An Extra-ordinary Anomaly

“A NECESSARY and strictly extraordinary anomaly.”

This quote from the Eames Commission about parallel episcopal jurisdiction came to mind on receiving the latest Reform newsletter from the pen of chairman Philip Hacking commenting on the Council’s statement about the future intentions of the networking group.

The fuss the media created about Reform’s intention actually to do something about alternative episcopal oversight instead of talking about it shows how distorted the Church’s thinking has become, as if bishops were the be-all and end-all of the Church.

Eames foresaw a future, beyond the ordination of women, where “flying bishops” and other oversight would be necessary but with hard-headed realism added that this “necessary and strictly extraordinary anomaly” was preferable to schism and the breakup of the Church.

Philip Hacking adds the essential rider that all Reform thinking is done in the context of evangelism, ensuring that Gospel ministry is propagated both now and in the future. He notes that the whole concept of alternative episcopal oversight is hedged with sundry qualifications and “is almost certainly in the distance and not a priority concern of Reform.”

Many members of the group are happy, the chairman says, about the orthodoxy of their bishop, but he regrets there are a number of bishops who do not fall into this category and it is with them in mind that the proposals have been formulated.

The Council statement sees the November celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in Southwark Cathedral marking a break with biblical and traditional sexual morality.

“This was a blasphemy and has made the evangelisation of the nation harder through the Church of England. Along with other serious issues of faith and morality this has led to an increasing loss of confidence in some of the bishops. Our national conference mandated us to secure the reform of the episcopate and this also relates to the recruitment and training of men for the ministry since in our tradition bishops are involved in selection, training and deployment,” the statement explains. It then goes on to lay out strategies to secure episcopal oversight which will be seen to hold to historic biblical faith and morality:

* the employment where necessary, desirable and possible, of retired or other godly bishops in good standing with the Church.

* the employment where necessary, desirable and possible, of the PEVs (flying actual bishops) already consecrated or a future evangelical PEV, as already requested.

* the election and consecration, after due process, of bishops from the Reform constituency who can be employed where necessary and desirable.

Other important plans in the statement envisage the launch of a Reform newspaper, the setting up of trust funds for Gospel work and especially capital projects and the monitoring of Christian youth work.

The statement concludes that in the light of modern liturgical developments, mission statements and some recent theological writings, Reform must proclaim the historic Gospel as outlined in the group’s Covenant and follow St Paul’s model of entrusting the Gospel “to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”, with the conviction that men and women are more important than Institutions.

While the media noticed the possibility of Reform consecrating its own bishops, it missed the hidden agenda of internationalising the search for help and support from orthodox, believing bishops throughout the Anglican Communion, This programme has special relevance in the light of the Lambeth Conference next year because there is speculation already that bishops from the two-thirds world will revolt against the liberal agenda of the American Episcopal Church, now adopted by a vocal minority in the Church of England.

Readers of Mr Hacking’s letter will be aware that he has to spend considerable time holding together the diverse range of opinion within the Reform Council when it comes to formulating action. Sadly, members not present when the statement was hammered out rushed to comment in the media without consulting Mr Hacking first. He mildly responds that these members agree on the goals but have question marks about strategy. However, it would seem to be wise to mark all Council documents from now on with an embargo restriction!