Thinking Anglicans

Radical proposals for the role of bishops

Updated

On Monday, Kaya Burgess published an exclusive report in The Times, provocatively headlined Behold the Bishop of Brexit as church models itself on politics, and there was also a leader article The Church should eschew the temptations of political intervention. There was then a follow-up report on Tuesday (today): Church of England: Brexit bishop idea fails to inspire clergy. All this refers to an as yet unpublished document presented to the College of Bishops  last September.

The above items are of course behind a paywall. Fortunately, the Church Times (some free access permitted) has now published a detailed analysis of the same original document. This gives a clearer account of the document, and makes it sound more sensible than earlier reports had suggested. I recommend reading the CT article carefully:

Madeleine Davies Fewer dioceses, specialist bishops: Archbishops’ confidential paper revealed in detail.

Update 12 February

The Church Times has: Leader comment: Bishops in the driving seat.

The text of the consultation document (PDF) is now available here.

Further update: The full text of the consultation has also been published by the Church Times here.

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Kate
Kate
3 months ago

The Church Times reporting makes it sound more sensible. Until the full report is published (having been leaked it would surely make sense to publish it as soon as possible) it is difficult to comment in detail. One component, however, seems to be missing: do we need archbishops and the two provinces if we move to much larger regional dioceses? It appears to me that there is no longer much difference between the Bishop of London and the metropolitans which suggests to me that we could dispense with the Archbishop of Canterbury and York and their associated costs. If there… Read more »

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

Try the Scottish Episcopal Model and elect a Primus!
Jonathan

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
3 months ago

Or the official Scottish model and dispense with them altogether!

Richard
Richard
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

Each archbishop is primarily the bishop of the diocese of Canterbury or York, is he not? They are, ex officio, metropolitans of one of the two ecclesiastical provinces. The C of E would still need a primate. Canterbury and York long argued over which would hold the primacy, and the “Canterbury question” resulted in the two primates (all England and England) which we now have. It seems you are advocating eliminating the provinces. I wonder what that would accomplish.

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
3 months ago

I have written about this on my blog. The Times’ take is entirely skewed… http://petebroadbentmusings.blogspot.com/2022/02/rethinking-episcopacy.html

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
3 months ago

Thank you. That sounds very sensible.

But your point about being above challenge applies also to the metropolitans and that needs to be addressed too. If there were 14 strong dioceses, the provinces would seem to be unnecessary.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
3 months ago

Agreed. But the examples given of non-territorial bishops – “a Brexit bishop; or a Covid bishop” – were always going to be click-bait to journalists and below-the-line commentators in the Times. Matthew 10:16 anyone?

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
Reply to  Allan Sheath
3 months ago

Quite. Daft kite-flying. Not the sort of examples I would adduce. Portfolios are not the same as specialist posts.

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
3 months ago

In my haste to comment on the upcoming vacancy in the See of Kingston (see related TA thread today), I might usefully have noted what Pete said in his submission to the College of Bishops’ consultation, namely that London and Southwark dioceses need to be considered together. Despite the demographics, and each having well developed area schemes, it is hard to justify, in Southwark’s case, an episcopal team of four.

Froghole
Froghole
3 months ago

This is long overdue recognition that the the shift to create new dioceses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a mistake, especially when those dioceses were insufficiently endowed, as they invariably were. For example, Birmingham diocese only became more plausible when Charles Gore received an inheritance of £10,000 (now about £800k) from his mother in 1905. It also indicates that Darwinism is the default doctrine of ecclesial ecology(!). It is not only that parishes who cannot support themselves must die. The same is true of dioceses. If 27 cannot subsist then the 27 will fall. This principle… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Froghole
Kate
Kate
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

There is one problem which you are overlooking. Many people (I agree not all) are more likely to give generously if they know what their donation will be spent on. Parish shares diminish the link between giving and outcome, which is possibly one factor in the reduction in giving. We see churches like St Helen’s Bishopgate attracting a lot of giving. That’s partly being in an affluent area, but I think donors also have a clear sense of how their money will be used. Centralising funds will further attenuate the link between giving and purpose – donors will have very… Read more »

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

Good point, but this can be dealt with by making parish shares transparent. All parishes should be charged the full cost of their priests (c.£60k) plus a maximum of 10% for admin costs, with a substantial (say 50%) reduction for UPA’s. Parishes who can’t or won’t pay can have lay or non-stipendiary ministry, or form partnerships with other parishes.

