Andrew Burnham concludes that the time may have come.
THE TRUMPETING of the need for a Free Province or a Third Province has generated considerable anxiety in the Church of England. Understandably there are those, with a truly liberal outlook, who view with some alarm the hiving off of a considerable chunk of the Church of England. What will that do for theological balance and the essentially Anglican equilibrium produced by the contrasts of churchmanship? But there are also those who already look to bishops other than their diocesan for episcopal care who are nervous about anything so separate, so potentially ghettoized, as a Third Province. And there are those whose diocesan bishop is himself, so to say, orthodox who wonder either what will become of them if their fellow Anglo-Catholics become part of a different province or if they and/or their diocesan bishop seek to become part of such a province. There are other ecclesiological and theological questions too: would Reform evangelicals find a home in such a province?
(A) The Free Province Idea
I am a fairly late convert to the Free Province idea. Previously I had regarded it as so very problematic in terms of the amount of goodwill required – not to mention parliamentary time, the agreement of General Synod, the painstaking work of lawyers and the preparedness of bishops to lose whole chunks of their dioceses – that I had seen it as my essential task, as a Provincial Episcopal Visitor, to gently discourage too many fantasies about free provinces. ‘Free Province’, anyway, was so obviously polemical and ‘Third Province’ so grandiloquent that, however desirable in themselves, they seemed to me to be dangerous delusions. I had paid my half-a-crown to subscribe to the Third Province Movement but I was putting my shirt on less drastic ecclesiological developments.
What changed that was the clear interest, as expressed in the press, of the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury – in earthly terms my boss. His vision, one supposes, is to achieve a settlement before a bruising vote on women bishops and not – as with the priesting of women – amidst the chaos and hurt of a decision which nobody expected to be taken, and for which no proper preparation had been made. Since the Archbishop was keen to explore every possibility – not least the possibility of a new province – I had to give it serious consideration myself. Accordingly I sent an e-mail round to the Forward in Faith friends whom I had irritated for long enough by dissenting from the Free Province rhetoric. The message said that I would eat my mitre, as promised, were it not for the plastic stiffener inside it.
(B) Prizes for Mainstream Anglicans
There are clear advantages in what we shall hereafter call the ‘New Province’ idea. I have thought of five prizes for the mainstream Church of England; doubtless there are more.
Chiefly, for the mainstream of the Church of England, there is the chance to move on from a very damaging and very high profile preoccupation with gender issues. At the top of the list for parishes in vacancies is a fresh vote on Resolutions A and B and many an archdeacon and a bishop, surely quite illegally, are making undertakings to parishes about ‘giving them a man this time’, even when no resolutions have been passed. Parishes are bullied into looking at wider issues of strategy and deployment when what they want to do is focus on the pure issues of principle which Resolutions A and B (and so-called C) represent. To abolish Resolutions A and B (which would be the main quid pro quo in return for conceding the Province) would be a major step forward for that part of the Church which believes that issues of gender are pertinent only to child birth and should not interfere with appointments. Women bishops could be introduced simply and easily, without any inhibition whatsoever on the positions to which they could be appointed. If the principle that all provinces look to Canterbury is to be maintained, it will presumably never be possible for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be female. There could be a female Archbishop of York, however, within ten years and, within that time, an end to all controversy surrounding female ministry within the Church of England’s mainstream. In that sense, one might hope that both WATCH and GRAS would see the New Province project as helpful: significantly achieving their objectives, if not quite their aims.
(2) Provincial Autonomy
A second prize for the mainstream Church of England would be that traditionalists – or Anglo-Catholic traditionalists at least – would be part of a scheme which is already well-established in the Anglican Communion, where there are provinces which accept women’s ordination and provinces which do not, at least thus far. The New Province would be similar, then, to many other provinces.
(3) Protestant Ecumenism
A third – and very substantial – prize for the mainstream Church of England would be that it could pursue, unimpaired, the quest for unity with the Methodists, a quest given new energy by the imminent Covenant. Such a quest for unity might easily – and quickly – embrace such partners as the United Reformed Church at home and German Protestants abroad. The old Anglo-Catholic ecclesiology – the basis for church unity discussions throughout most of the twentieth century – would at last give way to a more feasible and flexible Anglican ecclesiology which, as in the sixteenth century, did not insist on the historic succession of bishops as a premise.
(4) A Bridge with Rome and the Orthodox
Arising from this third prize is a fourth. The New Province would be an experiment on behalf of Anglicanism, much as the ordination of women within Anglicanism is, as the late Peter Hebblethwaite said, an experiment on behalf of the Universal Church. The New Province, consisting mainly of Anglo-Catholics, would want to pursue unity with the historic Catholic churches in a vigorous way. I can foresee that many who accept women’s priestly ordination but do not see that as having priority over unity would want to join a New Province that had ARCIC at the top of its agenda rather than rather a long way down.
