For a free diocese

Bishop Edwin Barnes puts forward what may be the simplest of all the options for a structural solution for orthodox Anglicans to keep everybody happy and not frighten the liberal ascendancy

Clergy and others have been responding generously to my request for help in making proposals on the Governance of our future province. Some proposals have been modest, others more sweeping; but none has struck me as so comprehensive and simple as that from Fr Lawrence MacLean, our man in Florence. Since what he proposed needs a little fleshing out and explanation, please do not hold against him anything that follows; the brilliant idea is his, the pedestrian details are mine.

Whenever we try to explain a 'free province' or a 'third province' to those in the liberal ascendancy, difficulties are at once asserted. You cannot have overlapping jurisdictions in the Church of England, they will say. The diocesan bishop will never relinquish any of his power to another bishop, they insist.

Parallel episcopates

Well, there is a diocese of the Church of England where parallel episcopates not only exist, but are celebrated. It is called the Diocese of Europe. The bishop of the Lusitanian Church, based in Lisbon, introduces himself saying, T am the Bishop of Portugal'. We are in full communion with him and his church. Similar rather more realistic churches exist elsewhere through Europe. Who can fail to know that we are in communion through ' the Porvoo agreement with most of

the Scandinavian Lutheran churches? They have bishops with ancient sees, and seem to find no difficulty in surviving, despite the existence of our Bishop in Europe.

More remarkable still, there is the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. Under their bishop, Pierre Welte Whalon, they are fully a part of TEC (the Episcopal Church, whose presiding bishop is the Most Revd Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori). The Convocation, it says, is 'a multinational, multiracial, multilingual and multicultural communion within the European Union - a mirror image of the multinational, multiracial, multilingual and multicultural Episcopal Church in the USA.' No doubt Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, would claim something similar for his diocese - though in this case relating to England and the Archbishop of Canterbury. So within the Anglican Communion there is at least one diocese which is perfectly happy to co-exist with another Anglican diocese.

Boundaries

Then what about the cure of souls? 'Receive this cure, which is both mine and yours' says the diocesan on licensing a new priest in charge. It sounds grand, and harks back to the time of the first Elizabeth, when there were penalties for non-attendance at church, and the priest claimed the right to enter any home in his parish. The bishops might not yet realize it, but it is not like this any more.

In theory, England is a place where every person has a parish church and a parish priest to care for him, and every parish church is bound to a diocese. Yet many bishops happily encourage clergy to 'plant' churches in neighbouring parishes, whether the priest there is content for this to happen or not. So if clergy are forced to concede the rights of other priests to minister across parish boundaries, surely in justice the same should be the case for bishops? The whole notion of parish boundaries is fast disappearing. Why then such a fuss about diocesan boundaries?

The solution

So, what of the diminution of the power of a diocesan bishop when another bishop cares for priests in his diocese? The greater part of that power was conceded with the Act of Synod; the Provincial Episcopal Visitor has the pastoral and sacramental care of those who want it. What remains is mere legalism; and in any case, when bishops start claiming power over their clergy we cannot help remembering Jesus' retort to Pilate, 'You would have no power unless it had been given to you.'

In short, there is a perfect solution for a free diocese already in existence. It is for parishes in England which have asked for extended episcopal care to have that care administered by the Bishop in Europe. The Diocese in Europe would become an entirely orthodox diocese; and, without moving any buildings or altering any boundaries, liberal clergy and congregations in Europe could ask for the oversight of the Bishop of the Convocation of American Churches.

Instead of having to find friendly African or Southern Cone bishops to care for them, orthodox parishes and dioceses in the USA could associate themselves with the Bishop in Europe. He, no doubt, would make provision for them by appointing if necessary bishops who would work with him in caring for such congregations. He might also licence the English PEVs as Suffragans of Europe; and what a happy solution it would be if the Bishop of Fulham were to be reunited with the bishop whose former title was Bishop of Fulham and Gibraltar.

Such a development would fit our Anglican ethos ideally. Reformation, not revolution. No great new organization; the Diocese of Europe already has its seats on General Synod, and its relations with the other English dioceses, besides being on good terms with Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox throughout Europe. Best of all, the enlarged diocese would be understood perfectly by the Catholic hierarchy in Rome.

Our talk of 'free provinces' has frightened our fellow Anglicans at home, who think a province too grandiose, and has confused our Catholic friends on the continent. A diocese is a better solution; since a diocese constitutes, for the Catholic Church, a 'particular church. Such a church would be capable of entering into conversations with other churches, whilst retaining the highest possible degree of fellowship with others in the Anglican Communion. In mathematics, the simplest solution is called an elegant solution. Dare we hope that our Church will think this an elegant solution to the present predicament?

An earlier article of mine in New Directions, about dual membership of churches, has drawn a good deal of comment, most of it favourable. It would be a great help to those of us working on the question of Governance, if readers could send suggestions by email or letter to me. Little think-tanks can dream up great solutions; but any solutions have to be workable.

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