As evangelicals we have, generally, been strong on the crucial task of defending the faith but less careful and serious about articulating and upholding order. However, faith and order, though distinct, cannot be separated. Disregard for good order is a serious matter in the church as the apostolic witness of the New Testament makes clear. Recent events raise a host of important questions in relation to evangelicals and godly order.
What has happened?
(For a fuller summary of details in the public domain and background information on various matters see appendix below).
It has been clear for a while that it was probably only a matter of time before conservative Anglicans elsewhere in the world intervened in response to concerns of those in England, particularly those already outside CofE structures, for some form of Anglican episcopal oversight.
On 29th April, the GAFCON Primates announced that (in a meeting involving at least 4 clergy and bishops from the CofE) they had “decided to consecrate a missionary bishop who will be tasked with providing episcopal leadership for those who are outside the structures of any Anglican province, especially in Europe”. Just over a week later, on 8th May, news broke that a bishop had already been consecrated but not by, or with the formal approval of GAFCON, GAFCON UK, AMiE (though the person consecrated is on the AMiE Exec) or any Communion province.
The consecrating church was REACH SA (the Reformed Evangelical Church of South Africa), the denomination formerly known as and still legally constituted as the Church of England in South Africa (CESA). The CofE is not in communion with CESA but recognises its orders and CESA’s constitution opens with an unalterable preamble and declaration stating it is “desiring to remain in faithful fellowship with the Church of England as by law established in England” and “will ever remain and be in communion with Churches maintaining communion with the Church of England so long as communion is consistent with the solemn declarations set forth in this chapter”. Nor is CESA part of the Anglican Communion or represented among GAFCON Primates although it has sent representatives to GAFCON.
The new bishop was Jonathan Pryke, a long-serving minister at Jesmond Parish Church (JPC), Newcastle. He was consecrated, just three days after the GAFCON Primates Statement, on May 2nd, St Athanasius (“Contra Mundum”) Day, a reassuring sign that evangelicals if not always concerned about order still pay some attention to the church calendar.
The location was not a total surprise. JPC has been in impaired communion with their diocesan bishop for many years; its Vicar, David Holloway, has long campaigned for a new pattern of episcopacy and against the direction of the CofE and the approach of Keele evangelicalism; the church already has a small number of plants outside the CofE, and it has longstanding links with REACH SA/CESA who have ordained men for it in the past. Recent events seem to arise from conversations at a late February Conference and an early March PCC resolution. The extent of wider advance knowledge in AMiE, GAFCON UK and GAFCON remains unclear although the former Archbishop of Sydney appears to have been consulted which is not a surprise given the historic connections between Sydney and CESA.
Disorder in CofE?
Clearly there are major questions here in relation to order within the Church of England and this pattern of choosing and then consecrating a bishop in the church of God. JPC rightly point out that there are several precedents of parish priests in the CofE being bishops of another church. There are, not, I believe any precedents for a number of key elements in what has seemingly happened here:
- a stipendiary CofE parish priest with a licence from the diocesan bishop
- being selected by private conversations among self-selected individuals from a number of conservative evangelical networks in the church (but not formally involving AMiE, the nearest those networks have to a formal ecclesial structure) and supported by one PCC
- being consecrated by bishops of a church we are not in communion with (although we recognise its orders)
- without even informing the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a general intent to proceed in this way let alone the specific decision to select and consecrate an individual
- expecting to continue to minister both as a priest within the Church of England
- and as a bishop of this other church but within the jurisdiction of Church of England bishops and explicitly with the stress on episcopal ministry meaning that “the main thing that is significantly different now as far as Jonathan is concerned is that Jonathan can ordain men for the ministry, whereas other presbyter/priests of us involved in evangelism cannot”.
The situation does, though, appear to be governed by the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967 Section 4. This relates to “An overseas bishop or a bishop consecrated in a Church not in Communion with the Church of England whose Orders are recognised and accepted by the Church of England”. Such a bishop “may, on the request and by the commission in writing of the bishop of a diocese in the province of Canterbury or York, and with the consent and licence in writing of the Archbishop of the province, ordain persons and perform other episcopal functions in that diocese”. However, “if any overseas bishop performs any episcopal functions in a diocese in the province of Canterbury or York, otherwise than in accordance with this section, he shall be guilty of an offence against the laws ecclesiastical for which proceedings may be taken under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963” (though the EJM is so cumbersome it is highly unlikely to be used).
Disorder in REACH SA/CESA?
