Friday, 11 April 2014
Bishop of Oxford to retire in the autumn
John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, has announce that he will retire on 31 October 2014: Bishop John announces his retirement.
My list of current and forthcoming vacancies in diocesan sees is here.
Posted by Peter Owen on
Friday, 11 April 2014 at 11:26am BST
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Church of England
With Bishop John announcing his retirement that makes eight dioceses currently vacant, almost one fifth of the total! Perhaps it is now time for more amalgamations in order to reduce this number, especially now that the pool of those papabile is so very shallow.
Retiring at 66!! Makes you wonder if we need as many of the 'pointy hats', especially when there's more and more priests on part time hours because we can't afford to pay them.
Yes, John Deacon indisputably we are top heavy, no pun intended, with bishops in the Church of England both diocesans and their various suffragans and assistants. In all the schemes for reduction in the number of clergy, there are almost never any commensurate reductions in the number of bishops. The new super diocese in the north is one example, the Diocese of Southwark another. Then we are still supporting the 'flying' bishops.
In any other similarly staffed organisation there would be a cull of senior management.
Still look on the bright side all of the bishops claim to be extraordinarily busy, the clerical outfitters are enjoying a bonanza and we haven't quite reached the bishop to priest ratio of the Anglican Church of North America ... yet!
I'm interested in these calls for fewer bishops. Alongside an implicit suggestion that "pointy hats" are per se a bad thing, the only argument put forward yet is about the ratio of bishops to full time stipendiary clergy. Even if bishops spent most of their time overseeing licensed ministry, which they don't, reducing the latter to full time vicars would seem to be a fairly poor reflection on the increasingly rich and diverse pattern of ministry in the C of E, as would assuming the full time vicars "manage" the rest.
A better question is whether removing an episcopal post and utilising the resources freed up (roughly one more deployable priest plus cash to fund a lay post or two) would be more likely to grow the church, strengthen engagement in the public square and reimagine ministry (the current national priorities). My suspicion is that it would have the opposite effect. The church would be less visible, there would be reduced capacity to promote and guide strategic change, linking social capital would be depleted. In the short term it would also slow down the rate of change to a mixed gender College of Bishops. But I'd like to hear the counter arguments to this?
For years the debate in the Oxford diocese has been whether or not to have three counties within one diocese or split the diocese into three - Bucks, Berkshire and Oxon. as there are already three Area Bishops do we actually need to replace Bishop John? Surely one of the three Area Bishops could change his title and instead of being Bishop of Dorchester or Bishop of Reading, he could become Bishop of Oxford? I hesitate to suggest that the current arch liberal Bishop of Buckingham take the Oxon title ( if that were the case Soapy Sam would turn In his grave) .
Instead of reducing the number in the hierarchy the tendency today is to increase the number of Archdeacons, as is the case in the Chichester, Chelmsford and Lincoln dioceses. This is happening as the number of poor bloody foot soldiers at the coal face is ever diminishing.
The Bishop of Manchester seems to think that a bishop's role is to "promote and guide strategic change". Personally I always thought it was to be guardian of the Faith and be a pastor to the pastors.
Just one further point to add to David's contribution. At the recent conference in Canterbury for 'new' bishops from across the Communion, the vast majority I met, from across the whole world, had far fewer congregations and clergy under their care than any CofE bishop. There may of course be good reasons why the number should be reduced, but international comparison is not one of them, I think.
The Bishop of Oxford oversees 626 parishes (and obviously a smaller number of licensed ministers, but it's still a lot). If comparisons to other industries are the order of the day, that is a bizarrely and impractically flat management structure, not a top heavy one. The comparison is skewed by the complex slicing and dicing of roles and responsibilities that are interleaved between diocesan bishop and parish: Area Bishops, Archdeacons, Area Deans, etc. To my mind it is a problem that there are too few diocesan bishops to have a meaningful pastoral relationship with their clergy.
At a strategic level, however, the C of E is indeed top heavy: 42 strategists is ridiculously too many. By way of an example, the police force in England is divided into a similar number of 39 forces, and has been called by David Cameron and others 'the last great unreformed public service'. Any thoroughgoing, no-holds-barred reform of the C of E would surely have to consider a smaller number of regional groupings with strategic responsibility (ie provinces headed by archbishops), freeing the bishops to be pastors and collapsing Archdeacons and other such roles into the office of bishop.
