Colin Podmore reports on a new development in the life of the Society and Forward in Faith

The ordination of women as bishops will be a big change for the Church of England. We need to develop new ways of working that will meet the needs of the changed situation. The Council of Bishops of the Society is engaged in this task, in full co-operation with the Council of Forward in Faith – in keeping with our growing role as the support structure for the Society. (The Bishop of Pontefract, who chairs the Council of Bishops, is a member of the FiF Council, as are the Bishops of Beverley, Ebbsfleet, Fulham and Richborough.)

The latest development concerns relations between our bishops and the clergy in each diocese. Up to now, Forward in Faith has divided the Church of England into regions consisting of between one and five dioceses. For each there has been a Regional Dean, appointed by the relevant bishop(s) after consultation with the clergy. Last autumn, the Council of Forward in Faith asked the bishops to consider the future of the office of Regional Dean. The bishops made proposals which were accepted by the FiF Council in December and the bishops then finalized the details at their residential meeting in late February.

For Church of England, the office of Regional Dean will now be replaced by the new office of Bishop’s Representative. (Wales and Scotland are not affected by this change.) There will be a different Bishop’s Representative for each diocese. He will be appointed by the Bishop(s) of the Society for that diocese, after consultation with the clergy, for a renewable term of three years.

The role of the Bishop’s Representative is set out in ten points:
To act as the Bishop’s officer;
To liaise with the diocesan bishop and with the catholic clergy of the diocese;
To represent the Bishop to others and others to the Bishop;
To undertake tasks delegated by the Bishop;To build up an esprit de corps among the clergy who look to the Bishop;
To relate to the parishes that are affiliated to the Society;
To identify isolated members of
the laity who do not belong to a parish affiliated to the Society and bring them to the attention of the Bishop;
To monitor resolutions passed under the House of Bishops’ Declaration and encourage parishes that have passed them to affiliate to the Society;
To ensure that listings of parishes on the Society website are up to date;
To liaise with the local branch of Forward in Faith.

The Bishops’ Representatives will be members of the Beverley, Ebbsfleet, Fulham or Richborough Council, as appropriate. (This will be the case even if their Society bishop is not a PEV or the Bishop of Fulham, so as to ensure that they are in touch with the wider picture.) National meetings of all the Bishops’ Representatives will be convened as occasion demands.

What sort of priest will the bishops be looking to appoint? They have decided that he will normally be a priest who holds the diocesan bishop’s licence (and therefore is not retired), and that he will be someone who has, or could come to have, the trust of the diocesan bishop. Equally, of course, he will need to have the confidence of the clergy – hence the consultation that the bishop(s) will undertake before deciding whom to appoint. The priest will be a member of, or will be asked to join, Forward in Faith, because of Forward in Faith’s role as the support structure for the Society.

The bishops are now consulting the clergy, with a view to making appointments before July. They will welcome suggestions of names. At the National Assembly on 15 November there will be an opportunity to thank the Regional Deans publicly for their ministry. ND