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A Unicorn Made of Fairy Dust?

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

One of the aims of Anglican Futures is to provoke discussion and get people thinking.

We would love to hear your response to this series of blogs, either on our Facebook page or by commenting below.

Anglican Futures admires the work of CEEC and realises the importance of including all possibilities in working documents.

In mid-2020, the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) set out what it would seek in terms of “visible differentiation” should the Church of England change its teaching and/or practice in relation to Human Sexuality, saying:

"Should it be necessary, the Council, in order of preference, seek:

  • A new third province for those with a liberal approach (with the existing provinces taking an orthodox approach);

  • A reconfiguration of the two existing provinces with Canterbury maintaining an orthodox approach for the sake of the unity of the Anglican Communion and York being the liberal province. This would mean that parishes would be in Canterbury or York dependent on their theology rather than their geography;

  • A new third province for those with an orthodox approach (with the existing provinces being free to move in a liberal direction)." (Visibly Different p82)

As set out in the previous blog in this series, unless the bishops and archbishops of the provinces were not in communion it is difficult to see how any of these three options could create sufficient differentiation.

That aside, however, this post explores the suggestion that the idea of a “third province” is so remote it is really no more than “A Unicorn made of Fairy Dust”. In order to test that proposition, it is only fair to analyse the least controversial of the CEEC options - a new province for the orthodox.

It is possible to say that because the option has also been well-tested on a road already well-travelled.

In the Church of England

The idea of a 'third province' was first floated as a possible way of providing episcopal oversight to those who could not in conscience accept women as bishops. Both the Rochester Report and the Guildford Report, however, rejected the idea, and favoured some form of 'transferred episcopal arrangement', which did not undermine the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. (A relatively weak version of which was introduced by the House of Bishops' Declaration and the provision of three provincial episcopal visitors.)

The Chair of the Guildford Report explained why a 'third province' would not be appropriate,

"... the establishment of a third province within the same territory seems tantamount to a form of institutionalized schism... not least where there would be capacity and probability of the new ‘province’ declaring itself out of communion with its elder sister." (p47-48)

In the wider Anglican Communion

Moreover, elsewhere in the Anglican Communion we see how twin jurisdictions have been regarded by the Church of England.

In the USA there are two Anglican jurisdictions (The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)). In Brazil the same is true (Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil and Anglican Church of Brazil). Likewise, South Africa (the Anglican Church of South Africa and the Reformed Episcopal Anglican Church (REACH-SA)).

In each case the first-named is “recognised” by the Archbishop of Canterbury and regarded by him as part of the Anglican Communion and the second-named is not. It has been open to Justin Welby to recognise any of those entities, but he has not done so.

All this was set out by the now former Archbishop of Sydney, Right Revd Dr Glenn Davies while he was still in post.

In 2018, he made a plea that that overlapping jurisdictions should be recognised in the USA, Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand. His hope was that, “…a new Lambeth Conference must rise from the ashes of disagreement”. Needless to say his well-reasoned case fell on deaf ears in Canterbury precipitating the foundation of a new extra-provincial diocese in New Zealand (the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa New Zealand (CCAANZ)) and decidedly no “new Lambeth Conference”.

Rather, Justin Welby invited a few of the Bishops of the ACNA and REACH-SA to the Lambeth Conference and then only as mere “observers” - not as Anglicans, but like any other ecumenical guest. He also took the time to state falsely that the Primate of the ACNA had left the Anglican Communion. (You can find a good summary of the history here).

None of the churches concerned accept that they are not part of the Anglican Communion, nor that they need to apply to join, because whatever the Archbishop of Canterbury says, they have never left it. Indeed, Justin Welby is in a distinct minority in suggesting otherwise. The vast majority of the world’s Anglicans, as represented by the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, recognise, without question ACNA, REACH-SA, CCAANZ and the Anglican Church of Brazil, as the members of the Anglican Communion they have always been and continue to be and are in full communion with them [1].

Bizarrely, in these post-colonial times, one elderly, white, straight, male, Old Etonian from Kent, who is no more than primus inter pares and, in truth heads a tiny province, feels he has the right to disagree. Even stranger is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is all too eager to state when it suits him that he is not an Anglican pope and cannot and would not exclude any church from the Communion. But strikingly that is exactly what he has done to the orthodox jurisdictions named above. Time and again he has stressed the absolute inviolability of existing ecclesial boundaries.

So where does that leave us?

Surely, it is inconceivable that Justin Welby would now embrace in his own “backyard” what he has resolutely rejected in, and for, the rest of the world? If he did do the unexpected, how could he then do other than recognise the new jurisdictions elsewhere in the world? Not least of them the proto-province which is the Anglican Network in Europe, again (in part) in his own country?

But then, if he did, might he claim such provinces have to be in Communion with Canterbury - just at the time they, and other recognised provinces, have said they might soon need to break Communion ?

To this of course has to be added that the present Archbishop of Canterbury has previously, albeit in private, rejected outright the idea of a new province.

But all that is only the start.

The CEEC proposals do not even seek to address such vexed questions as the following:

- if not, to what extent are they one church?

- if so, how would the small new province have meaningful representation?

  • Would the provinces share the same body of canon law or would the different provinces be able to develop its own corpus?

- if not, to what extent are they one church?

- if so, will there be a pick and mix approach to canonical obedience?

  • Would the provinces have a common Prayer Book?

  • Would orders, including of new ordinations by any of the three Provinces be mutually recognised?

  • How would the Church Commissioners’ resources be allocated and would they with their, quite proper, autonomy agree?

  • How would diocesan assets (and liabilities) be apportioned?

  • Who would pay the clergy and how?

  • Would the new province take on responsibility for church schools in their parishes? What would happen if the school did not want to be part of the orthodox province?

  • How many churches would, or could, actually leave and would the province even be viable?

  • What government, even if in agreement, is going to commit the necessary time and resource to the primary legislation required to implement a new Province and when?

The CEEC proposals suggest that joining the new province would occur by a vote by the PCC which would be binding for a decade. Most who have served on a PCC would be surprised if many had ever committed to a decision for a decade but more importantly surely the parish (for as much as it is anyone’s, it is their church) and not just the PCC would be entitled to a view, and presumably that would be largely anti-orthodox, even anti-Christian.

As the Rochester Report found,

"This is not just a matter for the PCC. It affects all who live within the boundaries of the parish. It would be fitting, therefore, for the decision to be taken (after extensive explanation and discussion, both leading up to and during the meeting) by a special general meeting of the parish and with the requirement of more than a simple majority (two-thirds?). There should also be provision for a possible reversal of any decision to opt out." (p222)

A delightful dream?

This blogpost has set out, in the merest sketch, the breadth and depth of the reasons why a new province may well not be viable. Of course, some will say that, “where there is a will there is a way", and Anglican Futures would love to hear suggestions as to how problems could be overcome. And we fear there isn’t a will amongst many. Even Bishop Stephen Croft, who has accepted that some form of structural provision might be necessary, has suggested that it should only be along the lines of that provided for parishes that cannot accept the ministry of female bishops.

Unicorns are lovely and romantic just as a sprinkling of fairy dust is delightful dream.

And who doesn’t like to dream by day or night? But in the real world perhaps a new province is best seen for what it is: a Unicorn made of Fairy Dust?

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