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Flying Bishops Down Under?

Flying Bishops

In NZ Anglicanism, the interim report from the Motion 29 Working Group (M29WG) suggests a structure within our Church which would “safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships”.

I am working towards possibly responding to that interim report – as the report requests people to do. And so this post is part of a series that’s thinking things through. This is the third post – the first post is here, the second is here.

I have been helped in my reflecting by the response by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans New Zealand (FCANZ). In my first couple of posts, I’ve examined inconsistency between practice and teaching/Constitution/Formularies. FCANZ then looks at the Motion 29 Working Group’s suggestion to create “Christian Communities” to provide protection for those of alternate conviction who would come under the authority of a Visiting Bishop from within our Church. The M29WG say they draw this model from the way Religious Orders are normally part of a church. Apparently our Church has not formally recognised Religious Orders in this manner by General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW), and the M29WG proposal, they say, would at the same time remedy this. I have a side concern that, from my conversations, it seems that the Religious Orders have not been consulted – at least not widely about this! Recognise Religious Orders formally, by all means, but do that as an independent action. It seems astonishing to me that the first formal recognition of Religious Orders in our Church would occur in structural accomodation to enable the Blessing of Committed Same-Sex Couples! If my conversations have been misinformed, and the Religious Orders have been widely consulted by the M29WG, then I apologise, and will withdraw my indignation, and update this post – let me know.

To continue: FCANZ finds the M29WG’s episcopal oversight inadequate and propose, (writing in bold), that

Ministry units of a conviction different to their diocesan Bishop must be able to have alternative, rather than simply additional, episcopal oversight.

Essentially, this is a model (often called ‘flying bishops’) followed in the Church of England for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests. At issue, for FCANZ, is

when a diocesan Bishop allows (or prohibits) practices within their Diocese/Hui Amorangi that members of the Community believe to be unconstitutional or inappropriate

I would suggest that there have previously been situations where bishops have allowed practices that others have found inappropriate. Yet, we have managed without alternative episcopal oversight.

The question arises: what do FCANZ see as the function of the diocesan/Hui Amorangi bishop? Are all communities and individuals who sign up to FCANZ in full agreement with women bishops? If they say they agree with women being bishops and they are under the oversight of a woman bishop, can they demonstrate their concurrence by pointing to the most recent time they have had the bishop preach at their main service? Otherwise, just as highlighted in the previous paragraph, why did FCANZ not call for flying bishops when it became possible to have women bishops (or divorced-and-remarried bishops, as another possibility)? Why now, as the Blessing of Committed Same-Sex Couples becomes a possibility, is there the call for alternative episcopal oversight?

Some are calling for a deeper study of ecclesiology, of marriage, of sexuality. Again, these feel like further delaying tactics. Where were the calls for deeper study of ecclesiology when we created the novelty of a Three Tikanga Church, or of having two co-equal bishops in one diocese, or three Primates? Where were the calls for deeper study of marriage when we changed the Canon of Marriage to allow divorced people to be married in church?

To be continued

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25 thoughts on “Flying Bishops Down Under?”

  1. Bosco, now that the Sydney Anglican Diocese has promised 1 million dollars out of its treasury to promote the “NO” Vote on the Australian proposition for Same-Sex (Equal) Marriage; I can imagine that FOCANZ will be even further drawn to the idea of that rara avis – a flying bishop – to travel over from Sydney to protect FOCANZ membership from contamination with Same-Sex Blessings in New Zealand.

    Yes, I am aware that Equal Marriage (already legal in New Zealand) is NOT what Motion 29 is really about, but FOCANZ doesn’t even want God’s Blessing upon what has already been bestowed by the State and, I believe, will demand oversight from the Diocese of Sydney – with which it has a familial relationship through the GAFCON Primates, of whom the ex-Archbishop of Sydney happens to be an advocate.

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron. I’m not as quick as you to disconnect the recommendations from NZ’s civil equality in marriage – I’m happy to be corrected, but I think what is being discussed is blessing a committed same-sex couple who have been civilly married. I’m also not sure that FCANZ is talking about a flying bishop from another province – I think they are advocating for flying bishops from within our own province. You do point to an important point, however, that needs adding to their discussion: if FCANZ do not find, within our House of Bishops, someone consistent with their position – what process would be used to obtain such a bishop. Thanks for that new thought. Blessings.

