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Anglican Myth 2 - "But can't we have "Alternative Episcopal Oversight"?

When bishops go rogue and refuse to uphold their canonical duty to "teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions," it is not surprising that clergy and laity cry out for different bishops.

Some complementarians, perhaps naively, believe they already have 'alternative episcopal oversight' from the Bishop of Maidstone/ Ebbsfleet and some egalitarians are asking why they can't have a similar scheme.

But it is not as simple as that and hopefully this blog will begin to explain why that is.

These questions are not new - Anyone who followed the debates about women entering the episcopate will remember that a number of different arrangements were suggested, debated and turned down before the current scheme was agreed upon. And those who experienced the chaos that unfolded in North America in the early 2000s will also know the Church of England is not alone in facing these problems.

Anglican Futures has already described the spiritual and legal relationships that exist between a member of the clergy and their diocesan bishop "Anglican Myth 1 - "It's my church...". For simplicity's sake, this blog will use the legal term - jurisdiction - to describe the relationship but it is important to note that the legal role cannot be separated from the 'spiritualities' inherent in being under the oversight of a bishop - eg the bishop's role as chief pastor, father in God, principal minister who shares the cure of souls with each vicar.

Let's look at three different approaches:

  • Alternative Episcopal Oversight

  • Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight

  • Additional/Extended Episcopal Pastoral Provision

'Alternative Episcopal Oversight' requires an exchange of bishops. The clergy must first leave the jurisdiction of one diocesan bishop, by resigning or handing in their licence, and then come under the jurisdiction of another bishop, by submitting to the canons of the new jurisdiction and receiving the new bishop's licence. In effect, this is what happens every time a member of the clergy moves from one diocese to another.

However, they don't usually try and take their church with them - and that is where the complications begin.

Presuming that such a transfer would take place within the Church of England - with orthodox parishes wishing to transfer to dioceses with orthodox bishops, at least four decisions would be need to be made.

  • First, the clergy would have to resign or hand in their licence.

  • Second, the receiving bishop/ diocesan synod would have to receive the clergy and take on the responsibility of providing them with pastoral care and paying their stipend.

  • Third, the 'church' would have to vote to leave one diocese and 'move' to another. But the 'church' is connected to the 'parish' - so the decision would affect everyone living within the parish boundary. This means it would need to be an APCM decision rather than a PCC decision, which raises the question of how the community would feel about 'losing' their church, and the potential for this to divide the local community, as well as the congregation, is high.

  • Fourth, the 'temporalities' (buildings) and 'spiritualities' (episcopal and clerical responsibilities) of the parish would have to be 'moved' to a new diocese. Putting aside the question of who owns the buildings, it would be possible for the 'sending' diocese' to offer the 'receiving' diocese a full-repairing lease on the church buildings for a period of time, but that would still require the new diocese to take on the liability of caring for property hundreds of miles from their usual diocesan centre. The bishop would also have to be willing to take on the cure of souls of all who live in the parish. Again, this decision would probably need to be made by diocesan synod.

It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that when Alternative Episcopal Oversight was raised as a possibility in the debates over women bishops it was rejected by General Synod. Some said it would have created dioceses which looked like 'swiss-cheese' - with parishes under the oversight of an 'alternative' bishop to the diocesan dotted around the landscape.

For many though, the idea of receiving oversight from any bishop in the Church of England is no longer tenable. If even the orthodox bishops are willing to 'walk together' with those who condone and celebrate sin, many will be looking to other provinces. Which is what happened in North America in the early 2000s.

Some clergy in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church, who could not accept the changes that were taking place, handed back their licence to their unorthodox diocesan bishop (and in so doing, left their jurisdiction) and came under the oversight of orthodox bishops from Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, South America etc. Thus, the churches they led became outposts of these foreign 'jurisdictions', which is why it was described as 'border crossing' and why, when congregations remained in their buildings, there were so many arguments over the 'temporalities'. When the Anglican Church in North America was formed, these disparate parishes returned their licences to the overseas provinces and with others took new licenses in the new province.

At the same time other orthodox clergy looked to an alternative solution - which is our second option - Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.

Under Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, the diocesan bishop invites another bishop into their diocese and delegates the responsibility of pastoral oversight of a parish or group of parishes to them. The authority, or jurisdiction, remains with the diocesan, but the authority to 'do' certain episcopal acts, such as confirm people or ordain clergy, is delegated to another bishop.

