THE consecration of a conservative Evangelical priest as a bishop without permission has been criticised by the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams. Such “unilateral actions” do not serve the cause of the gospel and will lead to “further fragmentation”, he said.
In a polite but strongly-worded rebuke, Bishop Williams, himself an Evangelical, said that it was time to “draw a line in the sand”, and that the consecration of the Revd Jonathan Pryke as a bishop by a breakaway South African Church would not “help the cause of the gospel in our nation” (News, 12 May).
His comments were made in a blog posted on the Church of England’s Facebook page, on Tuesday, which argued that Church unity was essential if evangelism was to succeed.
Bishop Pryke, an assistant curate at Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle, was consecrated a “bishop in the Church of God” by bishops from the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church in South Africa (REACH-SA) on 2 May. Neither the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, nor the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, were informed.
Bishop Williams wrote that it was “time now to draw a line in the sand and ask whether unilateral actions such as this [the Jesmond consecration] will help the cause of the gospel in our nation. I have no doubt that this is the motive behind the recent irregular ordination of a bishop, however, I believe we live at a time of extraordinary opportunity for the Church of England and therefore this is no time to be distracted by further fragmentation.”
In the past five years, he continued, there had been numerous new churches planted, older churches had re-discovered their vitality and sense of mission, all age groups were growing, and more young people were being called to ordination.
Bishop Williams also defended the Archbishops against accusations of heresy, which were made by Bishop Martin Morrison, a REACH-SA bishop, at a conference in Newcastle in February. “Let it be said, lest there be any doubt, that, whatever the challenges, we are greatly blessed to be led by two Archbishops, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, with a passion for the gospel and faithfulness to the teaching of Christ,” Bishop Williams wrote.
On Sunday, the Vicar of Jesmond Parish Church, the Revd David Holloway, defended the consecration as necessary to reverse the “slow death” of the C of E.
Mr Holloway told the Radio 4 Sunday programme that the C of E was struggling to faithfully witness to the gospel, and that the north-east of England was the most unbelieving part of the nation, partly because it had seen some of its bishops deny the virgin birth and “biblical” sexual ethics.
He argued that Bishop Pryke was not intending to lead a schism but to save the C of E from dying altogether. “That’s why this ceremony has taken place. I’m happy that Jonathan Pryke and two others like him are needed if there is to be a reversal of that process of slow death.” The C of E needed people to be “change agents”, Mr Holloway said, people who could see the problem and wanted to reverse it by taking risks, and where necessary, breaking some rules.
But, echoing his warnings of last week, he said that if legal or disciplinary action was taken against Bishop Pryke by the C of E it would cause schism.
“We are not wanting to set up a new Church, a new denomination, we want to reform the existing Church of England,” he said. Removing Bishop Pryke’s licence would be “unwise because it would precipitate exactly what we don’t want, which is schism”.
A Q&A distributed in the parish newsletter on Sunday said that Bishop Pryke was consecrated to ordain men for the ministry and to establish new church plants, which was the only way the Church of England would grow.
“This is not a step of ‘leaving the Church of England’,” the document stated. “It is the theologically liberal bishops and clergy that have ‘left the Church of England’ doctrinally. This is a step to preserve the Church of England’s heritage and mission which we have received.”
“Biblically-faithful” people will find it increasingly difficult to be ordained in the C of E, the Q&A suggested, since they were being blacklisted because of their views on sexuality and the ordination of women.
Consequently, setting up what Jesmond Parish Church refers to as “new style bishops” was essential for the “recovery of the gospel”, and to grow the Church.