      1. In the Church of England there are two forms of flying bishops (Provential Episcopal Visitors.) Presently there are four who are bishops suffragan to the two provential Archbishops, one in York and three in Canterbury. They each have no assigned geographical episcopal area as most suffragans in England. They visit the parishes in their prospective provinces who won’t accept the oversight of their diocesan or suffragan bishop because of “female taint” of some variety. However, there is a second sort of flying bishop who is already a sufragan bishop in a diocese with an episcopal area who meets the standard of not having “female taint” who provides episcopal oversight to parishes in their own diocese who will not accept the oversight of their diocesan or suffragan bishop.

        As you can see it can be complicated, especially when determining if someone has the taint! Taint equals; having ordained women, participated in ordaining women, having been ordained by a woman, having had a woman participate in one’s ordination or, baring any actual participation in all of the above, just agreeing with the ministry of women as a matter of theological conviction.

        ACANZ&P, being organized a differently to the CoE, may have an even more complicated go of it. Flying bishops for each of the three kitanga? Flying bishops who serve cross kitanga? Flying bishops who are from an episcopal unit and only serve congregations within that unit?

        It’s all silly and fudge to me!

      2. You and I know, Bosco, that there is already one diocesan bishop in New Zealand who has attended GAFCON meeetings. Perhaps s/he would be happy to oblige. But where would that leave the collegiality of the N.Z. House of Bishops?

        1. My understanding is, Fr Ron, that you are talking about one of the members of the Interim Report of the Motion 29 Working Group – which did not come up with flying bishops as an option. Blessings.

  2. Their statement misses the point that flying bishops were introduced in England not merely as cover for divergent convictions but for such convictions regarding orders and ministry. In that context, a solution in orders and ministry makes some sense.

    This solution has been ecclesiologically problematic, as has been seen in the recent attempt to appoint a bishop who does not partake in women’s sacramental ministry to a diocese with women priests.

    Anglican evangelicals have a higher tendency to congregationalism than most. I suspect that they have not much use for bishops anyway.

  3. I must protest, Bosco and Gareth!
    Anglican evangelicals have a great deal of use for bishops who (a) teach the faith (b) pastorally oversee clergy and congregations and, from time to time, ordain pastors for the aforesaid congregations and confirm members of the same.
    I ask that some care is taken when slotting Anglican evangelicals into the “congregational” category: if Anglican evangelicals were so easily categorised, do you think we would not have exercised that option already and said good bye to bishops?
    The request for consideration of the possibility of alternative episcopal oversight comes precisely because Anglican evangelicals value episcopal church more than (say) presbyterian church or (pure) congregational church. We know those options exist; we may even have tried them!
    Incidentally, the key term is “alternative episcopal oversight” and not “flying bishops” since the request for an alternative bishop is not necessarily about modes of transport. An alternative bishop in a diocese might live in the diocese and have a handy bike or two available 🙂

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      If you are going to respond to my point, you will need to address why there has been no call for alternative episcopal oversight with the possibility of women bishops nor of divorced-and-remarried bishops – or are you suggesting that there are no congregations in our Church that have issues with such, and you have the teaching and confirmation statistics, as just examples from your comment, to back that up?

      As to your “key-term” point about providing “an alternative bishop in a diocese” (I presume you would also include Hui Amorangi), FCANZ’s media release is very evenhanded – so you appear to be suggesting every diocese and every Hui Amorangi would have two bishops – one, who would allow blessing committed same-sex couples, the other who would not. This is certainly a much bigger proposition than I took from my reading of the FCANZ statement.


    2. Peter, I really don’t think evangelical Anglicans have this high regard for the episcopate that you speak of. I think history makes that clear. The temptation to congregationalism is there for all parish ministers: to be released from oversight to be able to get on with It. For evangelicals, who classically hold a lower view of the place of sacraments in the life of the church, the bishop’s importance as fons sacramentorum is haedly considered. The question i ask in ecclesiology class is: what constitutes the Local Church, in which the fullness of the life of the church may be found. The instinct of many is that it is a congregation.

      1. Gareth, the funny thing about the GAFCON-sponsored conservatives in the U.K. who have already departed from the C.of E., is that they have now been given not just one but two alternative bishops to meet their apparent need for schismatic separation from the Church of England. So, we must surely conclude that some con/Evos do want to preserve a type of epicopacy – which, however, is neither catholic nor orthodox.

  4. Hi Bosco
    I was responding to a point which seemed to deride evangelicals as unnecessarily enthusiastic for alternative episcopal oversight when they are basically congregational. That response has not been debunked above.

    My point about not using the term “flying bishops” is that that jumps to a conclusion. The conclusion may be “flying bishops” (or even, in a church as small as ours, one flying bishop) but it might be about local bishops. I am not at all suggesting every diocese and hui amorangi would need to have a second bishop if the alternative bishops were local. There might only be three or four of the dioceses/hui amorangi which sought such oversight.

