Bishop’s Representative Paul Benfield outlines his work so far, and explains the process for dealing with complaints (continues on page 26)
was appointed as Bishop’s Representative for Blackburn and Carlisle Dioceses by the Bishop of Beverley, and Fr Philip North has indicated that it is likely that he will wish me to continue in that role when he becomes Bishop of Burnley in February. It is important to note that I am appointed by a bishop of The Society and not by Forward in Faith. My ministry is part of the bishop’s ministry of oversight of priests and parishes who look to him.
Already I have been helping various parishes. In one in the Blackburn diocese there is a vacancy and I have been to a PCC meeting to explain what they need to do if they wish to have a male priest next time. They have decided that they wish to explore the issues around women’s priestly ministry, so the Dean of Women’s Ministry and I are attending a congregational meeting next week to help them.
In the Diocese of Carlisle I am helping one parish where the issue is not so much about women priests but about shared worship with regular Methodist Communion services in the Anglican parish church.
A great advantage
My work so far has been under the 1993 arrangements, but when the canon allowing women bishops is enacted on Monday we shall enter a new era. The great advantage of the new arrangements is that there is a system for monitoring what happens and, if necessary, raising a grievance with the Independent Reviewer. Under the Act of Synod, if a bishop wouldn’t do what he should do for a parish there was nothing that could be done. Under the new arrangements it will be possible to bring complaints to the Reviewer.
A grievance can be brought by PCCs but also, in some circumstances, by individuals. Grievances may be brought against bishops for not providing appropriate episcopal care, but also against incumbents or rural deans for proving a woman priest to preside at the Eucharist against the wishes of the PCC. A grievance could be brought by an ordinand against a bishop who will not provide an appropriate bishop to ordain him. There are many other situations where it is possible to conceive that a complaint might need to be brought.
Of course, we all hope that everyone will behave in accordance with the five guiding principles and complaints won’t be necessary, but human nature being what it is there are likely to be some occasions when a complaint is necessary. However, we will only know whether it is a good idea to bring such a complaint if the Bishop’s Representative knows what has been going on. Too often in the past, under the old Resolutions A , B and C, we only heard of things not being done in a way they ought to be done a long time after the event, and there was no proper evidence of what had happened. This must not happen in the future. So if a bishop or an archdeacon is coming to a meeting in your parish, and you think it might be difficult, let your Bishop’s Representative know about the meeting and its purpose. He may ask to be invited to attend, so that he can ask appropriate questions and note down exactly what happens. Then, if things have gone wrong, we will have the necessary evidence to bring a formal grievance if it is not possible to sort the matter out by negotiation.
The Bishops’ Representatives will liaise both with their bishops and with Dr Podmore at Gordon Square as necessary, so that we can monitor areas of concern.
Do not wait
It is important to understand that the Reviewer will operate under regulations made under canon, and these regulations lay down certain time limits.
In particular, it will not normally be possible to bring a complaint more than three months after the event complained of. So if something is going on about which you are not happy, do not wait until it has gone on for ages and then just tell a friendly priest who might mention it to the Bishop’s Representative when he next sees him (if he remembers). Get straight on to the Bishop’s Representative. Keep him informed. Let him know in advance about a forthcoming vacancy and other issues. The Bishops’ Representatives are going to be key people as we learn how to flourish under the new arrangements. If you do not keep them informed, they cannot give you help and advice which may be relevant not just to you but to other places going through similar difficulties. If in doubt, talk to your Bishop’s Representative. ND