Tuesday, May 5, 2015

++Welby really is a smart church politician

Just noticed on Twitter that Rod Thomas is to be made a bishop in the Church of England.

If you don't know anything about Rod Thomas, or do not immediately grasp the significance(s) of this announcement, read the official announcement here.

This kind of appointment has been talked about.

The talk is now being walked into reality.

++Welby is obviously leading his church to be inclusive to the point where opposites are going to meet at the ends of the circle!

A smart political dude?

Or, maybe not. In the longer term, as I note some comments around the e-traps, this approach could be disastrous. Inclusion of opposites could give way to war between opposing factions.

Some comments I am seeing, along the lines of 'if we can have a 'headship' bishop, can we have one for model railway enthusiasts too, are just stupid. ++Welby's point here is not to provide for theological options in the church but to keep within the one fold distinctive flocks of sheep who might otherwise stray.

For a round up of reactions, see Thinking Anglicans.

Note the positivity of AMiE's reaction. Has ++Justin taken the sting out of recent GAFCON maneouvres re the CofE?

Via Twitter I am keeping an eye on an extraordinary Leadership Conference #LC15 taken place in London under the leadership of Nicky Gumbel and HTB. One part of the 'extraordinary' has been an interview of ++Welby and ++Nichols (Roman Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of Westminster). A report is here, in which ++Welby underlines the power of unity.

Are we living in extraordinary ecumenical times? In this report Pope Francis welcomes a female Lutheran Archbishop of Sweden to Rome, calls her 'my sister' and says some things worth noting carefully about issues of marriage and sexuality not becoming road blocks to unity.


MichaelA said...

I wasn't expecting it.

But I suppose its not unexpected, if that makes sense.

Putting to one side whether one agrees with the appointment or not, this seems to indicate that CofE hierarchy feel they have no choice but to deal with Reform, AMiE and Church Society.

The ReNew Conference in September last year was attended by "330 clergy and senior lay leaders". Of these, it is said that a majority were incumbents of parishes, with the rest being curates or churchwardens. So that means more than 165 parishes represented. The conference was jointly organised by Reform, Church Society and AMiE. 165+ parishes may not sound like many, when viewed in context of the whole Church of England, but it is obviously seen as significant by the leaders of CofE.

Clearly they would prefer that those parishes stay in CofE. Giving them at least the potential to have oversight from a bishop who believes as they do is apparently seen as important to encourage them to stay.

Peter Carrell said...

I agree with your analysis Michael!

MichaelA said...

Another interesting point is the reaction of the Chairman of Church Society at http://churchsociety.org/blog/entry/topical_tuesday_bishop_rod_thomas.

He is suitably congratulatory of course. But there is an element of "we-are-not-very-impressed-by-this" about it. What he wants (i.e. more such appointments) will be strongly opposed by other elements in CofE. So the ructions will continue, but this appointment should placate a number of conservative congregational leaders.

MichaelA said...

Those interested in this issue may also find the following article by John Martin enlightening: http://www.livingchurch.org/prebendary-thomas-steps. Three comments:

1. He says this appointment is "part of a package agreed behind the scenes ahead of the General Synod vote on women bishops. In exchange for this appointment, conservative evangelicals who are committed to the “headship” of males agreed not to oppose legislation for women bishops in July 2014." If he is correct, then this was planned almost a year ago.

2. He opines that the Chairman of Church Society, Lee Gatiss had "firm tongue in cheek" in the press release I referenced above, when he refers to this being the first step towards full inclusion of conservative evangelicals within the leadership structures of the CofE.

Now, I don't know Lee Gatiss, and I haven't seen John Martin for many years. But I have read a lot written by Lee, and I rather doubt that he is displaying the sense of humour that John assumes. In other words, I suspect that Lee is deadly serious when he says he expects several more complementarian bishops to be appointed. Since many others in CofE will be implacably opposed to such a move, watch out for further fireworks in the not-too-distant future.

3. John indicates some sense of discovery or surprised revelation about Rod Thomas' position on the AMiE board. But really, anyone who has followed recent CofE debates online and in the press would know all about this. I can't imagine that the ABC and the Diocesan Commission were unaware of it.

Father Ron Smith said...