    I don’t need to address non-calls for alternative oversight for other issues. It is for those who think such a call should have been made to explore why the non-call has not been made.

    What is being addressed by FCANZ’s media release is a situation in which some in our church believe we will have two teachings about same sex sexual activity: one which says it is holy and one which says it is sin. It is quite reasonable, noting the teaching office of the bishop as one who upholds what the church believes, to ask that consideration be given to one bishop per alternative teaching on this matter

    1. Thanks, Peter. Thou doth protest too much, methinks. Alternative episcopal oversight, provincial episcopal visitor, or whatever term you use (they are “popularly known as a flying bishop“) is used by Anglo-Catholics as well as Anglo-Evangelicals.

      You misrepresent FCANZ’s media release – they are quite clear that our church will have only one teaching and two practices. That, as I have indicated, is currently the situation with divorce and remarriage.

      You also contradict yourself in saying, on the one hand, “There might only be three or four of the dioceses/hui amorangi which sought such oversight” (it is not dioceses and hui amorangi that seek oversight – it would be individual clergy and communities) whilst, on the other hand, you are calling for one bishop per alternative.


      1. Hi Bosco
        Me? Protest too much?
        OK. I give in, Flying Bishops is the popular term etc, whatever the numbers, actual mode of transport etc.

        Yes, I realise that officially there would only be one teaching, two practices, but my conversations (including discussions on ADU) lead me to think that nevertheless conservatives (whether or not they contributed to the FCANZ media release) are of a mind that a bishop permitting a practice is effectively permitting the teaching underlining that practice.

        You and I might argue the point but do we not both need to listen to the undercurrents in our church on these matters? (But, to be clear, I may be misunderstanding what I am hearing.)

        If I have contradicted myself then, I have done so. Let me try to be more accurate in speech. (1) potentially a way forward on AEO could be to provide for two bishops per episcopal unit (and no planes needed!). (2) in reality I don’t think each episcopal unit will have within it clergy/parishes seeking AEO so we may not need every episcopal unit to have two bishops. (3) however, obviously, we could have an episcopal unit or two which turned out to have just one or two clergy/parishes seeking AEO: likely on all sides that would be recognised as not constituting a need for a second bishop and thus a bishop would need to, ahem, fly in!

        I also recognise that AEO could be provided by not ordaining any extra bishops but through extra workload for existing bishops.

        It does get a bit complicated, as far as I can see! I might yet blog on it. But my own workload and flying visits here and there are getting in the way 🙂

        1. Thanks, Peter.

          I hope you might clarify, because it is unclear to me, whether you are yourself now advocating for Alternative Episcopal Oversight.

          I doubt that there are many episcopal units which are so homogenous that all, within this unit, would bless same-sex couples or all would refuse to do so – so I am unconvinced by your point (2).

          There are others you might adjure to listen. I have certainly “listened to the undercurrents in our church on these matters”, and it is clear to me that my preferred (and proposed) solution has no legs in our province at this time. I would note that there is even stronger obligation to listen by the leadership driving this provincially – and, in that context, I reiterate that there has not been a response to my Open Letter to Anglican Leaders from General Synod Standing Committee, nor the Chancellors, nor the Liturgical Commission, who received the letter from the General Secretary. Nor, as I note in my post, has there been the appropriate listening to our religious orders, as far as I can ascertain.

          I am opposed to Alternative Episcopal Oversight. A bishop is a bishop of the whole church – not simply the leader of a self-selecting group of people who agree with each other about the moral status of gay sex. I repeat: we seem to manage perfectly well without alternative episcopal oversight with any number of other disagreements – what is it about this particular minority issue that leads to calls for it now?! Your conclusion that “It does get a bit complicated, as far as I can see!” hardly argues in its favour.

          I have taken the liberty of making your “ADU” clickable – it refers (for readers here unaware of it) to Peter’s excellent blog, Anglican Down Under, on which he graciously hosts energetic discussions.


          1. Hi Bosco
            I am currently not declaring myself to be an advocate of AEO but I am willing to discuss it and entertain the possibility of it on the grounds that AEO is a lesser “evil” than schism.

            In principle a bishop is a bishop of the whole church and in practice a bishop’s ministry is of the whole church and so approved by a whole church procedure.

            But also in practice we do tend to have some clear territorial demarcations re bishops and their ministries: cross border confirmation incursions not permitted etc. And, in our Three Tikanga church, we have very, very little cross-Tikanga episcopal ministry occurring (IMHObservation).

