THE consecrations of two new flying bishops in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday are now to be livestreamed, reversing an earlier decision that “gracious restraint” be exercised because of their “particularities”.
The consecrations are of the new Suffragan Bishop of Oswestry, the Revd Paul Thomas, appointed to serve traditionalist Anglo-Catholic parishes across the West Midlands and south-west England (News, 2 December 2022) — his consecration is planned in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday morning; and of the Suffragan Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Revd Dr Rob Munro, who will minister to conservative Evangelical parishes in England which have passed resolutions on the ministry of women (News, 9 December 2022) on the grounds of a complementarian theology. He will be consecrated in the afternoon, along with other suffragan bishops.
On Monday, the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd David Monteith, had written in a letter that the consecrations planned for Thursday “have their particularities”, and would therefore not be livestreamed.
“The Archbishop [of Canterbury] is inviting ‘gracious restraint’ from participating bishops. That has a variety of consequences and it is a nuanced and quite a complicated message to communicate especially in our internet age,” Dean Monteith wrote.
The letter says that “colleagues at Lambeth and beyond have concluded that the afternoon service would potentially raise even more questions than the morning. The morning has precedent already set by previous traditional Catholic consecrations whilst the afternoon one doesn’t do that with respect to complementarian Evangelicalism combined with the other majority constituency and so livestreaming is on balance not advisable for that.
“In one sense as hosts we are neutral about this particular issue. However, we recognise that if livestreaming were to take place that it could be unhelpful overall to fostering an atmosphere of mutual flourishing and thus the need for gracious restraint over a range of issues. So my/our position is that both may be livestreamed but only one may not be livestreamed. Since the afternoon is not livestreamed, the morning cannot be livestreamed either.”
The letter concludes that “all this is costly but it does reflect aspects of where we are currently at across the Church of England at present. In St Paul’s terms, we are attempting to live as one body recognising the accommodations this involves, many unforeseen until they arise such as with this scenario.”
The reference in the Dean’s letter to “the other majority constituency” hints at the potential source of concern: also being consecrated that afternoon is the new Suffragan Bishop of Hertford, the Ven. Dr Jane Mainwaring, and the new Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, Canon Martin Gainsborough. Several women bishops are expected to be present for their consecrations who will not be invited to take part in Dr Munro’s.
After being posted on Twitter on Tuesday, the contents and import of Dean Monteith’s letter were discussed at length on social media, and shortly afterwards a change of plan was announced by the cathedral. A post on its Twitter account said that: “After further consideration over the last day, we’re pleased to say that both consecration services taking place at the Cathedral on Thursday will be live- streamed on our YouTube channel. We’re sorry for any confusion caused by earlier correspondence.”
The earlier decision had been described as “extraordinary” by the Principal of St Stephen’s House, Canon Robin Ward. The chair of Women and the Church (WATCH), the Revd Martine Oborne, wrote: “This is evidence that so-called mutual flourishing of women in the Church of England and those who don’t accept their ordination or leadership can only work with secrecy and cover ups. Frankly it’s a disgrace.”
The reversal was met with gratitude from many. Canon Josie Goodwin, who is a priest in the diocese of Gloucester, wrote that she was “very glad to read this. I have no vested interest in either consecration service but I was really concerned by the reasons given for not live-streaming. It’s God’s Church (not to mention the nation’s) and we should be flinging the door wide open and shouting from the rooftops.”