The authority to make such a thing happen is unfortunately too widely dispersed, and the status quo too firmly entrenched, and so it would presumably never happen unless or until some kind of financial or other meltdown is imminent.
Sorry, but if your bishops in the C of E are just area managers, then your theology of the threefold ministry is seriously skewed and you may as well go to some standard Protestant system with far more modest theological claims for what bishops are actually about (most of them cost less, too).
I think we need to get back to the origins of the episcopacy - one of the college of presbyters becoming the lead pastor in what was essentially one extended congregation in a city and the surrounding region. I think that model needs to be revisited, and to my mind that means more bishops (but not more cathedrals, diocesan structures, palaces etc.), not less.
Here in the Diocese of Edmonton in western Canada we have one bishop for fifty-five parishes, which is just about an average size for our part of the world (our neighbour diocese to the north has far less, our neighbour to the south somewhat more). Of course, it takes about seven hours, with the cruise control set at 110 km/h, to drive from the west side of the diocese to the east, so that may be a factor.
As a foreign priest who visits the C of E occasionally, what I notice is not the outrageous number of bishops but the huge numbers of people who seem to work as diocesan staff. When I was in the Diocese of the Arctic (geographically one of the largest dioceses in the Anglican Communion) we had three diocesan staff, including the bishop.
Well written, Tim Chesterton, this Blog has had more than a few comments referring to modern day bishops as "company men" which to my way of thinking misses the point completely as to the real function of bishops within the Church, Bishop Walker's comment about bishops exercising guidance over "strategic change" underlines just how much we have erred and strayed from the real and true function of bishops in the Early Church. The sooner we get back to the Scriptural understanding of what bishops do and what bishops are for then the sooner we start to grow again as a Church.
The number of archdeacons in the Diocese of Lincoln has indeed increased to three (reverting to the arrangements between 1933 and 1994). But the number of suffragan bishops has reduced from two to one and the archdeacons also carry diocese-wide responsibilities (discipleship, ministry and church buildings/parish operations) that might otherwise have required staff appointments.
The intention of this is simple: to strengthen and support the front line ministry of the parishes. And there is also a clear commitment to increase the number of stipendiary parish clergy.
Thank you Tim for updating us on the current situation in the diocese of Lincoln. However, I think it rather unfair that Grantham is losing its Suffragan Bishop and Grimsby is retaining theirs. Would it not have been wise and thus avoid any north/south rivalry within the diocese to reject both Grantham and Grimsby and have a completely new title for the next Suffragan Bishop? A couple of suggestions spring immediately to mind. How about the Bishop of Boothby Graffoe or maybe the Bishop of Carlton Scroop. Or if the diocese is the first (as it is with regard to being the first to have a Gay married priest) to have a woman bishop then how about the Bishop of Mavis Enderby?
The CNC is taking the view (correctly) that it cannot consider women candidates for a diocesan see until the law is changed. Oxford joins at the back of the queue, and will be lucky to have its CNC meetings much before Easter 2015. However, it is now one of three dioceses that should be able to consider women candidates, the other two being Southwell and Nottingham and Gloucester. In a diocese like Oxford with a really strong area scheme, the inherent lack of episcopal experience will not be an issue. A woman priest with good pastoral experience and an affinity with higher education would be excellent. Ideas on a postcard please!
I wonder that nobody has suggested that this gives the CNC a chance to right an historic injustice and offer the See to the man who was forced out of Reading.
Well suggested Commentator, it would be good for Oxford to have an academic bishop and Jeffrey John fits the bill admirably. It would also warm the heart of John Pritchard's immediate predecessor, who wanted Jeffrey John as one of his Area Bishops originally but then, all he'll broke loose, especially among the Evangelicals within the Oxford diocese.
As a "trad Catholic" within the diocese, I was saddened to hear the rumours of Bishop John's early retirement confirmed. I hope that his successor won't be appointed for any sort of tokenism. Indeed, I rather hope that the Bishop of Dorchester will be translated. Very few of my hopes come to fruition, though.
Richard, it is very rare for a Suffragan or Area Bishop to be preferred in order to become Diocesan Bishop within the same diocese. I can think only of Penrith to the present Carlisle and Stepney to the present London.
"A woman priest with good pastoral experience and an affinity with higher education would be excellent. Ideas on a postcard please!"
