ED MOLL was due to be ordained, at Michaelmas, to serve as deacon in the parish church of St Oswald, Walkergate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Unfortunately the assistant bishop, looking after the diocesan interregnum, was going to be away at that time and so the ordination was postponed to the Sunday before Christmas. Mr Moll had completed his degree, his training and fulfilled all the requirements of his calling so he readily agreed to help as a lay worker in this urban priority area parish until that Sunday.
Over the summer the Crown Appointments Commission had appointed Martin Wharton, suffragan bishop of Kingston in the diocese of Southwark, as Bishop of Newcastle. His stated views that homosexual practice within loving, permanent relationships is no sin may be meat and drink to the good burghers of Southwark but such enlightenment has clearly not reached Tyneside.
Two evangelical parishes reluctantly declared that they could not accept the episcopal authority and ministry of such an unbiblical bishop. One was the giant Jesmond (Vicar David Holloway) – the other a smaller but also well attended church – St Oswald, Walkergate. Ed Moll was summoned to a meeting of diocesan dignitaries and given a straight choice. Either he publicly denounce his vicar and the parochial church council or he would not be ordained!
Such a demand cannot be justified by canon and, would seem to many, tantamount to using the sacraments of the church as blackmail. Secondly, to invite a man to denounce past and future colleagues in this way is surely an act of pastoral lunacy.
Ed Moll, who has consistently stated that he is prepared to make the oath of canonical obedience, refused to bow to this additional and extraordinary demand. Result – ordination refused. At this point, with a matter of days to go and all arrangements made, a request was made to the retired bishop of Karamoja, Uganda, Howell Davies, to come to the aid of the parish and its ordinand. Bishop Davies agreed.
Enter Kenneth Gill, retired bishop of Karnataka, South India – assistant Bishop of Newcastle – with a plea in the High Court for an injunction to stop the proposed ordination.
Enquires to the General Synod office had already made clear that any such ordination would be legal but irregular. Mr Moll would be an Anglican deacon, but not a deacon in the Church of England, and would not receive stipend or pension. This clear differentiation between the Church of England and the Church of God is of considerable import.
The injunction was granted. The implications of this decision are momentous:
1. It is the first time that such an injunction has been sought and won. And it has been sought not to defend Christian doctrine but rather episcopal policy, place and power.
2. If we are to believe, suddenly and belatedly, that ordination is into the Church of England rather that the Church of God, an idea utterly foreign to the Ordinal, certain things become crystal clear. The claim that the Church of England is the reformed catholic church in this land is abandoned. The import of this action and decision is that the Church of England is simply a state controlled sect.
3. A man who is biblically obedient will not be ordained, while men who are biblically disobedient continue to be consecrated and enthroned.
BY THE TIME the January edition of New Directions is published the next Bishop of Southwark will probably have been announced. We have nothing but admiration for any man who agrees to take on that unhappy diocese – the poisoned chalice of the Church of England. But in these days of radical reorganisation it is surely time to ask the radical question: why have a bishop of Southwark at all? A diocese with three Area Bishops (and no area remaining for the sole pastoral care of the diocesan) and with six full-time archdeacons, is hardly short of management personnel (as they now say).
The retiring Bishop of Southwark, it is true, industriously carved out for himself a distinctive role. It was one which seems to have been modelled on that of the House of Winsdor – an episcope of state visits and photo-opportunities. In this he was not altogether unlike his episcopal colleagues in some other dioceses. But in the new, streamlined, business-like, Turnbull-ish Church of the twenty-first century we must doubt if this is a cost-effective use of time and resources.
The creative step we suggest would have been to suppress the post, give diocesan status to the Area Bishops – with no cathedrals and a less cumbersome bureaucracy. (Southwark Cathedral could then become a much needed concert venue, close to the new Museum of Modern Art and the Globe Theatre). The Area Bishops would consequently be freed from the tedious necessity of regular meetings with the diocesan and each other, and enabled to bring to the majority in their areas that immediate and responsive episcopal care and guidance which those fortunate enough to have passed Resolution C already happily enjoy.
If Mr Blair, who clearly gives a good deal of thought to these things, is keen to mirror his invention of an elected Mayoralty for the whole of London in Church administration, he might care to create – dare we say it? – a Third Province, spanning the Thames. Such would give Richard Chartres useful experience for the next step.
THREE CONCURRENT factors are generating concern in the orthodox constituency. The first is the imminent announcement of the retirement of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet. It would be hard to exaggerate the affection and esteem in which he is held among those to whom he ministers. The second is the pressure being exerted – not least through the Windsor Consultations (see ‘The Case for Freedom’ in this edition of New Directions). There can be no doubt that an end to the two integrities (‘by December 1 1999, at the latest’ – which is what is being demanded) is the only consistent policy move for those who wish to set forward the priestly and episcopal ministry of women. The third is the persistent rumour, as we go to press, that a suffragan opposed to women’s ordination is about to be appointed in the diocese of Salisbury.
There can be no doubt that the diocese of Salisbury, like every other diocese of the Church of England needs and will benefit from an orthodox suffragan. We pray that whoever is called to that ministry will be a man of real ability and holiness of life. But such an appointment in such a diocese will naturally be greeted with caution. Salisbury is not Chichester. If the intention is political rather than pastoral, and the new bishop will be used to argue against the replacement of the PEV, then his very existence will be a threat to, and hardly a support for, those opposed to women’s ordination.
Those whose task it will be to review the working of the Act of Synod need to be clear that nothing less than a replacement of John Richards will be acceptable to this constituency; and any diminution of the role of his successor will be viewed as a betrayal.