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Episkope, edited by Roger Standing and Paul Goodliff

29 January 2021

Episcope concerns not only the episcopate, says Christopher Hill

THE fact that wider-than-local oversight, indeed episcopacy, is of significance to the two scholarly, Baptist, editors of this book speaks volumes about a genuine rapprochement in ecclesiology during the past half-century. Of its 21 contributors, one third are Anglican, and two-thirds cover the Roman Catholic Church, the main English Free Churches, Pentecostal Churches, Black Churches, Charismatic Churches, New Churches, New Monasticism, and the Salvation Army.

In consequence, this review can only touch on the strengths and weaknesses of wider than local ministry as explored in this broad survey. It is unfortunate, however, that there is no contribution from the Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox traditions.

Throughout the book, “local” usually means a local congregation. Though Anglican contributors recognise that the diocese is also “a local church”, there is no extensive discussion of the meaning of local, nor of the difference between a gathered church and a more communitarian understanding of local. That said, all essays contribute to a fascinating description and critique of trans-local episcope, or what Rowan Williams, in a short foreword, calls “the episcopal idea” freed from merely “mechanical notions of succession”.

Sean Winter, a Baptist academic in Melbourne, opens the book with an excellent summary of the emergence of “overseers”, who became the single bishop of a local church by the middle of the second century or the beginning of the third. He traces New Testament “trajectories” for this development from the original house churches. This book is worth buying for this excellent summary of the origin of episcopacy alone.

Winter especially acknowledges (the Anglican) Alistair Stewart’s The Original Bishops as part of an emerging “new consensus” on the historical emergence of “trans-local” ministry. The editors, Roger Standing and Paul Goodliff, survey wider oversight in Methodism (where ordained ministry is almost by definition trans-local); the Church of England; in other Free Churches; Evangelicalism; and new movements, as well as the wider ecumenical movement. One fascinating insight is the effect of secular charity law and trusts on the development of trans-local oversight. In addition, the significance of regional church leaders’ meetings is explored.

These are picked up by a number of other contributors with the affirmation that in such regional/county/diocesan ecumenical meetings there is a de facto recognition of episcopacy. Several contributors also emphasise the pastoral support of these meetings, especially in view of the common problems that church leaders share and discuss — not least, the loneliness (and often powerlessness) of a church leader faced with almost intractable problems when congregations and pastors are in dispute.

Paul Avis gives a characteristically clear description of Anglican episcopacy, and Stephen Cottrell emphasises the pastoral and evangelistic nature of episcopacy. The part that the bishop plays as chief minister of word and sacraments is central — an emphasis less prominent in other traditions here described. James Jones emphasises the (explicitly Anglican) episcopal ministry of serving the wider community. He illustrates this fascinatingly with his work as chairman of the Hillsborough Independent Review Panel.

Julian Hubbard succinctly describes forms of trans-local ministry, including that of archdeacons, cathedral deans, and the National Church Institutions; and he analyses the weaknesses of organisational leadership theory. Anne Hollinghurst explores gender questions as a woman bishop in the Church of England and speaks of her work with the Implementation and Dialogue Group established to explore the Five Guiding Principles of the House of Bishops.

Other contributions include an interesting essay by Gerald Coates on the emergence of trans-local oversight from a particular pioneer house group. His genuine contribution to ecumenism in Surrey deserves this reviewer’s mention. There is valuable discussion on supervision by Goodliff. Several essayists explore their anxiety at the (Church of England) Green report, echoing Martyn Percy’s criticisms.

This is a book that bishops, archdeacons, district chairs, superintendents, moderators, regional ministers, and their equivalents would do well to digest.


The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is a former Bishop of Guildford.


Episkope: The theory and practice of translocal oversight
Roger Standing and Paul Goodliff, editors
SCM Press £35
Church Times Bookshop £28

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