Well, Anthony, while it would greatly upset my friends in the Waikato Diocese (and let me assure them, I am not really serious here), the CNC might like to look in the direction of Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley. She has deep Oxford roots and teaching experience in two theological colleges. By the time the CNC get around to considering the matter, she will have had over a year as Bishop of Waikato, or rather more than Justin Welby had in Durham. Just a thought.
Edward (Prebble). You just leave Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley precisely where she is, thankyou. Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand her spiritual and tutorial gifts are truly appreciated. That is why ACANZP made her Bishop of Waikato.
On the other hand, Edward, you could offer yourself!
Thanks for the last six posts on this important aspect of the impending vacancy in the See of Oxford. I take a particular interest, as it was my privilege to be a central member of the CNC when the then Bishop of Jarrow was nominated, and what an excellent diocesan bishop he will have been. Forgive my prejudice as to the identity of his successor but, stating the obvious, the current Dean of St Albans is a man, as is the excellent Bishop of Dorchester, both papabile. It would not be fair to either the Diocese of Waikato or its new bishop to bring her back to the Church of England so soon (why would she want to come?) and it should not be lost on those who do the homework and follow these matters that she was born in 1973. There is time on her side, as we say. There are plenty of interesting candidates among the women who are currently deans and archdeacons, not forgetting some who are current or former Oxbridge chaplains. The landscape is changing. Time to get real here, although it will be a generation before we are genuinely gender blind as to the identity of bishops, suffragan or diocesan.
Ron, I am touched that you would consider it appropriate for moi to offer myself for Bishop of Oxford, but I possess few of the attributes that Anthony Archer was asking for. I am not a woman priest, and I have negligible experience in theological education. What is more, I am only three years younger than John Pritchard. Still, I suppose I do have a pretty fair pastoral experience, and I have visited Oxford on at least two occasions, so if the Spirit urges you to offer my name to the CNC, then (to quote Pope Francis in a different context)who am I to judge?
I don't think that our six CofE female Deans and our numerous formidable female Archdeacons would smile favourably upon a young bright antipodean diocesan becoming the Established Church's Número Uno female episkopos; they all having born the burden of the heat of the day in the long struggle to break though the stained glass ceiling. Besides, the smile on Justin's face during the now infamous wireless interview when asked to give a name is an indication that he knows exactly who she is going to be but he ain't telling!
As for Father Ron's final suggestion to fill the impending Oxon vacancy - is it time to start an ABP campaign (Anyone But Prebble). It's not that I have ever met Father Edward but I am becoming a little alarmed by all these suggestions concerning a Kiwi take over of the Church of England.
May I in all humility offer my services as patron of your ABP campaign?
Fr. Edward, as a result of your recent comment I hear by cancel my ABP campaign (all cheques and cash so far received will be non returnable) because of your great expression of humility. That's exactly what we need more of on the English Bench - Humility. So hopefully you will now apply for the soon to be vacant Oxford diocese and I will set up a new campaign VFP (Vote For Prebble).
Apparently in the interviews (that it should come to something as vulgar as this, that prospective candidates are interviewed for vacant bishoprics. Far rather the Coptic way that three names are placed in a goldfish bowl and a blindfolded choir boy (or girl) picks out a name.) for Cantuar ++Justin was asked "Why do you want to be Archbishop of Canterbury?" He wisely replied "I don't!" And thus was given the job. Now that's what I call humility.
Fr David 14 April
". . it is very rare for a Suffragan or Area Bishop to be preferred in order to become Diocesan Bishop within the same diocese. "
It's happened twice in Wakefield.
Campbell Hone was the first Bp of Pontefract 1931 - 1938, then Bp of Wakefield 1938 - 1945.
From 1931 to 1968, Bp of Pontefract was also Archdeacon of Pontefract.
Eric Treacy held four of the five senior diocesan positions - he did not become Provost of the Cathedral: he was Archdeacon of Halifax 1949 - 1961, Bp of Pontefract (and also Archdeacon) 1961 - 1968, Bp of Wakefield 1968 - 1971.
John, I didn't know about Campbell Hone but I did know of Eric Treacy's elevation. I also knew that Bishop Walsham How was offered Durham but opted to stay at Wakefield (I wonder what he would think about the disappearance of his diocese?). Although many of those who followed Bishop Eric went on to serve in other dioceses. Colin James to Winchester, David Hope to London, then York and Nigel McCulloch to Manchester.