            In the end that does not get around your point per se, so I guess my point falls back to: what are we prepared to do in order to remain constitutionally one church? (Or, is there nothing?)

          2. Thanks, Peter. I wouldn’t make too much of bishops only normally confirming those within their episcopal unit – a bishop has oversight over a specific geographic area. This is not an argument against bishops being a bishop in the whole church. Is the “solution” to change the 2,000 year understanding of bishops as signs and source of unity to signs and source of lack of unity? Will such bishops, as just one example, in “Integrity 1” participate in the ordination of bishops to “Integrity 2”? Is that what would be “constitutionally one church”? Or is this a Claytons church? Blessings.

  5. Hi Gareth
    I have no idea where you teach (and apologise for my ignorance!) but I am speaking out of the ACANZP situation (in which I don’t recognise you as a teacher of renown) and in this situation we evangelical Anglicans have congregational tendencies and yet marry those with a desire for responsible oversight and leadership through sound teaching.

    We like having a bishop to hold us together, to call us together and to preside over our synodical governance of the church. We think bishops place a vital roles in proclaiming the gospel and in speaking out prophetically.

    We may not have the desired view of the sacraments which places added weight and honour to the episcopal office but that does not change our keenness to be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament by one who is called to the office of a bishop (compared with the ordinations we know take place via other orderings of such matters in Presbyterian and other churches – valid in their own way etc but not, seemingly of sufficient attractional force to wean us off the addictive idea of episcopacy).

  6. Well, for all I know the Anglican evangelicals of New Zealand are exceptional! In the rest of the Communion, the usual stance of Anglican evangelicals is that bishops do not have a significant place in the ecclesiology. Now, Anglican evangelicals can have a lot of time for bishops who are like-minded evangelicals and manage congregations well. But neither thing is peculiar to a bishop.

    The original flying bishops (and we do often call things other than their legal names, like our spouses!) were important to English Anglo-Catholics because they believe that a bishop is there to ‘rightly and duly administer the sacraments’ and so affirm the sacramental ministry of priests. With the appearance of a serious doubt whether bishops who ordain women as priests are rightly administering sacraments, a serious ecclesiological solution was needed. The flying bishops have all been Anglo-Catholics until recently when Archbishop Justin ordained a leading evangelical to a vaguely similar role. It was not that the evangelicals wanted a flying bishop, but simply someone who talked and thought like them at the Big Table.

    Bishops are supposed to be a symbol of unity in the church. The breadth of Anglicanism means that bishops need to be functionally and sacramentally regarded across the spectrum. To desire a different bishop because you disagree with the duly appointed bishop’s doctrine is a serious matter. Either that bishop’s doctrine and yours are both consonant with the official teaching of the church — in which case there is no need for another bishop — or one is wrong and should be disciplined and/or removed. If a bishop is teaching wrong doctrine, alternative episcopal oversight is not what is required, but the bishop’s removal.

  7. Hi Gareth
    Of course Kiwis are special!
    The critical point you make concerns the point about unity.
    So, a similar response from me to one I make to Bosco above:
    – could we have an innovative approach to bishops and bishoping in order to preserve unity?
    – Or, is such innovation as appears to be contemplated impossible within a church whose unity is symbolised by its bishops?

    A frisson here for us Kiwis is our development of a Three Tikanga church which, with its cross-territorial bishops, does mean that if X is unhappy with his or her bishop they can seek to be licensed to another bishop (in another Tikanga). In practice this is not straightforward (e.g. most stipended clergy work within the parishes of Tikanga Pakeha, Tikanga Maori has very few stipended positions) but changes do happen and, in a small church, this is known to happen.

    Thus evangelicals here who propose flying bishops do so with the CofE model in mind but also with the (dare I call it?) episcopal peculiarity of our church also in mind.

    1. Thanks, Peter. You forget to mention our Kiwi development of having two co-equal bishops in one diocese. [You may need to get us up to speed on that – and you may not have mentioned it, because I may now be out of date. My understanding was that there were two co-equal bishops of the one diocese: The Anglican Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki. But, I note now that on the website, one is termed the Bishop of Waikato, the other is the Bishop of Taranaki. Are they now two sort-of-Kiwi-style “dioceses” – or what?] Blessings.

      1. It was my understanding that they are still the co-equal bishops of the diocese, but each has their epicscopal area of responsibility within said diocese.


      2. It did cross my mind to mention that situation as another variation on the Once were Nicaea Arrangements 🙂

        They are one diocese re synod (which has just met) but seem to operate a number of things as “two regions”. Beyond that I cannot comment re (e.g.) who determines ordination decisions; who is in charge of clergy discipline, etc.

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