There are, however, not only questions as to how the newly consecrated bishop might exercise episcopal ministry in England while serving within the CofE. Questions also appear necessary about how the consecration relates to order within REACH SA/CESA. It appears that:
- The consecration was by the Presiding Bishop of REACH SA
- The ceremony was according to the REACH SA consecration Holy Communion service
- Only REACH SA bishops took part. The number is unspecified but one assumes there were two of the other 5 current CESA bishops (or perhaps a retired bishop) alongside the Presiding Bishop. This is required in the service (“presented by two other bishops standing before the Presiding Bishop”). Were there to be less than three bishops consecrating then the consecration would mark a break with the norm of three bishops since the early church (and some have presumed that this tradition is why the consecration is part of an acknowledged plan to have three bishops in England consecrated by overseas bishops – so they could then together consecrate further bishops without going abroad, following the pattern in the US in the 18th century after Independence when the first three consecrations took place in Scotland and England).
- The oath of “all due reverence and obedience” was, however, not to the Presiding Bishop of REACH SA but to “bishops and other chief ministers” under whom Jonathan is set. Jesmond Parish Church refers to “a dispersed responsibility and duty” identifying three parties: the Bishop of Newcastle (in things temporal – presumably a reference to the desire to maintain his licence in the diocese), “the vicar of Jesmond and where there is united agreement, to the Jesmond PCC” (in relation to JPC) and “one of the participating REACH SA bishops” (probably Martin Morrison, simply pastorally).
All this raises a number of interesting legal and ecclesiological questions in relation to proper process within the order of REACH SA.
The service order reportedly used can be found on pp. 171-174 of The Handbook of Procedures for the Church of England in South Africa and includes:
The chancellor, or his nominee, reads the authority for the consecration and the bishop elect makes the required oath and declarations.
It is not clear what form this took, under what authority the consecration took place, or exactly what oaths (the summary above suggests it was not the usual required oath) and declarations were made (though see likely declaration quoted below).
The examination by the Presiding Bishop begins:
Brother, Holy Scripture and the ancient canons command that we should not be hasty in laying on hands, and admit any one to authority in the Church Christ bought with the price of His own blood. Therefore, before I admit you to this ministry I will examine you that this congregation may hear from your own mouth, and can witness to your testimony.
Bishop: Are you certain that you are truly called to this office and ministry according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ and the order of the Church of England in South Africa?
Answer: I am certain
What is “the order of the Church of England in South Africa”? Their constitution, including the canons clarify a number of relevant areas.
In relation to appointments, Canon V(6) reads
Except in case of emergency, no person shall be appointed to officiate in any Church, Congregation, Theological College or Training Institution unless he is a member of the Church of England in South Africa and he has been duly licensed by the Presiding Bishop, provided that he shall, before being licensed, sign the following declaration:
“I, ............................................................................ solemnly promise to adhere to the Constitution of the Church of England in South Africa and to receive as authoritative the standards of faith and doctrine as contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, all forms of services, and discipline of the Church in accordance with that Constitution and all subsequent amendments thereto. I acknowledge that the vows I took when I was made a deacon/ordained a presbyter/consecrated a bishop are binding on me. I further solemnly promise to acknowledge the authority and to carry out the decisions of Synod and the lawful instructions of the officers of the Church, and to work for the peaceful and Christian fellowship of the Church, its Clergy, Synod members and all Churches. I further solemnly declare that if at any time hereafter while holding office in the Church I no longer hold to the doctrines contained in the 39 Articles of Religion or no longer accept the authority of Synod or the lawfully appointed officers of the Church, provided that they continue to act in accordance with the terms and spirit of the Constitution of the Church or if I depart from the spirit and letter of the vows taken I shall resign from the Church of England in South Africa and any of its Churches within thirty days of being called upon to do so by the Synod, or the Presiding Bishop and/or Area Bishop acting in consultation with the Executive Committee of the Church, or by majority vote of the Council or congregation of the Church to which I belong and I shall vacate and return any property of the Church of England in South Africa or any of its Churches which I may be occupying or holding whether officially or personally within the aforesaid period of thirty days.”
The importance of this is shown in Canon XVII on Order which sets out procedures to follow “if the Presiding Bishop, or in his absence, an Area Bishop is notified that any person is acting contrary to his Declaration in terms of Canon V (6)….”. This is because “The vows taken when a person is made a Deacon, ordained a Presbyter or Consecrated a Bishop are a public affirmation of the undertakings he makes and any deviation from those vows shall constitute an offence as envisaged in this Canon”
Article IX of the Constitution relates to bishops and includes the following requirements which are consistent with wider practice within Anglicanism (see also summary at pp 24-25 of the Handbook):
“A Bishop of the Church shall be elected from licensed Presbyters of the Church of England by the General Synod, Clergy and Laity voting separately by ballot and a majority being required in each case”.
“No election of a licensed Presbyter to the office of Bishop shall be held unless notice in writing proposing the holding of such an election is given by the Proposer of such Presbyter to the Administrative Officer at least three months before the sitting of the next Synod. Notice of a proposed election of a bishop shall be given by the Administrative Officer to all Constituent, Daughter and National Churches at least three months prior to the Synod where such an election is to take place”.
