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A Paper Province or a Proper Province?

Updated: Jul 1

With the announcement of a "Parallel Province", Anglican Futures asks has The Alliance found the answers to the intractable problems of providing orthodox episcopal oversight within the Church of England?

“Unavoidable Avoidance”, “Compelled to Resist”, “The Temporal/Spiritual Divide”, “Impaired Communion”, “Broken Gospel-Partnership”, “Visible Differentiation”, “Shadow Structures” “Principled Irregularity”, “Virtual Diocese”, “Broken Fellowship”, “Structural Provision” - they’ve all had their moment in the sun.

Portentous sounding phrases that have proved vacuous because, ultimately, they’ve amounted to next to nothing in practical terms. Some say their primary achievement has been to maintain the influence and authority of the same organisations, conferences, networks and 'leaders' in the hope that the latest catchphrase might actually amount to 'a plan'. Time and again people have been marched to the top of the hill by these people (preferably “shoulder to shoulder”) only to be left to find their own way back down again. It has been a repeated exercise in hope over experience.

And it has been damaging - it has been performative - the illusion of militancy which has been an expensive distraction from the hard yards, financial planning and time needed to develop an actual workable strategy and to earn extensive buy in to it. What is more, the credibility of the orthodox as genuinely capable of proportionate militant action has been repeatedly undermined by what has been little more than tub thumping.

And now there is a new concept, a “parallel Province”, proposed in a recent letter from “The Alliance” of various evangelical groupings - including those who have generated the previous phrases.

To be precise what is advanced is a, “…de facto parallel Province within the Church of England”.

What a “de facto parallel Province” actually means is not explained in any detail at all. And in fact what is proposed is “…in effect a de facto parallel Province”. That is to say a “de facto de facto parallel Province” or perhaps an “in effect in effect parallel Province”, which is remarkably vague.

All that is said is that, “Bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality” will provide “pastoral oversight” and that the parallel Province would “open up a new pre-ordination stream for potential ordinands, in partnership with orthodox bishops”.

Creating a new province in the Church of England is not a task to be undertaken lightly - as the Anglican Communion's 'Guidelines for the Creation of New Provinces and Dioceses' make clear:

Even if 'The Alliance Parallel Province' is not looking for authentication from the Anglican Communion it still has a number of problems to overcome if it is to amount to anything more than any of the other previously quoted expressions.

Will the new province be part of the Church of England?

The first of those is that if the new province is actually going to be, “within the Church of England” the 'Church of England' would have to agree to its creation - and if that was likely, The Alliance would not be writing such letters.

Moreover, if the de facto province is seeking to be both “parallel” to Canterbury and York and “within the Church of England”, it will necessarily share the Metropolitan of the other provinces, and its bishops will need to be 'in communion' with all the bishops of the College. This seems to undermine the whole concept of rejecting the archepiscopal oversight of Canterbury and York. On the other hand, if the parallel province does not share the Metropolitan or have bishops in communion with those of the CofE, it cannot be a province within the Church of England in any accepted understanding of that idea.

Will the new province have its own canons and constitution?

Which leads to the second set of problems, because it seems that what is being proposed is a bizarre form of partial UDI.

If the parallel province creates the necessary canons and constitution to provide an alternative ecclesiastical jurisdiction, then clergy and congregations will need to choose between remaining in their Church of England parish, diocese and province or leaving and joining the new parallel province (and diocese) - with all the practical, financial and emotional trauma that involves.

If the parallel province doesn't have its own canons and constitution, and such a choice is not necessary, then it is hard to see how it will be a province in any real sense at all. Without a jurisdiction of its own, the parallel province cannot be equivalent to Canterbury and York (or indeed any overseas province), nor in any way “parallel”. This raises the question of whether the “in effect de facto” is a Latin tag covering a whole load of nothing.

Where will the new province find their episcopal oversight?

The third headline issue is that if bishops are to be provided who function as bishops - that is to say not just senior figures “commissioned” to provide the type of informal "alternative spiritual oversight” the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) have already established - but bishops who ordain, confirm, consecrate and discipline - the critical question is, 'from where they will come?'