"The Executive Committee of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) warmly welcome the appointment of Rod Thomas as the new Bishop of Maidstone and look forward to the new opportunities his role may create as we seek to work together to promote the gospel through local Anglican churches."

This says all that needs to be said from the point of view of anything good to happen from the current 'Conversations' taking place in the Church of England on the matter of human sexuality.

Yes, I do think the ABC is acting 'smart' but not smart enough perhaps.
The very fact that AMiE approves of the new bishop speaks volumes - about the influence of the gafcon Primates on the future of the Church of England. That cannot be good for any hope of inclusivity of LGBTI people.

However, ACANZP is not bound by any canonical arrangements made by and for the Church of England. We can still work for inclusivity of ALL.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Your comment begs the question what "ALL" means for our church.
For the CofE it means both those for and against certain issues.
Does ALL in your vision of an inclusive church include those who disagree with you, or just those who agree with you?

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, when I say ALL, I really do mean ALL. The point at issue is those who at present don't want a bar of US.

Jean said...

Well ... he's not the most stereotypical political figure...

Honesty, integrity and delivering on promises made?

No wonder the English members of parliament weren't too keen on getting advice from the Archbishops.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

Another interesting read is the Reform statement here: http://reform.org.uk/news/src/archive/05-2015/title/reform-media-statement-may-5th-2015-reform-chairman-made-bishop-of-maidstone
They seem to view it as the long awaited fulfilment of promises that conservative evangelicals are welcome and valued in the CofE.

As I understand, the lack of any conservative (at least in terms of women's ministry) evangelical bishops in the CofE over many years was leading them to feel unwelcome and gave impetus to groups like AMiE who advocated breaking away. At least this appointment will take the sting out of that argument. The interesting thing will be to see whether the scope of his role is limited to women bishops or includes other theological concerns. For example, if you're an evangelical in Southwark or another liberal diocese, can you apply to Bishop Thomas for episcopal oversight? Or does it only apply to dioceses with women bishops?
This appointment certainly deals with a consistent complaint from the conservative evangelical groups, but we'll see if it helps the broader situation in the CofE.

Jean said...

Hi Andrew R

That's an interesting comment. With Bishop Thomas's appointment will Priests in other dioceses who follow male headship theologically but are under a female Bishop be able to apply to have him as their oversight person?

It would create a bit of a confusing arrangement I suspect if Priests in dioceses with liberal Bishops could also seek oversight by other non-liberal Bishops (I am presuming Bishop Thomas is not the only one). Do you mean liberal in terms of Women's headship or in general? If just women, the Bishop with oversight irrespective of his personal theology, would be a man, fitting the headship model. If in general, are not the current CofE Canons conservative, so even if the Bishop may be a liberal he has agreed to follow church Canons (technically has to abide by them)?. Making the issue not one of seeking different oversight but of ensuring Bishops 'loyalty to' the Canons.


Simon said...

And how will Bishop Thomas's successors work it out when they find themselves canonically obedient and serving under a female Archbishop of Canterbury, as is quite possible in the future? I expect they'll just hope she is married, and then everything will be okay. ;)

MichaelA said...

"For example, if you're an evangelical in Southwark or another liberal diocese, can you apply to Bishop Thomas for episcopal oversight?"

Hi Andrew, I believe the way that this works is that the diocese must first invite +Thomas to go on its books as an assistant bishop.

See this press release from Lambeth: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5545/suffragan-bishop-of-maidstone-announced. +Cottrell basically invites him to be an assistant bishop in Dio Chelmsford before the ink is dry on his commission! IIRC, the late John Richardson aka Ugley Vicar was resident in Dio Chelmsford and a member of FCA-UK, so it makes sense that there are congregations there that would be interested.

I cannot guess what will happen in Southwark. My understanding is that it is no longer just the complementarian evangelicals there who are unhappy with the bishop, so +Thomas would only be a safety valve for some of the disaffected people.

"And how will Bishop Thomas's successors work it out when they find themselves canonically obedient and serving under a female Archbishop of Canterbury, as is quite possible in the future?"

