The Society released the following statement at the end of June:
‘Now that the proposed revival of the See of Oswestry has received the approval of both the Dioceses Commission and the Lichfield Diocesan Synod, The Society’s Council of Bishops would like to record its gratitude to the Bishop of Lichfield, the Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and their staff for their hard work to get us to this point. The Society expects the new arrangements to operate in a broadly similar fashion to how the existing Provincial Episcopal Visitor (PEV) arrangements have operated up to now in Ebbsfleet and elsewhere with the additional benefit of local support at a diocesan level, as is the case with the See of Fulham under the London Plan. The next challenge is to make sure that the Society parishes in the South-West of England, which will be a three- to four-hour journey from the new Bishop of Oswestry’s permanent base in the Diocese of Lichfield, receive the level of support they need and options are current being explored to ensure that happens. We continue to pray for Society parishes in what is now the See of Oswestry.’
What is planned and how does it differ from the current arrangements? The See of Ebbsfleet in the Diocese of Canterbury will move from being a traditional catholic appointment for the western half of the southern province to a complementarian evangelical appointment for both provinces. The See of Oswestry, which is currently in abeyance, in the Diocese of Lichfield will be revived and will become the traditional catholic appointment for the western half of the southern province. The See of Maidstone in the Diocese of Canterbury will switch from being a complementarian evangelical appointment for both provinces to being a role whose remit is solely within the Diocese of Canterbury, should it be required for use by that diocese.
Won’t these changes cause some confusion? Naturally it will take us all some time to get used to the new arrangements but that’s not an insurmountable problem. Complementarian evangelicals have got used to Maidstone being ‘theirs’, just as traditional Catholics have got used to ‘Ebbsfleet’ being theirs, but we’re confident that people will adjust to the switching of names without too much difficulty. The advantages of the changes are that:
(i) Maidstone, as the county town of Kent, reverts to the Diocese of Canterbury (should it be needed) which covers a good proportion of that county. (ii) Complementarian evangelicals will get to use the site of the arrival of Augustine, who converted England to Christianity, as the name of their See.(iii) Traditional Catholics in the western half of the southern province will, for the first time, get to use a place name for their See which is actually in the area covered by the See.
What practical impact will it have on complementarian evangelical witness across the Church of England? It will have no practical impact. The complementary evangelical parishes will simply ask for oversight from the Bishop of Ebbsfleet rather than the Bishop of Maidstone. The current Bishop of Maidstone lives in Surrey which demonstrates the flexibility of the arrangements in place.
What practical impact will it have on Traditional Catholics across the western half of the Southern Province? There will be some positive impacts, we hope. The traditional catholic Bishop of Oswestry will serve within a college of bishops in the Diocese of Lichfield, benefitting from the fellowship and support that will bring. It is also envisaged that the Bishop of Oswestry will live within the area covered by the Diocese of Lichfield. Travelling time to Society parishes in the West Midlands will be greatly reduced. The new Bishop will be expected to set aside significant blocks of time in his diary to visit Society parishes in the South-West of England, particularly in the Diocese of Exeter, and will involve overnight stays in the area. Additional support for Society parishes in the South-West is also being explored.
Will the Archbishop of Canterbury oversee the appointment of the new Bishop of Oswestry? The Archbishop will be consulted on the appointment but it will be made by the Bishop of Lichfield in whose diocese it is. The advisory panel for the appointment includes a Society bishop, two Society priests and two Society laypeople, alongside those representing other Church of England traditions.
What will happen if the next Bishop of Lichfield is less sympathetic to Traditional Catholics than the current one? The next Bishop of Lichfield will be appointed in the full knowledge that the Oswestry arrangement is in place and would therefore be expected to be in strong support of its continued operation.
Will the new Bishop of Oswestry have regular one-to-ones with the Archbishop of Canterbury? Day-to-day oversight will be provided by the Bishop of Lichfield but there will be opportunities for one-to-one meetings with the Archbishop, given that the role extends beyond the Diocese of Lichfield into the other western dioceses of the Southern Province.
Given Oswestry’s close association with Wales, does this mean that the Bishop of Oswestry will also have a role within the Church in Wales? Oswestry sits very close to the border with Wales and has a long association with Wales but it will be a Church of England appointment with a remit exclusively within the Church of England. The Bishop of Oswestry will play no role within the Church in Wales.