“Every Bishop shall be appointed by Synod to have the oversight of particular Churches in an area and shall be known as an Area Bishop”.
It is currently unclear whether any of these constitutional requirements for a CESA bishop have been met. If even one of them was not complied with then it would seem that the participating bishops of REACH SA acted without due regard for their own constitution in selecting and consecrating Jonathan Pryke. It is therefore not impossible that what we are dealing with is two or three bishops of a church responding to a request (from one parish and some like-minded clergy in the CofE) for someone who can ordain presbyters and priests within England and doing so without reference to the wider church in which they serve and its constitution. Then, using an adapted form of their denomination’s liturgy, in a non-publicised service, they consecrated a bishop whose episcopal ministry has no legal standing in any wider ecclesial structure and is unlikely to be able to be legally exercised in England while the person continues to serve within the CofE.
[As I was about to publish this I discovered that REACH SA has just issued a statement which, reading between the lines, given the distancing ["It is noted that bishops...participated in...."] and emphasis on "longstanding friendship and theological affinity", "a personal request" and "according to the REACH-SA bishops’ conscience and theological judgment" suggests the above analysis that this was without reference to the REACH SA's order and constitution and simply a decision of the two or three bishops involved, perhaps without even consulting fellow REACH SA bishops, is largely accurate]
This consecration has many unfortunate echoes of those at the start of the long unravelling process of The Episcopal Church (USA). It is often forgotten that this began before Gene Robinson’s election and consecration and the departures of parishes, clergy and eventually dioceses, to overseas bishops and the consecration of American priests as bishops by overseas provinces.
In early 2000, two conservative American parish priests, without the wider support even of formal conservative networks in the US, were secretly consecrated as bishops (though by two Primates of Communion provinces unlike here) to serve in the US (including in dioceses with conservative bishops). This famously led the Canadian Primate to comment that “bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression” and censure from Archbishop George Carey. It also soon became clear that the Primate of South East Asia had acted without following due process in relation to his own province’s canons.
This was the birth of AMiA and the seeds sown there, while producing much good fruit on the ground in local churches, mission and church planting, have led to ongoing serious problems in relation to order and difficult often broken personal relationships. Throughout its history there have been recurring conflicts, confusion and further fractures with conservatives within ECUSA (notably in South Carolina), within AMiA itself, particularly between one of those originally consecrated bishops and the province of Rwanda in which he formally served, and with the wider orthodox movement in the US now embodied in the much more orderly ACNA. This is not a happy precedent to be following.
In terms of order, there could still be at least one positive consequence of all this mess and confusion and the warning signs it gives of repeating the North American conflicts not just within the CofE but among orthodox evangelical Anglicans in England who are eager to support one another even when following different paths of visible differentiation from parts of the wider church. Could GAFCON now pause and take time to learn some lessons and consult more widely about its own plans for a missionary bishop and how they relate to catholic and evangelical faith and order? Can we find a way of understanding episcopal ministry in the context of impaired communion among Anglicans, both nationally and globally, perhaps learning from wider ecumenical relationships?
Among the large number of questions about order raised by the Jesmond consecration that need to be considered are:
- If a serving priest in the CofE is to be consecrated what responsibility – legal and moral – do they have to inform the bishop under whom they currently serve and to whom they owe canonical obedience?
- Is the consecration regular within the order of the church whose bishops consecrate?
- Can a province in communion with the CofE consecrate someone to serve as a bishop in England without first either reaching an agreement (as Uganda did with London in relation to Sandy Millar) or formally, by due process, declaring impaired or broken communion?
- Could that declaration be in relation to a specific bishop within the CofE or would it be in relation to the whole of the CofE?
- Is there not a responsibility to take time to seek to restore communion once it is declared impaired rather than immediately consecrating a new bishop?
- Can/how can someone serve both as a priest acting under the canonical authority of a CofE bishop while at the same time exercising an episcopal ministry in England not authorised by the CofE?
- If that is not possible does being consecrated not effect a definite break with the CofE?
- Can the claimed distinction being drawn between spiritual and temporal authority be used to justify this and similar actions?
- Can/how can someone be a serving bishop and yet simultaneously under the authority of the Incumbent and PCC of a parish church which is under the authority of a different bishop?
- Of which church is the bishop a bishop and what canons are they bound to obey?
It would be of great value if, before GAFCON proceeds with its plans, serious consideration and public answers could be given to these and other important questions relating to order. If GAFCON (and AMiE) conclude they must still consecrate their own proposed missionary bishop(s) then having done this work and shared it with others in advance would be very helpful and encouraging. It would also help those of us who share their concerns about the historic faith and possible developments in the CofE to be more understanding of their actions even if, in part because we care not just about faith but also about godly order, we don’t believe them to be right.
