Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Who is a bishop for?

As reported in Taonga, the synod of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki have agreed to a nomination for consideration by our wider church for confirmation as bishop to succeed the recently departed for Rome, but not that kind of departure!, ++David Moxon.*

I have spent much of my life in the Anglican church of these particular Down Under islands, and the process of confirmation, via the house of bishops first and then by all the members of General Synod, has been explained to me (as I have then explained to others) in terms of 'a bishop is a bishop for the whole church so the whole church gets a say in who will be bishop.'

That seems so eminently sensible to me, as well as in line with the practice of other Anglican churches, that I have taken it as 'the Anglican' doctrine of bishoping.

But this weekend we had as a guest contributor to the theology of marriage conference, Bishop Tim Harris, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Adelaide, Australia. It was great to catch up with Tim. One of the topics our conversation covered was the recent election in the Diocese of Sydney. Through that conversation I learned that the Australian Anglican system of choosing bishops is quite different to ours (as we saw, in fact, when +Glenn Davies was elected: there and then the Sydney synod announced to the world that they had chosen their new archbishop, end of story).

Now the Australian church is not only different to ours, but, arguably to many if not all others: how many Anglican churches around the world, for instance, make decisions at General Synod (or equivalent) which are only binding on a diocese if the diocese agrees to the decision?

But, my reflection here is not generally on such differences, but on the notion 'who is a bishop for?' Is a bishop a bishop of the whole church (what does that mean, in any case?)? If so, should the whole church have a say in who their bishops will be? If not, could a bishop be a bishop only within a smaller part of the church than the whole church? (An analogy with 'local shared ministers' springs to mind!)

Back to the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki. That diocese has two clearly distinct geographical areas within it (i.e. two different rugby teams, actually three, 'cause there is the King Country team as well!). Each bishop concentrates attention on their own geographic area but both bishops lead the whole diocese. One hopes they get along well together!

*For those who do not know, Archbishop David Moxon left his episcopal work in NZ to take up the role of Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.


liturgy said...


Are you sliding away from your previous insistence that the "whole church" is the Anglican Communion, Peter? ;-)



Peter Carrell said...

Aren't our ambitions grander than that, Bosco? You and I are priests in 'the church of God' (bits of which have blinkers on and do not see that ...).

If I am sliding anywhere re bishops and the width of their "for"-ness, then it is into Anglican Confusion!?

Father Ron Smith said...

"One of the topics our conversation covered was the recent election in the Diocese of Sydney. Through that conversation I learned that the Australian Anglican system of choosing bishops is quite different to ours " - Dr. Peter Carrell -

The Sydney conundrum is, indeed, very different from any other diocese of the Anglican Communion, wherein - in Sydney - the diocese can choose its own polity on, say, the exclusion of women from clerical ministry and the presidency of a lay-person at the Eucharist - both matters being a positive initiative of the current Anglican polity in the rest of Australia.

One suspects these idiosyncracies are unique to Sydney, and can be traced back to the origins of the Anglican Church in that Diocese - strongly influenced by the strict evangelical conservatism of Moore College, its local theological advisor. Could this have been due to the wealth of the founders of Moore - in comparison with the relative poverty of the other Australian diocese, I wonder?

I'm glad that ACANZP follows the pattern of Anglican Tradition, by electing all bishops by consensus of the whole provincial Body. It helps avoid the stand-off that has inevitably occurred between Sydney and the rest of Australia.

"How wonderful and joyful a thing it is brethren when we dwell together in unity!"

liturgy said...

Yes, Peter, You and I are priests in 'the church of God'. But not through a process of provincial voting, but by our ordination.

Now that we have come to the end of replacing most of our pakeha bishops without GSTHW having had the foresight of updating the canon for this which is not followable, is it time to bring the canon at least up to the practice - or will that be rushed through when the next generation of bishops starts lining up? Or - we can just continue not to follow it.



Bryden Black said...

Not sure that Sydney is unique Ron. If my memory serves me well - a grand assumption I grant you! - the elections for Abp I took part in for Melbourne were pretty locally specific too, as specific as are Sydney's ...

Peter Carrell said...

I have it on good authority that most of GS 2014 is going to be spent on the revision of the applicable canons, all other business being held over until a later time.



Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter & Father Ron,
Every diocese in Australia elects its bishops this way - it is not unique to Sydney. Once elected as a diocesan bishop, they are a bishop in the Anglican Church of Australia - end of story. The General Synod appoints a tribunal for episcopal standards where there has been a complaint about the behaviour of a bishop, but they have no role in appointments of bishops. I guess the reason is that even though they are a bishop for the whole church they have no jurisdiction outside their diocese. I note that the consents process in TEC didn't stop bishops with non-traditional Anglican beliefs being approved, and in fact stopped some orthodox bishops being approved.
The Anglican Church of Australia is a fairly loose federation of dioceses. It is probably geography that is the main reason. With a comparatively small and dispersed population, it was difficult to maintain links/communication in the early days. That also meant that dioceses tended to develop their own styles quite independent from each another.
However, General Synod canons that have been adopted by the dioceses do have real force. The Appellate Tribunal ruled that diaconal and lay presidency violated the canons. They also ruled that women bishops did not violate them. The General Synod has also provided a consistent national approach to issues such as abuse, children at communion, approved liturgies, etc. Their consent is also require to form new dioceses.