Simon, that's a fair question. I guess from Lambeth's point of view, they figure that is years away, and they want +Thomas in his position now to help persuade some congregations who might otherwise leave (de jure or de facto) to stay. The CofE's financial problems are pressing, and they need everyone to stay put. And I guess from +Thomas' point of view, he figures that if he can provide sound oversight for some complementarian congregations, that is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me that the liberal catholic establishment won't be pleased by conservative evangelicals no matter what they do. They must not be given a bishop who agrees with them, (which is of course a symbol of having their position respected as a viable option for faithful Anglicans in the 21st century), despite the fact that many faithful Anglicans, in England and around the world, do in fact hold these positions. 'BAD', says the liberal catholic establishment; 'We must not compromise with this evil ideology'. But when these conservative Anglicans take the opposite option of forming themselves into new structures, leaving what they see as the compromised forms of Anglicanism around them and setting up new forms for themselves, we then accuse them of 'schism', which is another great big 'BAD'.

I'm not a conservative evangelical, but it strikes me that in the eyes of the liberal catholic establishment, my conservative evangelical friends are damned if they do and damned if they don't. So what are they to do? Give up their ideas and become good establishment liberal catholics? Well, that's about as likely to happen as Giles Fraser suddenly joining the staff of Holy Trinity Brompton, don't you think?

Tim Chesterton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim
I am largely in sympathy with your comment. But I wonder if there is a more subtle question being engaged with in this kind of matter?

Somewhere in Anglicanism lurks a basic question of 'accommodation': what will I (with strong convictions) accommodate by way of fellow Anglicans (with strong convictions)? There are times when the will to accommodate seems lacking in the public statements of one side (or the other). At that point I sense most Anglicans - not just liberal or liberal catholic Anglicans - get a little nervous. It is those Anglicans whose will prevails in the election of most bishops: bishops are chosen who can accommodate all points of view.

The questions for Rod Thomas will be both, 'How do I remain convicted after ordination as before?' and 'How after ordination do I work with those I have not necessarily had to work with before?'

Father Ron Smith said...

".. this appointment should placate a number of conservative congregational leaders." - MichaelA -

Precisely, MichaelA! You've hit the nail right on the head:

Congregationalism is precisely what is being practised by these people in the Church of England: "Give us own own bishop, untainted by hands being laid on the heads of women - to turn them!"

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
You are precisely wrong.
'These people' do not get to appoint let alone ordain bishops.
Rod Thomas has been chosen on behalf of the church for the church.
He may not minister to all the church but he will participate in the life of the whole church (e.g. working within the house of bishops).
He has particularly been chosen (wisely or unwisely) in order to hold the whole life of the CofE together, rather than have individual congregations peel off from the church (which would be 'congregationalism').

You are also precisely wrong about the motivations of those parishes who desire that there be such a bishop: 'taint' has no role in evangelical thinking about ordination!

Anonymous said...

Peter, despite my previous comments, I must say that I do find this sudden conservative evangelical desire to have 'a bishop who agrees with us' to be somewhat strange, given our evangelical history,.

As you know, when the evangelical revival began in the C of E in the 18th century, sympathetic bishops were few and far between. Most bishops were opposed, some of them actively, and more than a few were actually deists in their theology/philosophy. What did the evangelicals do? Carried on, accepting the scorn and persecution of (what they saw as) a compromised and lukewarm church as the inevitable consequence of their commitment to the gospel of Christ. A supportive bishop was a luxury to them.

Tim Chesterton

Kurt said...

Given our experiences in America, to me the more important questions would be, “Bishop Thomas, do you truly pledge to be loyal to the Church of England? Do you pledge not to assist in promoting any schism from the CofE? Do you pledge to oppose anyone who would attempt to alienate resources owned by the CofE?” I hope people will not feel it necessary to “count the spoons” when Rod Thomas is around.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim
Broadly that has been the experience of evangelicals in some Anglican churches. (It has also been mutatis mutandis the experience of anglo-catholics in the Diocese of Sydney!).

My question is whether we are in a different era, an era in which it is important, not so much to have a 'supportive' bishop for a group-not-feeling-the-love but for a group asking whether it does or does not have a place in the life of the church.

A possible historical analogy could be the Methodists in 18th century England: if John Wesley had been made a bishop, might Methodism have been contained within the CofE?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
There is no need to 'count the spoons' re property of the CofE: that is inalienable (as I understand it) and no one questions that.

Otherwise, your question about loyalty is worth asking.

However I have no reason to think that a man such as Rod swearing allegiance to the CofE in terms of its (actually) conservative articles and to the Queen etc will have his fingers crossed behind his back!

MichaelA said...

Tim, a possible difference between now and the 18th century is that this initiative came from the CofE hierarchy. Peter's point is an interesting one: if CofE in C18 had been prepared to appoint a bishop who was sympathetic to Methodist needs, would they have kept many or most of them in the church?

And that leads on to a further point: CofE hierarchy in C18 controlled the property of the church, so they couldn't care less if the evangelicals wanted to go off and evangelise the Africans, South Americans, Asians etc. Whereas today CofE still holds the property but it has a problem - it can't maintain the property, yet it is required by law to do so. The CofE in a sense is far richer than TEC, yet it is also desperately short of money.

This is a difference between England and America - TEC could let churches lie empty and deteriorate, or sell them off to anyone who would put up some money, including Muslims, but CofE can't do that.

And a further point is that the evangelicals in 18th century had a vast mission field to spend their energies on. These days England is viewed as the mission field.

MichaelA said...


If liberal bishops had taken a pledge to not promote any schism from CofE (or TEC) we wouldn't be in this predicament now. Liberals decry schism and division when (and only when) it suits them.

And orthodox Anglicans in USA have found it necessary to count the spoons when hierarchy of TEC has been around. Hence why court decisions have overwhelmingly favoured dioceses who wish to leave TEC and take the property with them.

Why are you so obsessed with property anyway? A sound congregation can replace it all over time (often just a few years).

Father Ron Smith said...

"Blogger Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
You are precisely wrong.
'These people' do not get to appoint let alone ordain bishops."

Peter; I did not suggest they get to 'ordain' or 'appoint' their own bishop.

What I DID say was that they will not allow a woman bishop to exercise authority over them - tantamount to demanding their own choice of bishop. They have no authority to either choose or ordain their own bishop.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Let me put my point in a different way.
When a group of people ask for their own bishop it is not necessarily the case that 'congregationalism' is the relevant description of the motivation.

Take the history of our own church. When Maori asked for a bishop (and were rebuffed, and asked again, were thrown a suffragan bishop with restrictions, never gave up and pushed for a full diocesan bishop), were they 'congregationalist' or were they participants in a full catholic church asking for recognition of special character of their life within that full catholic church?

My answer is the latter. ... I suspect that is your answer too!

Kurt said...

Actually, MichaelA, I’m not “so obsessed with property” as you appear to think. As for the legal decisions, they have been mixed, and I am not as confident as you that the lower state courts will have the final words on these matters.

Speaking of buildings, I’m far more concerned about retaining our historic chapels and churches (say, in South Carolina) than I am about property in general. Fort Worth, Texas, for example, has noting of interest architecturally, IMO. The first Episcopal services in Fort Worth date only from 1860. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, the oldest Episcopal parish in Fort Worth, was founded in 1875, and isn’t even 150 years old. I’m far more interested in retaining buildings such as St. James Chapel (1708) in Goose Creek, SC.

Even Australia and New Zealand have Anglican parishes and church buildings that are older and of more historical interest than places like Fort Worth.

Kurt Hill
Suffering from hay fever in
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

Can you explain please what this has to do with Welby - I understood bishops are chosen by the Queen at the recommendation of the Prime Minister.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tom,
Bishop nominations for the PM to approve for recommendation to the Queen are made by a church appointments commission. While I am not sure of the precise role of Archbishop Welby re the commission he has a say in nominations made for bishops in his province (the other province is presided over by the Archbishop of York), he would definitely have a say in suffragan bishops of his diocese, Canterbury (of which the Bishop of Maidstone will be one).

But this appointment is also the result of the 'deal' struck re the GS decision to approve woman bishops, a deal which he had a hand in.

MichaelA said...

Slightly off-topic, but this is a good example of why the CofE has to start doing deals with the conservative evangelicals and conservative anglo-catholics. Hence the bishops of CofE were likely to bring in a conevo bishop even regardless of the deals they had made.

See my comment below the article which discusses the implications: