partly down to history. In the post-war years, Evangelicals were very much at the fringes of an Anglican church which was itself very much bigger and stronger than today. (I well remember Colin Buchanan telling us that in the early years of liturgical revision, he never missed a meeting of the relevant committee because he was its only Evangelical member.)
Evangelicals were thus used to operating with neither much reference to nor support from the central institutional structures. When the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure passed in 1993, therefore, the mood amongst many Evangelicals was that local, parish, ministry could continue largely unaffected, as it had done during the ‘Honest to God’ years and beyond. Bad bishops had not unduly hindered, and good bishops had not particularly helped, traditional Evangelical ministry. And thus, with the pragmatism that so characterizes their movement, the Evangelicals focussed on ‘getting on with the job’ as they understood it to be.
But hence also, when a group of Evangelicals approached Archbishop George Carey a few years later to ask for the appointment of an Evangelical PEV for their own constituency, they were told that there was no demand. Although this has echoes of the apocryphal shop keeper whose answer to the question, “Why don’t you stock such-and-such?” was that, “People never ask for it,” the fact is (as I have frequently bemoaned) that Evangelicals had not really been much interested in the provisions of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.
Yet this has, at least in part, also been due to the misapprehension I observed at the beginning, that the scheme was really ‘for’ Anglo-Catholics — a misapprehension reinforced by the way the scheme has operated from the outset. Thus Evangelicals have not been drawn into the scheme, and the scheme has been run as if it were not really for Evangelicals.
The news that the Bishop of Fulham is to join the Anglican Ordinariate, however, means that an interesting opportunity may be about to present itself, for there will certainly be one vacancy to fill, and there may be others.
Let us imagine (though I am neither suggesting, nor hoping this will happen) that in addition to Bishop Broadhurst, one of the PEVs decides either to become a Roman Catholic or to join the Ordinariate. And let us assume those resignations come into effect early next year.
It is hard to believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury or York (wherever the vacancy occurs), would suggest that the remaining PEVs must ‘take up the slack’. If they were facing a demanding situation before July, things must be even more challenging for them now. In any case, the failure to appoint a replacement would suggest foreclosure on the outcome of the Synodical process.
It should be noted, incidentally, that General Synod must still be at liberty to reject the proposed legislation entirely. It has been argued that one of the reasons why the Synod was not bound by assurances given in 1993 is that a current legislature cannot be tied to the decisions of its predecessors. That being the case, the same must be true now — Synod can say no.
And there will certainly be ‘Following Motions’ being proposed during the discussions which must now be undertaken in dioceses. In other words, the outcome of the whole process is far from certain.
That being the case, a vacancy amongst the PEVs must, surely, be filled — as, equally surely, must John Broadhurst’s post in the Diocese of London.
Given, however, that the Evangelical constituency is at last waking up to the need for episcopal provision, this would present an excellent opportunity for the appointment of a Conservative Evangelical PEV.
Such an appointment would send a powerful signal that the needs of Evangelicals in this regard are being taken seriously by the establishment, and it would also encourage the Evangelicals to take these things seriously themselves.
Now of course there might be problems, not least with the fact that until now the PEV scheme has rather operated as if it were the preserve of Anglo-Catholics.
Our own experience with Bishop Keith Newton (all our three parishes are ‘Resolution C’) has been nothing short of superb, especially in the way that he has accommodated himself to our liturgical tradition. But could the same work the other way? Would — could? — a Conservative Evangelical even fit in, let alone go along, with the traditions found in typical Anglo-Catholic ‘C’ parishes?
It is a fair question, and the answer is probably not as things stand. Yet that does not have to close the matter.
I have observed to Anglo-Catholics that the Pope’s offer of an Anglican Ordinariate actually pushes them to do one of two things — either to move closer to Rome or to move closer to the Church of England. Like it or not, the position of mere ‘disaffection’ is no longer the option it was previously.
In other words, just as those who go into the Ordinariate will need to ask what it is they take with them of the Anglican heritage, those who do not must also ask how they stand in relation to the heritage in which they remain.
And this suggests an elegant solution to the question of how a Conservative Evangelical PEV might operate within the Anglo-Catholic constituency, namely by using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for his liturgy and Convocation Robes for his dress.
Of course, this would not be entirely satisfactory for parishes used to other rites and rituals. Yet it would not be as if they were required to abandon such usages, for this is only being proposed for those occasions when the Bishop would be present. And it would have the advantage of allowing the Bishop himself to act conscientiously. Moreover, as Canon B3.2 requires, the BCP is the ‘default’ setting of the Church when there is a dispute over the liturgy, and therefore ought to be regarded by all parties as ‘neutral Anglican territory’.
There would, doubtless, be other issues to consider and other anxieties to settle on all sides. Nevertheless, in view of what is happening in the Church of England, and for the sake of a future in which as great a degree of unity as possible ought to be sought by everyone, the creation of a new Conservative Evangelical bishop would potentially be timely for all concerned.
John Richardson
18 October 2010
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  1. As to how much a Conservative Evangelical would be willing to fit in with an AC parish under their oversight, surely that rather depends on the man involved. If it is someone who thinks we are still fighting the same battles as in the 1500s, it would obviously be somewhat tricky.

    If it's someone who acknowledges that ACism can be a legitimate expression of people's faith in Jesus, then surely it would be possible...

    John Allister, Cheshire

  2. I certainly hope that Evangelicals can show more generosity to their Anglo-Catholic brethren then the Synod has so far showed them. I think your suggestion is sound, but yet, in practice, many Evangelicals, as John said, tend to seem perpetually stuck in the time-warp of the 17th century, imagining that they are perpetually battling the Oxford movement or the Elizabethan era disputes.

