Anna Arco at the Catholic Herald has interviewed Andrew Burnham formerly Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
There is a feature article based on the interview: ‘What we asked for is what we got’
You can read a complete transcript of the interview here.
Here is a sample passage:
You said before you were basically setting up the See of Ebbsfleet. What does that mean?
My predecessor, Michael Houghton, who died after a year (which is of course why they were nervous about me), had taken to calling it the See of Ebbsfleet as if it were a proper diocese. And I took the view that what we were aiming to be was a diocese, an orthodox diocese: bishop, priests, deacons, and laypeople. And therefore that, even though we weren’t an actual diocese, we should organise ourselves as if we were. So I wrote a pastoral letter to the people every month, more or less every month for 10 years. I had a council of priests. This was before anyone else was doing this sort of thing. I had a lay council and a lay congress. I had deaneries, with clergy organised in deaneries for pastoral care.
We did all this as if we were setting out to be a diocese, which irritated people no end. It was done in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury because it was all about how best to care for people. And the apologia I gave was that of the Apostolic District, which was the term in canon law to describe a group that is not yet a diocese but might become so and has an apostolic administrator. Of course an administration, a jurisdiction, was the one thing we weren’t. We didn’t have the legal authority to do any of it. But that was what we were in search of becoming. And it fitted in with the Forward in Faith Free Province rhetoric and fitted what we needed to survive in the Church of England. It was a good way to organise people and get them to move forward together.
Of course my dream would have been that when I said: “We’re going to submit to the Holy See.” Everyone would have followed me and done so that the priests, the churches and congregations would do so en bloc, which they haven’t.
It irritated people, but it did give us a real coherence and cohesion, and it meant that such things as evangelism and mission were always at the forefront of the agenda. And we had a children’s and young people’s eucharistic festival at Brean Sands, Somerset every year with 700 kids coming together for the day. We had parish evangelism weekends to train up younger leaders to replace the older men and women who were struggling to keep their churches going.
I’m very proud of all that and it was all very good. Except that at the end we couldn’t all move forward together, which is the sadness. Partly it was because some priests are too afraid of doing it. Partly it was because of the issue of buildings. Partly it was because for congregations, provided they’ve got that nice Bishop so-and-so and that nice Father so-and-so the ecclesiology is neither here nor there.
And partly it was because the really vigorous parishes, of which there were some, don’t grow because people debate women’s ordination, gay marriage or any other issues of the day. They grow because they simply get people coming together as community. Who knows why they get together? One wouldn’t dream of asking them because you might get the wrong answer. For all sorts of reasons, therefore, going forward together hasn’t quite worked, neither on my side of the country, the West and South West, nor elsewhere.