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Provincial thumbs down: Lake Malawi incident is not the only one of its kind

by
02 November 2006

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From Canon Paul Oestreicher
Sir, - Let me welcome the Revd Nicholas Henderson ( News and Letters, 9 December) to the club: one day elected bishop, the next day everything in the melting-pot.

The Dean of St Albans knows what that's like. So do I. In 1985, the diocesan synod of Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, elected me as the next bishop, to public acclaim. The Archbishop of New Zealand, who had persuaded me to accept nomination, had just been made Governor-General, and was out of the picture. By a majority vote, the other bishops refused to confirm the election.

As in the current circumstances in Malawi, it was the liberal or radical theology of the elected nominee which was the real problem. In my case, the formal grounds were my membership not of the Modern Churchpeople's Union, but of the Society of Friends - even though both Archbishop Runcie and my own bishop, Ronald Bowlby, had given their blessing to my joining the Quakers.

Mr Henderson's experience is an almost exact replay of mine. What we do not know is how many times the liberality of a possible bishop has meant that his name was not even put forward.

The situation is worse in what were once called the colonies. We failed to export the comprehensiveness of the Church of England, which is now also under threat at home. In England, controversial prophets have become bishops, and have creatively rocked the superstructure of our boat.

It is much harder overseas. (South Africa is the outstanding exception.) The Anglican provinces abroad tend to be more monochrome theologically and socially, and our sister Church in the United States is rapidly breaking into two such monochrome blocks.

I never felt a victim in these "shameful proceedings", and I hope Mr Henderson does not, either. With no irony, I thanked those bishops who enabled me to stay in England, my chosen home. There is, in any case, no greater honour than our baptism.

What this experience reflects is the fear that many have of being challenged - a fear that has put the Anglican Communion into turmoil, and placed an almost intolerable burden on the Archbishop of Canterbury. We can only offer him our critical solidarity and our continuing prayer.
PAUL OESTREICHER
The Chaplaincy
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9RH

From the Bishop of Lincoln
Sir, - While, as president of the Modern Churchpeople's Union (MCU), I welcome publicity that can serve only to boost our membership, I deeply regret the hurt caused to the Revd Nick Henderson by this process of election and rejection.

Furthermore, the province of Central Africa has turned its back on the ministry of a fine priest in good standing with the diocese of London. All who feel strongly about the free exchange of theological ideas will be saddened by this decision and the reasons given to justify it.
JOHN LINCOLN
Bishop's House, Eastgate
Lincoln LN2 1QQ

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