Monday, October 06, 2008

Flying Bishops for CofE Traditionalists?

Over the weekend, word came out via The Telegraph that a revised arrangement of flying bishops for CofE traditionalists is in the works.

Hardly anyone seems to be pleased about this. Damian Thompson (who wants every traditionalist Anglican to cross the Tiber) is dismissive. Cranmer doesn’t think much of it. Fr. Jeffrey Steel, in a typically thoughtful post, is also typical of his fellow Anglo-Catholics in thinking that this wouldn’t go far enough.

Among the more liberal, Canon Jane Shaw’s opinion is common.

Canon Jane Shaw, Dean of Divinity at New College, Oxford described the proposals as ludicrous and a betrayal of Synod's earlier vote. "If they enshrine in law legislation that puts flying bishops in place they'll be going against the will of the Synod," she said. 

"This would be totally undemocratic and completely inappropriate."

She said it was "absurd" that a diocesan bishop shouldn't have oversight over all the parishes in their diocese.

On a personal note, I am disappointed, though not shocked, at Dr. Shaw’s stand. I very much respect her leadership of New College Chapel. Of the three choral foundation chapels in Oxford, New College was the only one where I could worship with good liturgy without having liberal excesses shoved in my face. She leads the chapel in a manner where all just about Christians can worship and feel welcomed. I do wish she supported the Church of England being so led.

However, she does raise good questions about the governance of the Church of England, a root issue in the current situation. Namely, to what extent should (and is) the Church of England be a democracy? How much authority does (should) Synod really have?

Here’s one view that will rub many the wrong way, but I suspect is correct:

Bishop Reade spoke against the Synod becoming parliamentary with two competing sides: “Ideally I think the House of Bishops should be there, and we should be listening to the debate, and we should go away and make the decisions.” 

He said the clergy and laity should vote, but that it should simply be used as information for the bishops. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, had also spoken in July against using General Synod as a parliament, emphasising that the Church was managed by synod, rather than governed by it.

Lately, it seems if a church becomes too much of a democracy, you get The Episcopal Church, The mainline Presbyterian Church and the latest CofE Synod, in which the most committed activists take over from the less ardent but more sensible and more orthodox mainstream. (Note that “more” isn’t saying much at times.) For all its faults, the Church of England has a long record of thwarting the designs of activists of various sorts who would take the whole church overboard with them. Making the CofE too much of a democracy ala Synod would diminish that moderating tendency. (Not that “moderate” is necessarily good, but it sure as heck is better than what Synod wrought.)

Having said all that, my opinion of the flying bishops proposal? I still think traditionalists should be given their own dioceses, but I am sanguine about the current proposal, at least what we know about it. It is a step in the right direction for a change. And it may slow the exodus of Anglo-Catholics to Rome, maybe. (And if Rome appoints a loser to be Archbishop of Westminster, which may happen, that would slow the exodus that much more.)

We shall see. I’m watching and praying with interest.

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