The coming together of some of the fragments of Catholicism – fragments surviving from the breakage of the sixteenth century – would be tremendously energizing both for Rome and for Canterbury. Some, of course, would pursue unity with the East and with good theological reasons. Most would look to the rock from which they were more immediately hewn and we would see recusants and Anglo-Catholics together giving new life and a new missionary rootedness to the Catholic project in England. This, as far as the New Province was concerned, would be a project on behalf of the Anglicans. It would be a fresh exploration of the bridge-making vocation of Anglicans in the search for unity between Catholic and Reformed Christians. It could not but be beneficial. Perhaps the most moving thing at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s enthronement was the sight of Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops reciting together the Nicene Creed, ‘as agreed within the Undivided Church in the fourth century’.
(5) Missionary Energy
A fifth – and possibly illusory – prize would be that the mainstream Church of England would suddenly possess a coherence – its vitality now unhindered by the costly preoccupation this last 20 years with gender – that it would at last become effective in mission and evangelism. Suddenly all that energy, on all sides of the argument, would be directed into working for the kingdom, making new disciples and warming up those whose hearts have gone cold.
(C) Prizes for Anglo-Catholics
If there are advantages for the rest of the Church of England, there are certainly advantages too for Anglo-Catholics.
(1) Ecclesiological Coherence
First and foremost, a New Province would give the traditionalist constituency an authentic ecclesiological coherence. The interim arrangements for passing resolutions and petitioning for ‘additional/alternative/extended’ ‘oversight/care’ would be over. The raw ambiguity of most inductions – and such jokes as referring to one bishop as ‘Father in God’ and another as ‘Father in law’ – would be in the past. Gender would cease to be the dominant issue it has become. The New Province would test the real mettle of Anglo-Catholicism and challenge what has often been a very self-indulgent counter-culturalism.
(2) Pastoral Priority
The PEV system has been a much-needed experiment of a non-bureaucratic episcopal ministry. PEVs have realized that with joy. Moreover mainstream bishops have rightly envied PEVs their freedom to minister unencumbered. These are not moral issues. Most bishops, in my experience, seek primarily to be pastors. Many highly prize their vocation to be, humanly speaking, the chief pastor through whom the eucharistic community is enabled to come into being and be renewed each time the bishop celebrates. Yet only the PEVs have really the time – at present – to work to the primitive models, both Ignatian and Irenaean.
(3) Less Red Tape
A New Province would be an opportunity to look again at the synodical side of church life, to slim it down and cut through the bundles of red tape for which our culture has had a particular enthusiasm for creating. A New Province would not reinvent the Archbishops’ Council nor have a Synod with parliamentary processes that led to everything being debated three times.
A New Province would probably adopt the Catholic principle of incardination and work towards promising its law-abiding stipendiary priests a job for life in exchange for much, much more flexibility over deployment. There would be fresh scope for the seer as well as the manager, the confessor as well as the facilitator. Some parishes would be managed by the laity with the priest from another parish, perhaps, as celebrant and spiritual director.
(5) Three or Four New Dioceses
A smaller province of three or four dioceses has immediate advantages. It could be administered by set of provincial offices, whether in London or centrally, say Nottingham. The dioceses themselves would have the Bishop’s office as a sub-provincial as well as a diocesan office for what could not be administered centrally.
The Ebbsfleet Apostolic District would become a diocese more or less as it is. The other areas (Beverley, Fulham and Richborough) would need some rethinking because each of them is presently complicated by diocesan and regional provision. Without attention, Richborough would be a very large doughnut, with Fulham as the hole. Without attention, Beverley would have to reach parts it presently does not have to reach because of much diocesan and regional provision. Then there are parishes in Blackburn, Chichester, London and York – not to mention Europe – which, because the diocesan does not ordain women priests – have not needed to look for alternative oversight. No one knows which ones would, should the need arise. Many other parishes, throughout the country, have relied on the PEVs being assistant bishops in the respective dioceses and have used that device, rather than formal petitions, as the basis for ecclesiological coherence. There are parishes, that is to say, where the PEV is informally regarded as the focus of unity by the clergy and some of the faithful. Nicodemus is the patron saint of these parishes.
(6) Lay Ministry
The interdependence of the parishes, already well developed, would have a legal as well as a moral and theological basis: it could be argued that Anglo-Catholicism has never been so coherent and vital as it has become in the last ten years. Since it would simply be a datum that only men were ordained priest and bishop, there would be new opportunities to pursue the ministry of women in an ecumenically eirenic way – for example as Catechists – rather than in the present contentious way. The ancient offices of Reader and Acolyte would be developed and would suit lay ministers, male and female, with and without the charism of oracy.
(D) Problems and Challenges
It would do Anglo-Catholics good not to rely on Christians of other traditions for their funding and, to be frank, some parishes would have to begin to exercise financial responsibility for their own ministry. The examination of the financial viability of the Ebbsfleet parishes – recently undertaken by Forward in Faith – revealed that, were the unit cost of a priest just over £20k pa, the parishes as a whole would be self-supporting. Given that the Church of England figure of nearer £30k pa per priest is more realistic – even with a slimmed down bureaucracy – we could say that the Ebbsfleet parishes are two-thirds of the way to being self-supporting. It would be good to examine the assumption that Beverley, Fulham and Richborough are in a similar state.
This aspect is potentially particularly problematic because so much of the constituency is inner city but we are doing better than we perhaps thought.
(2) Sector Ministries
The petitioning parishes surely under-estimate the contribution made by all kinds of central ministries. One good example is the church school apparatus, where much time and money is generated and spent at a diocesan and national level. The fantasy of stripping away sector ministries would leave us in difficulties in prisons and schools, hospitals and universities, not to mention the armed services. There would be a real danger – were all this lost – that the Church would disappear into an increasing churchiness. And yet there is so much more that could be done by combining parishes and sector ministries, by reducing the numbers of the ordained ministry rather than ordaining so many of the decent local laity to non-stipendiary ministry, as the Church of England has done in recent years. ‘Every member ministry’ obviously does not mean ordination for all but nor is ordination a kind of reward for taking the Christian life seriously.
(3) Defecting from Dioceses
Amidst the tremendous opportunities and possibilities there are some very steep challenges. One is the damage which would be done to dioceses if large numbers of parishes defected to a New Province. As one incumbent said to me, ‘my PCC is unanimously ABC but I could never get them to leave the diocese.’ These cultural issues are immense – as immense as, for instance, the task of getting Anglicans and Methodists to live together as one church. A New Province which created more distance between parishes and their neighbours and between New Province dioceses and mainstream dioceses would be counter-productive in all ways except the narrowly ecclesiological.
Simple expedients like putting ‘in association with the diocese of X’ (‘association’ being looser than ‘communion’) on noticeboards and stationery
and extending open invitations to non-voting participation in each other’s chapters and synods would work wonders and perhaps narrow existing gulfs. The ecumenical Lund principle of never doing separately what can be done together would apply and the common Anglican culture would probably make it work even better, with a little distance, than it usually does. There could be additional safeguards: large parishes which ‘defect’ could become local ecumenical projects, with provision for plain Church of England people to be provided for by the woman or man in the parish next door.
A further and related difficulty is the issue of territoriality. The Church of England, it seems, would have to accept that New Province parishes formed part of its territorial coverage. One way of doing that would be shared coverage – a partnership, indeed, of coverage. In such a scheme, the population of any New Province parish might be notionally and additionally covered by the Church of England Area Dean’s parish just as the population of every deanery might be notionally and additionally covered by the nearest New Province parish. In these days of declining baptisms and of celebrant-based marriages, not to mention of crematorium funerals and their duty ministers, the solution of shared coverage would reflect what is already largely the case. Already, that is to say – especially in towns and cities – people attend church on much the same basis as they go to the supermarket: they choose which one to go to rather than go to the nearest branch. In the country, where theoretically there is less choice, there would need for special care. The original solution favoured by Lord Habgood, that in every deanery there would be at least one AB or ABC parish, is no longer attainable. Sadly, that idea has fallen victim to the polarizations of the last ten years and has not been seen as a priority by dioceses.
It may be that, just as Cost of Conscience demanded Alternative Episcopal Oversight and got Extended Episcopal Care, Forward in Faith will now demand a New Province and get something else. One such idea is quasi-diocesan organization: the apostolic district re-invented as a fuller ‘apostolic administration’, with existing diocesan ties maintained. Another is Canon Pendorf’s idea (New Directions, February 2003). In his model, petitioning parishes are put together in group ministries. Theoretically there could even be three group ministries – two attached to Canterbury diocese and one to York – and there would simply be hot spot islands of Canterbury and York in the midst of other dioceses. This would depend upon the Archbishops of Canterbury and York remaining above the fray. It would probably not work with an archbishop who, for instance, himself consecrated women bishops; it certainly would not work, ecclesiologically, with an archbishop who was female. Moreover, as one of the bishops with a legal training has reminded me, Section 35(4) of the Pastoral Measure implies that parishes in a group must be contiguous. That problem would suggest that, despite the ingenuity of Canon Pendorf’s suggestion, a compromise might not work and something new, along the lines of a New Province, would be necessary.
The Family Row or the Bond of Peace?
It is probably worth persevering with the New Province project, then, despite all the problems and anxieties. The idea needs to be thought through thoroughly before it is either pursued or jettisoned and a conference at Pusey House in Oxford later this year is seeking to do exactly that, albeit with an invited list of participants and from a largely traditionalist perspective. The greatest prize for all of us is to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4.3). Founding new denominations is now understood to be simply disobedient to the Lord’s High Priestly Prayer. Protestantism is congenitally fissiparous but Catholicism, if it is true to itself, is unitive.
The kingdom will not be furthered by Anglo-Catholicism being driven out into Continuing Anglicanism, disintegrating into a series of personal submissions to Rome or persisting with what I have always called a family row, such is the depth of bitterness one often finds. Let us together find structures which are clean and creative – lest we continue to sap our strength bickering about them – and let us refocus our energies as a new chapter in the life of the Church of England and the Anglo-Catholic movement opens. The flourishing of the Catholic Faith and the evangelization of England are at stake.
Andrew Burnham is the third Bishop of Ebbsfleet