A rare chance for the Church to appoint a Conservative Evangelical bishop
Many years ago, I was rightly taken to task by the then-Archdeacon of West Ham for suggesting that the scheme of Provincial Episcopal Visitors (aka ‘Flying Bishops’) had been set up especially for Anglo-Catholics.
That, he observed sharply, was not the case. On the contrary, the PEVs were there for everyone. And that is true, but it is also true that in the last twenty years every single one of them has actually been an Anglo-Catholic.
One reason given for this early on was that there was no demand from evangelicals. But of course one reason evangelicals regularly gave for not passing ‘Resolution C’ was that they’d have to accept the ministry of an Anglo-Catholic. Hence on both sides the ‘prophecy’ became self-fulfilling.
Nevertheless, in recent years at least some evangelicals have realized the error of their ecclesiastical ways and more than one request has been made for an evangelical appointment to the ranks of the PEVs.
The news that the Bishop of Ebbsfleet is to become the new Bishop of Fulham (one of the few alternative diocesan arrangements created under the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod) presents a fresh, and rare, opportunity for the relevant authorities to appoint a traditionalist conservative evangelical bishop to replace Wallace Benn as the only one of this persuasion in the entire Church of England.
It is therefore slightly galling to see Bishop Baker assuming that his replacement will be of a similar persuasion to himself. “I am assured,” he says, “that the process of appointing a new Bishop of Ebbsfleet is already underway, and so in due course I am confident that my move will lead to a strengthening of the team of catholic bishops in the Church of England at this critical time.”
Perhaps — or perhaps not. Maybe someone in a position to influence the outcome just might dare to suggest the strengthening should go where is it most needed. After all, Conservative Evangelicals of this persuasion can hardly even boast a ‘team’.
In any case, ‘catholic’ PEVs minister to evangelicals, why not an evangelical for catholics? (Actually I can think of all sorts of reasons why this might be difficult on both sides, but we are all supposed to be in one Church of England.)
So, the opportunity is there. And I have to say that if it is not taken then I, for one, will continue to wonder whether the Church of England is serious about its ‘broadness’, or whether, as I havesuggested before, it is one rule for those whose ecclesiology (and dress-sense) suits, another for those where it doesn’t.
One cannot help but feel sorry for the Vicar of Ugley (a village in England), whose post here bemoans the fact that there has never been an Evangelical PEV (Provisional Episcopal Visitor) appointed to take care of Church of England Evangelical parishes that do not approve of Women Clergy or Bishops.
The Revd. John Richardson is hopeful that – now that the former Bishop of Ebbsfleet (PEV and noted Anglo-Catholic) has been translated to the PEV Diocese of Fulham, in London – there might be some hope of the upcoming appointment of an Evangelical Bishop to the PEV Diocese of Ebbsfleet. This would, he hopes, ensure that any Conservative Evangelical parish (presumably like Ugley) that did not approve of Women Clergy or Bishops, would have access to their very own expressly-Conservative Evangelical PEV Bishop.
All of this goes to show how fraught is the situation for those Evangelicals (a minority) in the Church of England, whose belief in ‘Male Headship’ excludes them from the ability to receive ministry from a mere Woman. It must be quite painful for them to have to choose between this extreme Evangelical position, and the possibility of having to receive episcopal ministry from an extreme Anglo-Catholic Bishop.
If course, the fact that their extreme-Evangelical reasons for refusing the ministry of Women (Male-Headship) is different from that of their Anglo-Catholic confreres (whose objection is on the grounds of their ontological problems with female priests), is neither here nor there in the greater scheme of things. But their ‘double-jeopardy’ is understandable!.
One can only hope that the current distress suffered by those in the Church of England – whose fear of Women taking over the Church there is so obvious that they are constrained to have to join forces in their mutual efforts to avoid such a possibility – might soon be alleviated. Though how this might come about – perhaps by jettisoning either their mutual suspicion of one another, or their mutual suspicion of Women clergy – might prove more painful than their current situation. One’s prejudices can sometimes become quite a burden.
Father , Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand