The Last Chronicle of Salchester
The announcement of the transfer of the parish of Emmanuel Cove to the Diocese of Sydney, Australia came as something of a surprise to the Bishop of Salchester. He was, as his wife put it, ‘outraged’, and he was on the phone to the Archbishop of Canterbury as soon as the news broke.
The Archbishop, it had to be admitted, was not an enormous help. True, he wrote immediately to the Archbishop of Sydney proclaiming that this was wholly contrary to ‘the ecclesiology of our Anglican Communion’; but Dr Paul Jansen, Sydney’s newly elected primate was not overly impressed.
The ABC, he said privately to his friends at Moore College, could say what he liked about Anglican ecclesiology; what he could not do was to say, with any authority or certainty, what it was. ‘They are all sound and fury at Lambeth,’ commented Dr Jansen. ‘They will and can do nothing.’
Ricki Ribble and his Parish Council were elated. The initial press conference, in the Bishop Ryle Memorial Hall, drew correspondents from every quality daily and not a few tabloids. Even the usually quiescent religious press was spoiling for a story. They all knew that an Archbishop from across the world ‘invading’ (as they chose to call it) the Archbishop of Canterbury’s territory was big news for England and big news for the Communion.
Mr Ribble began with a forthright statement (which, if truth be told, had been drafted the night before by an excited Beauregard Branscombe, with the help of not a little malt whisky, kindly supplied by the Cove churchwardens). Beau was beginning to think that his partnership with these usually dour evangelicals was set to become unprecedentedly good fun.
‘Because the Bishop of Salchester has, on important matters chosen to act in defiance of the plain meaning of the Scriptures and of the resolutions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, we in this parish repudiated his Episcopal Ministry some time ago, declaring this See vacant and this parish without a bishop. Despite numerous appeals in writing and one private meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury has consistently upheld Bishop Longbridge in his deviations and refused to assign this parish to the care of an orthodox bishop. We are grateful to Dr Paul Jansen, Archbishop of Sydney, for graciously extending his oversight to this parish. Cove is now, for all ecclesiastical purposes, in Australia.’
The Salchester Chronicle
Bishop of Salchester to retaliate.
Beauregard, the more experienced in dealing with the press, continued on Ribble’s behalf.
‘This action’, he said, ‘is not entirely without antecedents. Intercontinental Ballistic Bishops have recently become a feature of what the Archbishop of Canterbury has called ‘our Anglican ecclesiology’. As soon as the Communion adopted Provincial Autonomy – the idea, basically, that any provincial synod can tinker as it likes with order, faith and morals – it was obviously an invitation for bishops on one continent to look after, on another, those who share their doctrinal position.’
‘But won’t this bring about, or at least speed up, the disintegration of Anglicanism?’ asked the religious affairs correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, who was unusually up to speed.
‘Hardly,’ said Beauregard, expansively. ‘You have to grasp that it is Provincial Autonomy itself which is the destabilising factor. As soon as you have women bishops (whom other bishops will not accept), you no longer have a college of bishops or the authority that proceeds from it. From there on in it is a downward spiral – gay marriages in America; polygamy in Central Africa; goddess worship in New Zealand. There is no stopping it and no reason why it should stop. Dr Jansen’s intervention is at least an attempt, however modest, to retain for authentic historical Anglicanism a truly international, world-wide dimension. It should be possible for Anglicans to share the same faith and morals in Cove, Calgary and Canberra; but under the Archbishop of Canterbury’s version of ‘Anglican ecclesiology’ that will prove increasingly impossible.’
‘But isn’t the idea of the diocese and the Province as a territorial unit an essential feature of the Anglican way of doing things?’ asked the ABC’s cheerfully bearded son, who was free-lancing for an American church journal.
‘Anglican bishops, it is true, are more territorial than alley cats,’ responded Beauregard. ‘But that is not theology, it is mere amour proper. A diocese is not a place; it is a community of believing people. The diocese as a territorial unit did not develop until relatively late in the order of things. I always like to remember that the very name ‘diocese’ is taken from the language of the local government reforms of Diocletian, the most successful persecutor of Christians in ancient times!’
‘But what practical effects will all this have on the life of the parish?’ asked a diligent young woman from the Daily Express.
‘None at all if the Bishop of Salchester behaves himself,’ said Ribble. ‘For us at Cove it will be business as usual. Pastorally, we will be looking to the Archbishop and one of his assistants for episcopal oversight; structurally and financially we will be fully integrated into the life of the Sydney diocese. I am now canonically resident in Sydney and the next Rector of Cove will be appointed in consultation with the Archbishop of Sydney. All direct ties with the Church of England are at an end – but the work of Emmanuel Cove goes on unaffected. That is the whole point.’
The correspondent of the Church Times was not convinced.
‘Isn’t this just a load of legal gobbledegook?’ she asked forcefully. ‘You will hardly ever see this new bishop of yours.’
‘Plus que ça change, plus qu’il reste la même chose’, murmured Beauregard, in his most world-weary tones. ‘Don’t talk to me about legal gobbledegook. Have you ever read the horrendous oath English diocesans take on their appointment? Have you ever listened to the legal flummery which surrounds a consecration, and heard these fellows perjure themselves about upholding the doctrine of the one, holy, catholic Church as the Church of England has received it? Have you ever heard those words ‘the cure of souls which is thine and mine’ at an induction and wondered whether the bishop in question would ever again meet the priest he was instituting this side of the grave? Mr Ribble will see a good deal more of Dr Jansen and his assistants I can be reasonably sure than ever he did of Bishop Longbridge. At least until the novelty wears off.’
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