I agree with Froghole that transferring the administrative functions of dioceses to the commissioners would be a very good idea. I suspect there are too many vested interests for this to happen.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Sam Jones
3 months ago

Where would we be now if St Paul, St Peter, and the rest had only gone to those towns and cities which could and would pay them a full stipend? Still dancing round oak trees and worshipping Eostre, probably. Many poorer parishes, especially those in what used to be called Urban Priority Areas, are precisely those in which the level of education and literacy – and confidence – isn’t high. They are the parishes which need ministry resourced from the central Church. If we abandon them to their own devices or ‘what they can afford’, we betray both them and… Read more »

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

I specifically said UPA parishes should pay lower parish shares with support from the centre. But most parishes should be expected to pay their way. There are some dioceses where a majority of parishes are subsidised. This is completely unsustainable.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Sam Jones
3 months ago

But you also said, ‘Parishes who can’t or won’t pay can have lay or non-stipendiary ministry, or form partnerships with other parishes.’

And how many UPA parishes can stump up c. £33k for a priest?

Maybe we should have ‘mission parishes’ funded from the centre rather than by dioceses. Some dioceses, e.g. Manchester, have more than their share of UPA parishes and few historic resources. 

Froghole
Froghole
3 months ago

Another point worth making with respect to the CT report is the slightly surprising announcement that the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester are likely to be amalgamated. Until recently Rochester was my home diocese, and I was asked to present a history of it to my then parish in 2004 (the 1,400th anniversary). One of the reasons I started my bizarre nationwide pilgrimage was to get to know the Rochester diocese, and I was ashamed that there were many places, some only a few miles away from an area I had lived in for most of my life of which… Read more »

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
3 months ago

I am sure Gareth Millar’s suggestions about regional groupings has featured on TA. If pushed I would prefer bigger groups of dioceses collaborating. If the bishops want to talk amongst/about themselves about this that’s fine. It’s good coffee break material. But any serious attempt to redefine episcopal ministry must begin with consultation at parish/frontline level. Starting with 42 exhausted and Welbified diocesans is not the way to obtain a balanced picture of what is and is not working. It’s not good enough to say that the clergy and laity will be brought into the discussion later in the process. That… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
3 months ago

I am not a fan of the purple circle discussing things in private but in this particular case it might have been sensible. Getting half (or more) of the diocesans to give up their power is a delicate thing and letting them get used to the idea away from the glare of publicity was probably helpful.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
3 months ago

Looking for that ‘like’ button; you are on it Stephen.That top-down approach and attitude- so last Century, or pre-Reformation. How many Popes, and Suffragan Popes on a pinhead- 42, 142, higher, lower … What do the ‘people in the pew/ upholstered chair’ let alone at home churched or Ikead’ want? What does research tell us? Wellbeing or Wellbying?

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
3 months ago

A thought that has come to me this morning in all this if we look back at the history of dis-establishment in both the Church of Ireland and the Church in Wales, it meant that both these churches were dis-endowered. I wonder if there is some kind of prophetic foresight going on here that goes well beyond Covid 19 and the financial implications, that perhaps both Archbishops are facing the uncomfortable fact and reality that in the future whatever people think about it, the Church of England will in the end be dis-established as well as dis-endowered and at some… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
3 months ago

Many thanks. For some time I have been ranting about disendowment. In Ireland the Church lost all of its endowments on the basis that, for the vast majority, it was an ‘alien’ church which had extorted money from a recidivist population. In Wales the Church lost all of its pre-1662 endowments (the great majority) on the basis that it was a sect that had lost the support of the bulk of the population, and which had also extorted funds from them; the money was the ‘patrimony of the people’ and should be returned to them for educational purposes (via local… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