Unless the bishops are going to be what has historically been known as “episcopi vagantes” the bishops will have to be canonically resident in a jurisdiction, and thus subject to the canons of that jurisdiction.

“Episcopi vagantes” are “wandering bishops” who have been consecrated in some unrecognised fashion or who have left the canonical jurisdiction in which they were consecrated and not joined another. Some have held such “consecrations” to be of no effect but simply null and some have regarded them as valid but unlawful. Either way it is not a credible response to the alleged illegalities of the House of Bishops.

The only alternative is for the bishops to be bishops of an Anglican jurisdiction.

If that jurisdiction is the Church of England, then those bishops, until they resign, remain in communion with the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England and subject to its canons. Whether they resign or not they remain subject to the Clergy Discipline Measure, unless they enter into a Deed of Relinquishment. Moreover, even if they resign, the question would remain to which new canons they and their clergy would be subject and how those canons would be enforced.

The bishops could, theoretically be resident in another jurisdiction, but both Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) have showed no desire to provide bishops into the Church of England. Those jurisdictions outside Gafcon/GSFA are either no more orthodox than the Church of England or unwilling to disturb their relationship with the Mother Church. The jurisdiction in England created by Gafcon - the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) could not have been clearer that they will not provide episcopal ministry for those in the Church of England.

Overseas bishops can operate in the Church of England but to do so legally they need the permission of the relevant diocesan and, in effect, they then act as a bishop of the Church of England. Accordingly, they either do so illegally or little is achieved.

It can’t be ruled out that a bishop, or two, might 'go rogue' and depart from the Gafcon/GSFA line but that is hardly akin to a 'provincial' solution. The experience of Rt Revd Jonathan Pryke might act as a cautionary tale; despite being consecrated into "the Church of God" by REACH-SA in 2017, he remains a curate in the Diocese of Newcastle and has not yet undertaken any episcopal ministry.

To which province will clergy belong?

The fourth issue, which must immediately be confronted, is the legal position of any minister choosing to follow the advice of The Alliance, who, "encourage all church leaders who are in sympathy with The Alliance to join the parallel Province”. 

Clergy availing themselves of the services of a bishop who does not have permission to carry out episcopal ministry in the Church of England can, and surely would, be disciplined under the Clergy Discipline Measure. They would also find themselves with the personal, as well as legal, conundrums of who is 'their' bishop, which canons they minister under, if/how they can repudiate their diocesan's jurisdiction, to which bishop’s discipline they are subject etc.

It is notable that “church leaders” (whatever that means) not churches will be encouraged to join the parallel province. That must be right because parishes cannot leave the Church of England, which raises the spectre, if the new province is real, of clergy being in onc province and their church in another. Surely that is neither possible nor credible. At the very least it creates the kind of confusion that anyone concerned for exemplary safeguarding would automatically shy away from [1].

Why haven't the new bishops acted sooner?

Finally, The Alliance claim that a core act of the new province will be, "to open up a new pre-ordination stream for potential ordinands, in partnership with orthodox bishops." Again, this is not a new idea - for many years, the now defunct network Reform ran a 'Panel of Reference' which provided candidates with an orthodox discernment process and a number of irregular ordinations were arranged as a result. This was not without difficulty. One ordination was prevented by an injunction and those who were successfully ordained still found that they had to gain the permission of the Archbishop of York or Canterbury if they were to be licensed and receive a stipend in the Church of England.

It might be that The Alliance intend to have a parallel process for selection, training, ordination, licensing and provision of stipends and pensions but again that raises serious safeguarding concerns.

If on the other hand, all they can offer is a process leading to irregular ordinations, it begs the question as to why they have not stepped in this Petertide to ensure that the sixty or so orthodox ordinands that they wrote to the Archbishops about in May, did not "have to choose between their conscience and their calling."

These issues are just a few of the myriad problems. They have been around and known about for years, as readers of this blog well know, and no solutions have yet been found - which is why all the previous concepts have been so empty.

If these issues have not been otherwise resolved, there remain two possibilities. Either this is simply another initiative with a title as grand as it is meaningless, (eg the Church of England London City Deanery), or what is proposed will require mass unlawfulness, with all its consequences.