    I think this is going to become bigger than the tradition high and low church struggles in the CofE, the very survival of Church depends on the conservatives, both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals and its imperative that they both start working together.

    Besides, isn't the slogan of the Reformation "semper reformanda"? I realise that in England Lutheranism hasn't had much hold or influence, the Reformation being almost exclusively interpreted through Calvinistic/Reformed eyes. But I do believe that the Protestantism of Lutheranism is very similar to much Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices and might be a good theological meeting point for the two sides and a space for dialogue. Maybe the Evangelicals in England ought to start taking seriously the Lutheran theology and liturgical practices.

  3. Just on a point of fact, the London Plan is not the only local arrangement. In the Diocese of Exeter, the Bishop of Plymouth looks after petitioning parishes - though this doesn't have the formality of the London arrangements - and in the Diocese of Chichester all the bishops are opposed to women's ordination, so it's the women clergy who have to have support from elsewhere.

    There may well be other such examples, but those are two of which I'm aware.

  4. Indeed there are a few other examples; +Burnley in Carlisle + Blackburn, +Whitby in York.
    The overall analysis is correct though; the Exeter arrangement is a recent change and one much regretted by some of the Catholic clergy and laity.

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  6. Well said Ken. I always like to say that the CofE's real unity is not based on common beliefs, but on the common ownership of assets. Let's divi them up, and forget about the entire organisation. Christ's church in England would benefit enormously. John (Richardson), you are a splendid fellow, but why do you bother with this failed denomination?


  7. This failed denomination managed to introduce one of the most successful evangelistic enterprises (Alpha) in the country. Subsequently adopted by a whole range of churches...It also continues to have a unique way in to many peoples lives due to its position in British life.

    ALthough I do agree in disestablishment maybe we shouldnt presume to know at what pace and in what manner Christ wishes to deal His church.

    The attitude of a couple of people above appear to be far from christian.

    Simon. Wales

  8. "Since 1993, episcopal opposition to women’s ordination has been eliminated by the simple expedient of not appointing such bishops to diocesan and suffragan posts"

    This not correct: the diocesan bishops of Chichester and Gibraltar have been appointed since that time.

    The obvious problem is that they cannot be much good as figures of unity for their clergy if they believe a good proportion of the priests whom they aspire to manage are not in fact priests at all. Why would anyone feel qualified to manage any staff if they did not believe they could do the job?

  9. [Edit]

    And then people ask why people aren't interested in going to church anymore! The problem is so many clergy - from curate to the episcopate; from Anglo-Catholic to Conservative Evangelical have got themselves lost in the detail. Perhaps this demonstrates the ‘Devil is in the Detail’? There are also a good number that realise without the historical and social connection to the Church of England, they would be substantially more vulnerable to the vagaries of this world - loss of security and loss of power.

    But of course the real issue is power and how it articulated, validated and channelled. What would be the sensible thing to do would for the good old C of E to call it a day, disestablish and reinvent itself as a kind of Anglican Commonwealth. That way the Anglo-Catholics can do their thing (in mainly empty churches – with some notable exceptions!); the Evangelicals can do their thing, though in the open market it is likely they will lose out to the plethora of other Evangelical denominations.

    Of course this would mean going it alone in the big bad world. Fewer perks, far less money and many crumbling parish churches becoming interesting, but dead curios in our villages and towns (though of course many are that today). Personally I don’t think this would be a bad thing!

    History has taught us that Christianity is dynamic when it is under threat – when it has to put its money where its mouth is. All this clucking and huffing over woman bishops perhaps demonstrates just how many have lost their first love... and probably have lost a their sense of purpose and mission (see esp. Rev 3: 14-22).

    Disestablishment is the only way forward by which everyone’s wants can be met (needs are far down the list in this debacle). The fact this is not being mooted as an option perhaps suggests our clergy friends and vocal laity know they stand to lose too much (social standing, pensions, des res, financial security etc.) going it alone. I tell you the truth, they have their reward...



    Ken Simpson, Denton, Manchester.

  10. If PEV's resignations take effect next year then there might not be reappointments because, I understand, from January suffragans (which PEVs are) are not to be automatically replaced where there is more than one suffragan in a diocese. A real concern for us. As an Anglo-Catholic I think there is a real element of fairness for a Conservative Evangelical to be consecrated- and with goodwill it could work well- as you have found with +Keith Newton. However I can't see either Archbishop doing anything to encourage evangelical parishes passing Resolution C. It would present a nightmare scenario for the liberal establishment. Much better to preserve it as an Anglo-Catholic Ghetto with only a few far-sighted evangelical parishes on the side.
    Paul Noble, Boston.

  11. Simon, Wales

    It was NOT the CofE that managed to introduce one of the most successful evangelistic enterprises (Alpha) in the country. It was Holy Trinity Brompton. And All Souls Langham Place that introduced Christianity Explored. These are superb evangelistic programs, but they would have come about anyway, without the expensive, squabbling hierarchy, who serve no useful purpose. It is not un-Christian to want to transfer resources from the ineffective and expensive (bishops and their bureaucracies) to the vital roles of evangelists and ministers.

    David, England

  12. David,

    I am really not sure if these great programmes would have been as successful if they were not piggybacking on the established presence of the CoE. Its not possible to prove otherwise ...
    I realise you seem to find it difficult to accept the fact that the body has its feet, arms , eyes ...etc

    Maybe God used the CoE old stuffy, bureacratic past-its-sell-by-date to have a major impact on many peoples lives...

    Squabbling or wasting money is hardly unique to the CoE.

    Sure lets do what we can to change things (not forgetting its Christ's church to change) but lets not delude ourselves we can escape the fall rather we should pray for change and be the change ourselves.