JESMOND Parish Church has been publicly reminded of the legal position after their assistant curate was consecrated bishop by a breakaway Church in South Africa.
The Vicar, the Revd David Holloway, responded by warning of "reciprocal heresy trials" if legal action is taken against his curate.
The curate, the Revd Jonathan Pryke, has served at Jesmond Parish Church, in Newcastle, since 1988. He was consecrated as a "bishop in the Church of God" by the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA) at a service in Newcastle on 2 May, a statement from the church said.
The action was taken without the knowledge of the diocese of Newcastle or its Bishop. In a statement, a Church of England spokesman said that the Bishop, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, was now aware of the consecration and had informed the Archbishop of York.
"No overseas bishop may exercise episcopal functions within the Church of England without the express permission of the Archbishop of the province and a commission from the Bishop of the diocese in which they wish to minister," the spokesman also said. "In this case neither has been sought.
"It is the clearly established law of the land that no one can exercise ministry in the Church of England without either holding office or having the permission of the diocesan bishop."
The service consecrating Bishop Pryke did not take place at Jesmond Parish Church or any other Church of England place of worship, the church's initial statement said. Bishop Pryke took an oath of obedience not to the REACH-SA bishops who consecrated him, but to "bishops and other chief ministers" with whom he works in the UK.
He will continue as a senior minister on the church's staff, spending 80 per cent of his time with Jesmond, while also ordaining men for the ministry and helping to establish new conservative Evangelical churches under the auspices of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE).
Mr Holloway responded to the diocesan statement on Tuesday afternoon with the comment that it was "quite wrong", owing to the diocese's failure, in his view, to study the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967 properly.
He also stated that the Clergy Discipline Measure did not apply, since "matters involving doctrine, ritual or ceremonial" were not covered by it, and the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 had been declared by a C of E working party not to command "the necessary confidence of the Church”.
If it were to be used, he said, it would "be utter folly and invite a range of reciprocal heresy trials".
Nevertheless, it is likely that lawyers for the Church of England will be looking closely at Section 8 of the Clergy Discipline Measure, to see whether being episcopally ordained by a Church with whom the C of E is not in communion, or whether any exercise of those functions, constitutes "conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders".
The news of the consecration appears to have surprised GAFCON UK and AMiE — who agreed last week to appoint their own missionary bishop for conservative Evangelical parishes in Britain (News, 5 May) — even though the new bishop is a member of AMiE’s executive committee.
In the dark: Jesmond Parish Church, in Newcastle, where the new bishop works as an assistant curate
Credit: Roger Smith
In the dark: Jesmond Parish Church, in Newcastle, where the new bishop works as an assistant curate
In a statement put out on Monday, AMiE said: “We can confirm that the consecration of the Revd Jonathan Pryke was a gospel decision taken independently of AMiE. His consecration was never discussed at our Executive meetings.
“Jonathan is a valued member of the AMiE Exec and we are thankful to God for his abundant gifts and wisdom. We will be praying for him in this new season of his ministry.
“The AMiE Executive Committee recently requested that the GAFCON Primates support the consecration of a Missionary Bishop. We were overjoyed when they agreed to do this for the sake of gospel growth.”
GAFCON UK's own statement said that Jesmond Parish Church and REACH-SA had been working together in England for some time.
"GAFCON UK are aware that Jesmond Parish Church have for some years been in a form of impaired communion with the Bishop of Newcastle, and have developed a special relationship with REACH-SA.
"Over the past few years, several clergy have been ordained by REACH Bishops to serve in the Jesmond church network and in one other part of England.
"Gafcon UK have been informed of the latest developments but cannot comment further at this stage."
But Jesmond Parish Church insisted the consecration of Bishop Pryke only took place after discussion with the secretary of GAFCON and at least one other English GAFCON bishop.
REACH-SA, formerly known as the Church of England in South Africa, split from the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa soon after its founding, in opposition to the Anglo-Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town.
Bishop Pryke, as well as continuing to work under Mr Holloway, will also be responsible pastorally to an un-named REACH-SA bishop.
This bishop "does not want to see bishops 'parachuted in' to form a new 'orthodox Church' or 'province'," the statement said. "He sees the role of REACH-SA simply as helping English people have the courage to take responsibility for reforming the Church of England to be in line with Canon A5, to evangelize and to see growth."