It would be a strange thing indeed to meet the undoubtedly uncanonical behaviour of the House of Bishops with much greater breaches of the canons. It would be no less strange given the gravity of the issues at stake to announce with such fanfare something that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

It must be sincerely hoped that this is not simply another strategy which is little more than a lot of “sound and fury signifying nothing” which will do the damage of keeping everyone expectant, not forming their own plans, distracted from facing reality and amounting to just another form of “walking together”.

The hope must be that the apparently obvious problems of a 'parallel province' are no such thing and that the 'parallel province' is indeed deeply meaningful, capable of practical implication, and of great utility to many in providing the structural solution so long sought.

This piece has been pointed for a reason. Greater transparency is needed because this is a critical moment - the orthodox leadership of The Alliance will either secure for a generation immense, well-deserved and much needed credibility and authority or the cause of orthodox militancy will be lost for even longer, indeed perhaps forever.

2,558 views18 comments


Jul 02

Once again, we are displaying our typical English insularity, thinking that our situation here is somehow unique and therefore needs a peculiarly English solution - i.e a classic dose of double-think.

Surely the real issue is whether we can go on preaching the Gospel in our existing parishes without any official hindrance and whether we can extend that same saving Gospel into other parishes and new housing areas without official hindrance.

I am afraid the answer is no.

I have just driven across the English Midlands and seen many formerly Evangelical country parishes now absorbed into larger and non-Evangelical groupings, which apart from anything else, are a total pastoral nonsense. Is this likely to advance the Gospel and create ne…


Jul 01

Looks like it's probably just a 'paper province'. Not hearing anything new it would do. Rather like the shadow 'deanery chapter' in London- which was supposed to be rolled out across England but it wasn't because it was just a club for a few mates.


Jul 01

Thank you Anglican Futures for writing this blog! The realism and call for clarity is much needed. If The Alliance really do think they have a plausible way to create a viable orthodox parrallel province they should say how and not be danger of giving false hope to people or stall people from taking other viable Anglican options that are already open (such as ANiE). Ministers livelihoods and homes, church futures and gospel witness is at stake in these decisions and The Alliance should be mindful of that and be careful they do not give people false hope

Jul 01
Replying to

Yes. It's false hopes that are then dashed which are so hard. People who do that need to be accountable but accountability doesn't seem very common in Anglicanism!


Jul 01

There already exists more than one parallel Anglican jurisdiction with proper canons and constitutions , and full recognition by the majority of the global Anglican Communion through Gafcon and GSFA, namely Anglican Network in Europe and Free Church of England. Most C of E conservatives concerned about LLF and wider departures from biblical orthodoxy among the C of E leadership (ie, those represented by The Alliance) do not want to join ANiE or FCE, because as has been pointed out in this article, they would have to leave C of E buildings and central funding. As the article shows, the choice is between remaining in the C of E under revisionist bishops, trying to retain orthodox witness locally through the…

Jul 01
Replying to

It's a really good question as to why there hasn't been proper planning. Perhaps Anglican Futures could blog on that. Comfort? Complaceny? Lack of co-ordinated leadership? Carelessness? Compromised? Navel gazing?


Jun 30

I am hopeful that what is proposed is "mass unlawfulness, with all its consequences". That is why I find this initiative exciting. I don't think it is proposed as a stable end point, but as an act of protest.

When we find ourselves under ungodly leaders who are acting unbiblically (approving of immorality) and unjustly (failing to follow due process) then our rallying cry must be "We must obey God rather than man".

That rallying cry always leads to suffering, but my impression is that many are ready for that.

On Canonicity:

I am not persuaded that the actions of The Rebel Alliance are a "much greater breach" of the canons than the behaviour of the House of Bishops. They…

Jul 02
Replying to

Hi there,

My comment above wasn't aiming to give an opinion on whether either option is right or wrong.

I think we have a duty to first rebuke and then separate from unrepentant public sin and the most serious public sin is false teaching. Option 1 is a good, clear way of fulfilling that duty and is something that has been done in a righteous manner by many people from John Bunyan to Joe Dent. Option 2 can also be a way to fulfil that duty.

My point was simply that the Church of England canons don't offer a canonical way for anyone except bishops to deal with false teachers - and therefore all options will be uncanonical. I don't…

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