Sorry, I had not looked properly at the law since 2018. Section 5 (4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 states that: “The Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day.” Therefore ‘fair value’ might be less of an issue than was the case prior to demission. This is especially germane to the proposal that the administrative and financial functions of dioceses be liquidated and their assets transferred to the Commissioners, who would then run the Church: the transfer would also be an offset or compensation for the partial disendowment proposed. A… Read more »

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

This is very interesting Froghole from the Legal point of view, and with the various acts mentioned, it can be a Legal minefield ! Jonathan

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

I wonder how ‘radical’ these proposals really are. If there is no willingness to question how many bishops we need, then all this is just so much window dressing. With clergy numbers being cut in various parts of the country, how can we justify keeping so many bishops?

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

Because bishops are funded by the Commissioners who are rolling it in, whereas clergy drones like us are funded by the parishes, most of which are not. “Simples” as Aleksandr Orlov might say (btw have you noticed how much the ABC looks like Mr Orlov? I’ve never seen them in the same room, so there are questions to be answered. Churches and lowly clergy may perish, but the house of bishops constant will remain – as pointed out in Michael Hampson’s prescient book of 2006 “Last Rites: The End of the Church of England“.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
3 months ago

“Leadership” is the great scourge of the modern C of E, all of it funded by the Commissioners: bishops, archdeacons, assistant archdeacons, transition-enabling archdeacons, full-time area deans, directors of new worshipping communities, directors of healthy churches, operations managers, advisors for this and mentors for that. The Commissioners are indeed rolling in it, but have no idea how to use their wealth usefully.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

The Commissioners do not fund archdeacons, area deans and the like. They fund bishops, and the dean and two canons at cathedrals. They do fund special projects, and that does include funding people working on those projects.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

For some reason I thought archdeacons were funded by the Commissioners. My mistake. However, my understanding is that the new phenomenon of full-time area deans in some dioceses is funded by the Strategic Transformation Fund, as are the assorted varieties of assistant archdeacons. Other ‘leadership roles’ such as director of new worshipping communities, director of healthy churches etc, such as we have in this diocese, are funded by the SDF. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Commissioners will fund anything but parish clergy.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

That is absolutely the right conclusion. The great scandal of the Welby era will be that the Church Commissioners’ wealth grew indecently while parish ministry was left to wither.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

We’re all in it together. If their objectives only allow them to be reactive then the bodies that have failed to ask for support are at fault. If they are permitted to be proactive and fail to see the problems that are besetting the C of E, and provide solutions, then they take a share of the blame.

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

I forgot to link this for the ABC/Orlov mystery: https://ramblingrector.me/2013/05/13/a-simples-problem-for-justin/

David Lamming
David Lamming
3 months ago

Thank you, Simon, for posting the full ‘confidential’ briefing document on the TA website for anyone to read in full. As the Revd Marcus Walker said in a speech at General Synod on Thursday (10 February) during the debate on the Governance Review Group report (GS2239), Synod needed to see the proposals in the briefing document, a copy of which he had obtained (courtesy of The Times) and waved in the air to show to Synod members, and upon which, he said, “the future of our episcopally-led and synodically-governed church rests“, which Synod had not had sight of but which,… Read more »

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  David Lamming
3 months ago

Contrary to what many may expect, I find much to commend in this ‘consultative’ document, dated September 2021. It could, and should have been published back then, certainly in time to have an informed discussion at last weeks’ meeting of General Synod- a sense of ‘direction of travel’ from this ‘workstream’.[Direction in the geograhic rather than management sense?]
Looking forward to seeing fruit-bearing consultations from the Dioceses Commission soon.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

I am worried. A consultation that began with bishops talking to the people of their dioceses would not produce the concerns or proposals in this document. The church is absent from the discussion while the bishops reorganise themselves and us. I am particularly worried about statements like ‘Each bishop should have access to a small team to help develop mission in their area.’ Bishops: the clergy and laity of your diocese are your team. But of course if episcopal ministry and the House/College of Bishops are a separate enterprise from the work of the diocese, it all makes sense. It… Read more »

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