In 2008, Jesmond Parish Church was listed as in impaired communion or seeking alternative episcopal oversight, by the Revd Rod Thomas, the then chairman of the conservative Evangelical network Reform, who is now the Bishop of Maidstone (News, 5 May 2015).
Bishop Thomas said that he was awaiting clarification of what exactly had happened in Jesmond, but also praised the church's "great record of effective gospel ministry, not least because of the clarity of their biblical teaching".
"They also have a long record of being in impaired communion with successive Bishops of Newcastle over their views on same-sex relationships – an issue which has the potential to cause great disunity throughout the Church of England," Bishop Thomas also said.
The “impaired communion” was in fact first declared by the church in 1997 just before the Rt Revd Martin Wharton became Bishop of Newcastle, because of disagreements over homosexuality. Jesmond Parish Church was also accused of breaking canon law in 1998 when it appointed an unlicensed assistant priest to its staff.
The GAFCON UK statement also links Bishop Pryke's consecration to a document formulated at a conference held by conservative Evangelicals in Jesmond earlier this year.
Convened after the General Synod had declined to take note of the report on sexuality by the House of Bishops, the conference's statement quotes Bishop Pryke describing the report as a "a fudge that effectively advocated an official policy of institutional hypocrisy by proposing maintaining the biblical doctrine of marriage in public, but giving even greater affirmation to same sex relationships in private".
The conference resolutions called for all "sexual immorality" by clergy to be met with appropriate church discipline, and suggested all ordinands be made to sign up to a 1987 General Synod resolution which took a hard line on sexual ethics.
In addition to the C of E's own "confusions" on sexuality, Europe was decried as being on a "suicide mission" thanks to low fertility rates; and the rate of growth of Islam around the world was noted as being higher than that of Christianity.
Another resolution from the Jesmond conference argued that there needed to be a revival of "Celtic evangelism", based not on the parish system but recalling the way Christianity was introduced to the British Isles by missionary bishops operating out of minsters.
This model was already being rolled out by Holy Trinity, Brompton, the document suggested.
The full statement from Jesmond Parish Church
On St Athanasius’ Day, 2 May 2017, Jonathan Pryke, the senior minister, under its vicar, of Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne, was consecrated a “bishop in the Church of God”. This was by the Presiding Bishop of REACH SA (the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa), formerly known as CESA (the Church of England in South Africa) and whose orders of bishop, priest/presbyter and deacon are recognized by the Church of England. But like the new ACNA (the Anglican Church in North America) whose orders are also recognized, it is not in communion with the Church of England. Officially the Church of England is in Communion with the heterodox ACSA (the Anglican Church of South Africa), and with the heterodox TEC (The Episcopal Church [of America]). But, in practice, many orthodox English and Global Anglicans are in communion with both REACH SA and ACNA.
The service took place neither in a Church of England “place of worship” nor an unconsecrated place of worship designated under s.43 of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011. It did not take place in Jesmond Parish Church. The ceremony was according to the REACH SA consecration Holy Communion service with only REACH SA bishops taking part. The declaration, however, was to the Church of England’s Canon A5 which says:
“The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.”
The oath was of “all due reverence and obedience” not to the Presiding Bishop of REACH SA but to “bishops and other chief ministers” under whom Jonathan is set. So he has a dispersed responsibility and duty: in things temporal to the Bishop of Newcastle, with whom, sadly, in things spiritual, Jesmond Parish Church along with other churches in the diocese are in impaired communion; in terms of Jesmond Parish Church, to the vicar of Jesmond and where there is united agreement, to the Jesmond PCC; and, pastorally, to one of the participating REACH SA bishops. This bishop particularly understands the English situation and does not want to see bishops “parachuted in” to form a new “orthodox church” or “province”. He sees the role of REACH SA simply as helping English people have the courage to take responsibility for reforming the Church of England to be in line with Canon A5, to evangelize and to see growth. This consecration took place after considerable discussion and encouragement from leaders in the Church of England, and with the Presiding Bishop of REACH SA convinced it right to proceed after discussion with the Secretary of GAFCON.