Monday, September 16, 2013

Final (for now) thoughts on AEO

Having offered some preliminary thoughts, thoughts about difficulties and pondered for a few more days, here is a 'final' thought for now, which builds on something I wrote at the end of the previous post on the matter.

Our church should give our bishops support and encouragement to pursue arrangements for episcopal care and oversight which fit their respective diocesan (episcopal unit) situations.

Across our 13 episcopal units are a variety of current situations and potential situations depending on decisions made (and not made) in the future. It likely asks too much of our General Synod to sort out legislation quickly for some kind of 'scheme' of alternative episcopal oversight (AEO) which covers all envisaged permutations.

Simpler, and potentially very effective would be support and encouragement to pursue appropriate local arrangements to account for the specific exigencies of each local situation. Many such possible arrangements are already covered by existing canons and customs. There is nothing (for instance) currently preventing the Bishop of X from inviting the Bishop of Y to undertake confirmations or ordinations (it is just that such invitations likely are issued when the Bishop of X is on study leave or health leave). There is nothing preventing the Bishop of Z from appointing, with diocesan support, an assistant bishop (who, for accountancy minded readers, need not be full-time). A recent case in point was the appointment of the then Dean of Auckland, Bishop Randerson (previously ordained to be Assistant Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn), to also be Assistant Bishop of Auckland in order to lighten the load of the then Bishop of Auckland, John Paterson, who was also Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council. There is nothing preventing ordination candidates being sent to another diocese for ordination and then presenting themselves back in their own diocese for appointment to a licensed position.

To think in this way is to leave each bishop with flexibility to pursue a course of action which suits themselves and their local situation. It does leave clergy and parishes out of tune with the course taken by their bishop without (so to speak) canonical protection (e.g. via a scheme in which they could opt out of existing arrangements and into something more satisfying). Against that concern, however, one can make the point that each bishop is accountable to God, their own episcopal unit and their conscience as to how they build the church and deepen the unity of their unit. Sensible bishops will do sensible things according to the presenting circumstances. A bishop unwilling to adjust their course of action in the circumstances we are discussing through these posts is likely a bishop who would not go along with a formal canonical scheme of AEO.

On what I have written so far, General Synod would not change its canons but what it could do is send a signal via a resolution which encouraged a change in custom. The current flexibility I see in our canonical situation has never (as far as I am aware) been applied to the future circumstances which likely will follow a General Synod as early as 2014 or as late as 2018. Only in emergencies generated by ill health or duress of additional burdens of office. It might encourage bishops to embrace new possibilities in new times if a signal was given to this end.

1 comment:

Dr Edward Prebble said...

Well, Peter
Let me say now that I absolutely agree with you here; what you suggest is much better than what I was suggesting. Putting one of your comments in slightly different terms:
To make my suggestion(or any other model of AEO work) would require a very high level of mutual trust among the bishops. But if that degree of trust existed, there would be no need for an AEO structure.

So before I back off from this very useful discussion, with thanks to you for initiating it, let me make another crucial point. Is it fair to lay on the bishops alone the task of generating that level of trust? Is it even possible for them to develop that quality among themselves if the rest of their respective synods and wider memberships are not at least working in that same direction?

It was in that interest that I worked so hard at the Auckland Synod to amend, and thus assist the success of, a motion by Peter Lloyd (a strong conservative campaigner on these issues)calling for mutual respect in our discussion and debates.

I hear you trying hard to do something similar. Thank you.