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Church in Wales clergy told to keep breakaway bishop at arm’s length

28 March 2023


The Rt Revd Stuart Bell (centre) at his consecration on 18 March; ACNA’s Missionary Bishop to Europe, the Rt Revd Andy Lines (left); and the Archbishop of ACNA, Dr Foley Beach, who chairs Gafcon

The Rt Revd Stuart Bell (centre) at his consecration on 18 March; ACNA’s Missionary Bishop to Europe, the Rt Revd Andy Lines (left); and the Archbisho...

THE consecration of the Revd Stuart Bell as a bishop in the breakaway Anglican Convocation in Europe (ACiE) last week (News, 10 March), has prompted the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, to instruct his clergy not to receive communion at ACiE services.

ACiE, the umbrella group for the Anglican Mission in England and the Anglican Convocation in Europe, is allied to Gafcon. Bishop Bell was appointed bishop-elect in October last year, with primary responsibility for Wales, where he had been a cleric in Aberystwyth. His consecration was delayed while he honoured a previous commitment.

The Church in Wales passed a Bill in 2021 to allow same-sex couples to have their civil partnership or marriage blessed in church (News, 6 September 2021). In a statement following the Church of England’s General Synod meeting last month, the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) described as “lamentable” the C of E’s decision to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages, characterising it as “the abandonment of the sufficiency and supremacy of scripture which has until now been the bedrock and rule of the Church of England.”

The statement went on: “We especially feel the pain of those who continue to make costly stands for godliness and have been abandoned by those who were meant to shepherd and protect them.”

Archbishop John told his clergy last week: “While many of us have held Stuart in enormous respect for his ministry, the Bench of Bishops cannot receive or accept his episcopal ministry, founded, as it is, on a repudiation of the Bishops’ own ministry and a breaking of communion with the Church in Wales.

“In these difficult circumstances, sadly there now exists some distance, not sought nor desired by the bishops of the Church in Wales, between us and the Anglican Convocation in Europe [ACiE], which is a group to which Stuart is now affiliated.”

The characterisation of same-sex blessings as a repudiation of biblical authority was not an interpretation which the bishops of the Church in Wales could accept, he said, “although we have been clear that clergy, leaders, and members of the Church in Wales have a diversity of opinions on this matter, and have sought to provide space in our common life for freedom of conscience and difference”.

The Archbishop makes the change in relationship clear. “A decision by members of ACiE to stand apart from the oversight of the bishops of the Church in Wales, and of the churches of the Anglican Communion in communion with us, means that Church in Wales clergy should stand back from receiving communion at services held under the auspices of the ACiE.”

Similarly, he says: “No ministers affiliated with the Anglican Convocation in Europe should exercise ministry or leadership in a Church in Wales context, unless the explicit written permission of the appropriate Church in Wales diocesan bishop has been given.”

The letter concludes: “We would like to be as generous and open in our relationship with former colleagues and brothers and sisters in Christ in the future but we have to recognise the reality of the step which has been taken. We will be happy to address any further questions or perspectives that arise in people’s minds.”

A press release issued last Friday by the bishops of the Anglican Network quotes Bishop Bell’s description, at his consecration, of the emergence of ACiE in Wales as “a tragic necessity in the face of the false teaching of the national Church”. The release says: “The Archbishop and his Bishops may sincerely believe that all Anglicans in Wales should simply accept what has happened and live with difference. But this is not the view of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion. . .

“Contrary to what Archbishop John and his Bishops have said, it is the Church in Wales which has placed itself out of communion with the majority of Anglicans worldwide by departing the historic, orthodox, biblical faith. . . As ACiE develops in Wales under Bishop Bell’s leadership, its members will continue to make plans for the future together.”

Archbishop John declined to comment further when approached on Monday.

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