In the 2000s this happened in some parts of the United States. Some diocesan bishops remained orthodox and did not allow unorthodox practices such as same-sex blessings to take place in their dioceses. The unorthodox bishops were encouraged to invite these bishops into their diocese to look after the orthodox parishes. Some clergy and parishes were able to accept this 'halfway-house' - they may still have been in an unorthodox diocese, under the authority of an unorthodox bishop, but they had formal fellowship and pastoral care from an orthodox bishop. They could survive.

Twenty years later, this approach was turned on its head - with orthodox bishops being forced to allow unorthodox bishops and clergy into their dioceses to offer same-sex marriages and care for unorthodox parishes. When the orthodox Bishop of Albany, Bishop Love, refused to do this he was forced to resign. He then took a licence in ACNA.

Again, the Church of England looked to the idea of Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight when they were working out how to introduce female bishops. But the first Measure, which included the word 'delegated', was rejected by General Synod in 2012, so that word does not appear anywhere in the House of Bishops’ Declaration that passed in 2014. The approach that has been taken could be described as 'Extended' or 'Additional' Episcopal Pastoral Provision.

The House of Bishops' Declaration describes these arrangements as simple, reciprocal and mutual.

Simple - the diocesan bishop retains jurisdiction - the relationship between the parish, the clergy and the diocesan does not change.

Reciprocal - in return for the diocesan making arrangements for another bishop to provide some pastoral and sacramental ministry for the parish - “everyone, notwithstanding differences of conviction on this issue, will accept that they can rejoice in each other’s partnership in the Gospel and cooperate to the maximum possible extent in mission and ministry.”

Mutual - "means that those of differing conviction will be committed to making it possible for each other to flourish. All should play a full part in the lives of the deaneries and dioceses and be prepared to engage with the diocesan bishop whoever he or she is."

So, PCCs that have passed a resolution - or more accurately made a request to the diocesan bishop - have had to be clear that they are not separating themselves from the diocesan bishop, or the diocese. The only issue is a difference in theological conviction in relation to gender and ordained ministry, so the diocesan bishop has a moral, but not legal, obligation to arrange for, and give permission to, a male bishop (of the diocesan bishop's choosing) to provide appropriate pastoral and sacramental ministry to the parishes.

The 'additional' bishop serves in the diocese in a similar way to a suffragan bishop - they swear an Oath of Canonical Obedience to the diocesan bishop, accepting their jurisdiction, and whilst they can confirm and ordain people, with the permission of the diocesan, they have no responsibility for safeguarding, or the development or discipline of clergy.

There has always been a concern that this 'arrangement' would be used by others as a means of creating distance between the PCC and the diocesan bishop, so the the limits of the arrangement were underlined in the guidance.

“It is important to note that the resolution should be founded on theological conviction in relation to gender and ordained ministry. Considerations such as the personality or theological stance of the diocesan bishop, social conservatism or a desire to distance the parish from the policies of the diocese- for example in relation to pastoral reorganisation, parish share and the deployment of clergy- are not relevant.” (Para 10)

Which brings us to the current crisis:

When bishops go rogue and refuse to uphold their canonical duty to "teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions," it is not surprising that clergy and laity cry out for different bishops.


There is no mechanism for Alternative Episcopal Oversight within the Church of England.

There is no mechanism for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight within the Church of England.

Additional or Extended Episcopal Pastoral Provision is only available to provide PCCs with pastoral and sacramental provision that meets their theological convictions in relation to gender and ordained ministry and it requires the clergy and parish to be in full Gospel partnership.

By commending these prayers under Canon B5, the bishops have placed the decision as to whether to use Prayers of Love and Faith on local clergy.

In GS2289 the Bishops state:

"The variety within the prayers, and the freedom for clergy to decide whether and how to use them, reflects the bishops’ desire to walk together, while being real and honest about the disagreements that persist within the Church of England regarding these matters. "

Their willingness to walk together means that all the bishops have accepted that issues of marriage and human sexuality are adiaphora - things indifferent. This is contrary to Scripture and contrary to the beliefs of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion.

Not a single bishop has said they are not 'walking together' and so not even one bishop is prepared to be a true focus of unity.

Which leaves a whole lot of questions for a whole lot of people about where they can find orthodox episcopal oversight or how they might survive under unorthodox bishops.

Please scroll down to leave your comments or ask your questions.

And if you would like the chance to talk to someone about how your 'Anglican Future' may work out, you might like to know we are about to launch a new service offering bespoke consultations to help you consider how you might sustain gospel ministry in the coming years.

Contact us for more information.


Photo Credit Bonnie Kittle at Unsplash

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