Appendix – Timetable of Events
As announced on 29th April, after a meeting in Nigeria (24-28 April), the GAFCON Primates “decided to consecrate a missionary bishop who will be tasked with providing episcopal leadership for those who are outside the structures of any Anglican province, especially in Europe”. The meeting involved not just GAFCON Primates but, from the photograph, at least four clergy from the Church of England: Bishops Wallace Benn and Michael Nazir-Ali (President of the GAFCON UK Panel of Reference) and Andy Lines (General Secretary of AMiE and Chair of its Executive Committee and a member of the GAFCON UK Task Group) and Charles Raven. The intention was clear but much, in terms of order, was unclear as to timing, process (eg would “GAFCON” consecrate someone or, as when fragmentation began in the US, would those consecrated by made bishops in an existing province of the Communion?), justification (why initiate a new contravention of the Communion Windsor moratorium on border-crossing?) and consequences.
Then, just over a week later, on 8th May, news broke that a bishop had already been consecrated but not by GAFCON or AMiE (though the person consecrated is on the AMiE Exec as listed on their website where he is still simply “Revd Jonathan Pryke”). The consecrating church was REACH SA (the Reformed Evangelical Church of South Africa), the denomination formerly known as the Church of England in South Africa (CESA). An account of its relationship to wider Anglicanism by a member is found in Churchman (from 1988) here (a 1948 Churchman exchange shows the strong feelings at that period around issues of evangelical separation and episcopacy in South Africa) and a recent interview with its Presiding Bishop here. Jonathan Pryke, curate at Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, was consecrated, just three days after the GAFCON Primates Statement, on May 2nd, St Athanasius Day. Though much remains unclear the following appear to be some key facts, many taken from the Jesmond statement about the consecration.
- Discussions took place at the Jesmond Conference on 27th and 28th February on “Reformation in the Nation and the Church” (see report here and videos here including Bishop Martin Morrison of REACH SA on “his experience of the Anglican church in South Africa” which reportedly includes astonishing accusations against the Archbishops of Canterbury and York). Bishop Morrison irregularly ordained two deacons in Southwark back in November 2005; the form and consequences of that earlier establishing of The Church of England in South Africa in the Church of England, particularly the Bishop of Winchester’s Report and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Determination, may help untangle some of the current mess – see Fulcrum pieces here and here for further details).
- The Jesmond Conference passed resolutions but none relating to consecration of a bishop
- However, at the meeting “a group of senior leaders including one REACH SA bishop [presumably Morrison] and one English GAFCON Bishop [perhaps one of those named above as attending the GAFCON meeting in April] agreed that three bishops were needed, one being consecrated with REACH SA orders; one being consecrated as a result of an initiative by the GAFCON Primates; and one other”.
- Jesmond PCC passed a resolution on 6th March that “in the light of the vicar's fourth talk at the Jesmond Conference and the REFORM Covenant that expresses 'the need radically to reform the present shape of episcopacy and pastoral discipline to enable local churches to evangelize more effectively' the PCC supports planning for Jonathan Pryke to be consecrated for an alternative form of episcopal oversight”.
- The “consecration took place after considerable discussion and encouragement from leaders in the Church of England, and with the Presiding Bishop of REACH SA convinced it right to proceed after discussion with the Secretary of GAFCON”. The Secretary of GAFCON is Peter Jensen, retired Archbishop of Sydney, who was at the GAFCON gathering at the end of April. Sydney Diocese has a longstanding close relationship with REACH SA/CESA: its Archbishop advised on its constitution in 1938, CESA’s Presiding Bishop in the 1980s was consecrated by the then Archbishop of Sydney, and its training college has close ties with Moore College, Sydney.
- AMiE was initially “delighted that the GAFCON Primates have given their support for the consecration of a Missionary Bishop”. They have now clarified that “the consecration of the Revd Jonathan Pryke was a gospel decision taken independently of AMiE” and “his consecration was never discussed at our Executive meetings” (though this leaves unclear whether AMiE Executive members were involved in discussions outside their formal meetings).
- GAFCON UK, a closely related but distinct body from AMiE, warmly welcomed the GAFCON Primates decision to appoint a missionary bishop in a statement on April 30th. It then issued a statement on 8th May about the consecration. This noted the history of Jesmond’s difficult relationships with the diocese, links to REACH SA (including that “several clergy have been ordained by REACH Bishops to serve in the Jesmond church network and in one other part of England”) and commitment to missionary bishops. It said that “Gafcon UK have been informed of the latest developments” (when is unclear) but “cannot comment further at this stage”.
- Mark Thompson, the Principal of Moore College, Sydney, has supported the consecration while noting it was “irregular”.