THE Anglo-Catholic priest nominated as the next Bishop of Sodor & Man has explained why he will ordain women to the priesthood as well as the diaconate, despite coming from a traditionalist background.
The Archdeacon for the Army, the Ven. Peter Eagles, is the Crown Nominations Commission’s choice for the see. The announcement was made by Downing Street on Thursday.
Archdeacon Eagles, who has been a military chaplain since serving his title as an assistant curate in Ruislip, in London diocese, in 1992, said that the particular circumstances of Sodor & Man had shaped his decision.
“God has called me specifically to be the Bishop of Sodor & Man, a diocese where there is no other resident bishop,” he said. “I take very seriously Paragraph 11 of the House of Bishops Declaration (News, 24 October 2014): that there must be one serving bishop who ordains women as priests [in each diocese].”
In a personal statement attached to the diocesan press release concerning his nomination, Archdeacon Eagles writes that his own understanding must be set within the context of his calling to the Isle of Man. “Therefore, as the sole bishop in this diocese . . . I will ordain all who are called to be deacons and priests.”
He said on Thursday that becoming the Bishop required “humility”, and a desire to speak for the diocese, not to it. “One is chosen by [the diocese’s] consent, and you represent the opinion of all people in the diocese as far as you can. One needs, within the bounds of integrity, to be all things to as many people as one can.”
As a member of the Catholic Group in the General Synod, Archdeacon Eagles said that he had worked hard to procure a settlement on women bishops that would enable traditionalists to stay in the Church of England and flourish.
The Archdeacon was saddened, therefore, by the decision by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, to withdraw acceptance of his nomination as the next Bishop of Sheffield (News, 10 March), since Bishop North’s nomination had been fully in keeping with the Declaration and the Five Guiding Principles. Because there had been a suffragan who ordained women present in the diocese, Bishop North should have been able to take up the post, he said.
But Sodor & Man was a different matter, and it would not be in the spirit of the settlement to introduce “flying bishops in reverse”, who would come to the island just to ordain women while he refused to do so.
Nevertheless, he remained hopeful that there was still a future in the Church for traditionalist Catholic priests and bishops. “The hope must still be there. The Sheffield case has been referred to the independent reviewer, and we await the report. We need to allow that Declaration to work. [We have] to achieve mutual flourishing.”
Archdeacon Eagles, who is 57, trained for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. He first became an army chaplain in 1992, and has been Archdeacon for the Army since 2011.
“There will be challenges, clearly, in moving from one form of ministry to another,” he said; but he was confident of being able to adapt to island life and ministry, and become integrated. “That’s what I have done in all of my military postings.”
Besides serving in Britain and to the Forces stationed in Germany, Archdeacon Eagles has also been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. With his wife, Gail, he has lived in 14 places during 25 years of chaplaincy.
Asked to comment on the differences between army chaplaincy and his new ministry, he said: “In the end, it’s all missional. The role of the bishop in a community like that is to be chief pastor, focus of unity, and a leader of mission.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said: “The diocese of Sodor and Man can look forward to working with a bishop who will lead in the way of Christ with insight and oversight, with a readiness to lead and be led.”
The Bishop to the Forces, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, who is also the Bishop at Lambeth, said that Archdeacon Eagles had been a “considerate . . . [and] impressive” colleague. “He is a man of prayer with a pastoral heart, but unafraid to face challenges. I know that he will be a highly effective bishop and that the people of Sodor & Man will be very well served.”
The Archdeacon is fascinated by European languages and culture. In his spare time, he plays the oboe, and is “restoring a small, ancient house”.