Trying to take the cat for a walk

by
08 February 2013

Mary Tanner reflects on bishops' ministry

Bishops: The changing nature of the Anglican episcopate on mainland Britain
Michael Keuleman
XLibris £13.99
(978-1-4653-5394-8)

READERS should not be put off by some of the views expressed in the introduction; for this book brings together an immense amount of biblical, historical, and contemporary statistical material.

After surveying the New Testament and Early Church evidence for the emergence of the episcopate, chapters follow on the British episcopate until the end of the Middle Ages, developments at the Reformation, and the creation of the classic Anglican bishop.

There is a fascinating chapter on the changing nature of the English episcopate in the 20th century, bringing out the almost exclusively public-school backgrounds of all bishops at the beginning of the century to the inclusion now of more grammar- and comprehensive-school-educated men, as well as those who have studied at newer universities and not only Oxford and Cambridge. More bishops today have greater experience of parochial ministry than their predecessors, and fewer come from a background in lecturing at universities and theological colleges.

Chapters follow on differences in the episcopal system in the Church in Wales after disestablishment and the Scottish Episcopal Church. Turning to recent thinking on episcopacy in the Church of England, the author speaks approvingly of the Cameron report with its philosophy of the "three planes" of episcopal ministry, and looks at the effects of synodical government, the Crown Nominations Commission, the anomaly of suffragans, and the provision of Provincial Episcopal Visitors (PEVs).

The chapter ends with a useful summary of what are called "extra-mural Anglicans", ranging from the Free Church of England to the more recent Anglican Church of North America and the Anglican Mission in England.

The penultimate chapters summarise a survey of responses about bishops received from clergy and laity of four dioceses, and a review of what bishops who retired between 2000 and 2008 have to say about episcopal ministry. Their comments are particularly revealing.

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The final chapter asks: "So where do we go from here?" The answers have already been hinted at. A pastoral ministry should take over from the establishment model, with the emphasis on the local church, with the parish top of a bishop's list of priorities, allowing him to teach and stimulate lay ministries.

Keulemans is not the first to call for smaller dioceses, which he describes as "deanery-become-diocese", nor to ask for an end to trappings of episcopal thrones, "ridiculous" headgear of mitres, and purple shirts; nor to suggest a pay scale the same as the clergy's. What is needed, he says, is "a new type of bishop for a new age", with a parish-focused, pastoral ministry.

The author suggests that the PEVs are rediscovering "what the episcopate is really about" in the close relations that they establish with their clergy and people. A remodelled episcopate he sees foreshadowed, too, in the development at Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London, with its related parishes and Bishop Sandy Millar. A pastoral ministry, however, is surely not only exercised at the level of that congregation, but also on a national level, and to institutions.

It is surprising that little is said about episcopal collegiality; for the author's great emphasis on the local church needs to be kept together with the relationship of local churches through the collegial gatherings of bishops, who bring local concerns to the wider Church, and reflect back the concerns of others to the local church. And, coupled with collegiality, the ministry of primacy, which focuses the unity of the Church and can call together bishops and preside over their meetings. More attention to recent ecumenical thinking on the episcopate would have helped here.

There is no space left to tell of what are called "the two defining issues": women in the episcopate, and the consecration of those living in openly gay relationships. But the final sentence of a passage quoted in an article by Ian Cundy and Justin Welby, written in 2000, and reproduced in the last chapter of Keulemans's book is worth repeating: ". . . giving a lead in the Church of England is like trying to take the cat for a walk."

Dame Mary Tanner is President of the World Council of Churches.

 

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