Monday, 8 November 2010

Habemus episcopum? Who will replace the departing bishops?

The departure from the Church of England of the current bishop for the London Scheme and two out of the three serving Provincial Episcopal visitors does more than resolve a tension that has been around for some months. Importantly, it creates some significant vacancies which ought to be filled.
Some may argue this is unnecessary. The advent of women bishops will also see the abolition of the present arrangements for those who have petitioned for episcopal provision under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993. Why bother appointing people to posts which are about to disappear?
But no one can be absolutely sure — especially not since the change in the makeup of General Synod — exactly when that will take place. It is certainly not for two years, given that the matter will be debated by diocesan synods throughout 2011 before returning to the General Synod, after which Parliament will also have to approve any Measure that is finally presented. Meanwhile ‘Resolution C’ parishes are still in need of episcopal ministry.
Step forward ... well, who, exactly?
When the Act of Synod was introduced, it envisaged a ‘three tier’ level of provision. The first tier was local, diocesan, arrangements (which in those days could have included the diocesan bishop himself). The second was regional arrangements by neighbouring dioceses. The PEVs were only a third option. But as time went on, the other forms of provision largely (though not entirely) fell into desuetude, and ‘flying bishops’ became the preferred option for most ‘C’ parishes.
Moreover, the system worked quite well, and thus commended itself even further, not least by creating a sense of solidarity amongst parishes which otherwise were in danger of isolation.
If the PEVs are not to be replaced, then in the Province of Canterbury at least, it will be necessary to create numerous local ‘schemes’ of an untried nature and unknown duration. Moreover, the non-replacement of the PEVs would itself be a presumption of the outcome of the ongoing debates — something which one would doubt the present Archbishop of Canterbury would be willing to undertake.
So we are back to the question as to who could be appointed.
To begin with, they must be people committed to the Church of England. One of the effects of the Ordinariate is that it will no longer be possible to live as an Anglo-Catholic within the Church of England and, simultaneously, ‘flirt’ with Rome. The wholeheartedly Roman must, henceforth, choose one of the two options available in that direction. Those who remain, no matter how doctrinally Catholic they may be, must also be clearly ‘Anglo’, not Roman, in their expression of this.
And this could raise at least some questions about the liturgical options available to the constituency, and therefore open to (or perhaps required of!) the new bishops.
At the same time, they should be people who would have the confidence of the remaining constituency and, if the appointing bishops are wise (and I have no doubt in this regard that they are - update, see here), they will be people who can simultaneously address the hurts of that constituency and help it develop its own understanding of its future place within Anglicanism.
Naturally, they will also need all the gifts proper to their episcopal office, added to which, given the opprobrium likely to come their way in the wake of what has just happened with their predecessors (see the blogosphere passim), they will also need to be emotionally as tough as nails.
Such men may well exist, and it may be that names are already under consideration.
There is, however, a thought I’d would like to put forward, just on the off-chance it might be taken seriously, which is that at least one of those finally appointed ought to be an Evangelical. It is quite clear that Evangelicals now have an identical interest in the episcopal outcomes of the present debates as have had the Anglo-Catholics. And it is also arguable that the movement of some Anglo-Catholics into the Ordinariate will create a greater opportunity for dialogue, and perhaps even rapprochement, between Evangelicals and those — shall we call them Catholic Anglicans?* — who remain.
It would, moreover, provide a clear signal from the ‘powers that be’ that a constituency which has seen just a single episcopal appointment from its ranks in seventeen years is still recognized as having an abiding place within the wider denomination.
We continue to live in interesting times.
John Richardson
8 November 2010
* Probably not.
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  1. Every good war means deadman's shoes to step into. Never pass up a good pair of boots, unless they've been left on the battlefield too long and gone all manky.

    No, nothing seriously meant, just couldn't pass up the joke, sorry.

    Location: Solingen, Germany

  2. Wasn't there talk in the C of E of reducing the number of bishops, this might be a good opportunity to do so.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Regarding your (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) suggestion of "Catholic Anglicans", surely all of us in the Church of England would happily be known as "Catholic and Reformed"?

    For is that not the true nature of Anglicanism? Whilst the Church of Rome would see itself as Traditional, Baptists would see themselves as Scriptural, Unitarians might emphasise Reason and Pentecostal churches might major on Experience, so Anglican theology comprises Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. A broad church indeed, one that is drawn together by those things we hold in common. Long may it remain so.

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