Church of England: confusion over episcopal consecration in Newcastle

Episcopus vagans consecrated at Jesmond

George Conger reports at Anglican Ink that on 2 May the Revd Jonathan Pryke was irregularly consecrated as a bishop at Jesmond Parish Church by bishops of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA).

REACH-SA, aka the Church of England in South Africa (CSA), is one of the breakaway Churches in the Anglican tradition; and the Church of England recognises its orders under the terms of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967, along with those of the Free Church of England, the Anglican Church in North America and the Roman Catholic Church, “although it is not in communion with them”. The intention, presumably, is that the Revd Mr Pryke should offer episcopal oversight to Evangelical Anglicans who would prefer not to accept the authority of their diocesan bishop.

At their meeting in Lagos last month, the GAFCON primates called for the consecration of a bishop to support members of the Scottish Episcopal Church opposed to same-sex marriage and members of the Church of England  alienated from their bishops on matters of doctrine and discipline; however, according to the report, “Sources close to the participants in the ceremony state the decision to consecrate Bishop Pryke was taken against the counsel of GAFCON-UK”. Though GAFCON itself declined to comment further, its General Secretary, Archbishop Peter Jensen, told Anglican Ink that the consecration

“is not exactly parallel to the GAFCON initiative, and indeed is entirely independent of it. But it does show, I think, that the situation in England is becoming very difficult for those who want to hold the traditional and biblical view.”

The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) confirmed the story as follows:

“The Executive Committee recently requested that the GAFCON Primates support the consecration of a Missionary Bishop. We were overjoyed when they agreed to do this for the sake of gospel growth. We can confirm that the consecration of the Revd Jonathan Pryke was a gospel decision taken independently of . His consecration was never discussed at our Executive meetings.”

Anglican Ink also carries a long extract from a statement released at the close of the Jesmond Conference in February 2017 in which it was argued that identity of the Church of England had been defined:

“… in the judgment of an Employment Tribunal in 2011 when a disaffected clergyman was taking his Bishop and Diocese to Court. The judge, however, ruled: ‘The Church of England has no legal personality … the title “Church of England” denotes an amalgam of what sometimes seemed an infinite number of bodies with no precise or clear picture … of how the various jigsaw parts interact … the ultimate authority to restructure lies with the Church’s parliament, the General Synod, subject to the Westminster Parliament’ (so the Synod is an ultimate body for restructuring but not for revising doctrine or ethics). And this judgment, after a reversing appeal by the clergyman, was upheld after a diocesan final appeal by the Supreme [sic] Court of Appeal.

That judgment helps us define the ultimate identity of the Church of England, which is not in its structure, nor even in its ordained ministers. For as the doctrine of the Church determines the authority of the bishops and clergy, we have to go to the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974 for the defining doctrine of the Church of England. It is there in these words: ‘The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.’

Those also are the words of Canon A5. And it is those words that give you the Christian faith according to the Catholic Western English Reformed tradition. And that is the established faith of this nation and defines the Church of England doctrinally. We consider that that faith needs to be recovered by a new Reformation.”

Comment

Theological disputes within the Church of England are emphatically not a matter for me; however, if I may be forgiven a nit-picking academic/legal technical point, the views in the passage quoted from the Jesmond Conference paper seem to rest on a category mistake, confusing the nature and role of the Church of England with the issue of legal personality. The former is (presumably) about its theology, mission and ministry: the latter is about its lack of capacity to bring legal proceedings and nothing more.

Nor is it alone in that lack of capacity. The Church of Scotland is not generally regarded as having legal capacity qua Church of Scotland: an action would be raised either by the General Trustees or by one of the Boards or Councils of the Kirk, as appropriate to the issue: see, for example, Percy v Church of Scotland Board of National Mission [2005] UKHL 73. Similarly, in an action involving British Methodism, the claimant or defendant would be the President of the Methodist Conference, not “The Methodist Church”: see, for example, President of the Methodist Conference v Preston [2013] UKSC 29.

The ET judgment referred to in the Jesmond Conference paper is Sharpe v Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance & Anor [2011] ET/1302291/2008 and the quotation, at [14], is accurate. Moreover, in Sharpe v The Bishop of Worcester [2015] EWCA Civ 399, Arden LJ in the Court of Appeal confirmed the view of the ET as to the Church’s legal personality:

“104. … The term ‘fragmentation’ is often used to cover those situations where the “employer’s” functions are split in order to avoid responsibility under employment protection legislation whereas in this case fragmentation occurs because it is a natural feature of the institutional structure of the Church of England.

105. There is no doubt that the courts must not allow fragmentation to prevent a person from exercising his rights as an employee. But that can only be so where the employee can show that he would have had a remedy arising out of an employment contract if there had been no fragmentation. But that cannot happen in this case because even if all the constituent parts of the Church of England were merged together … there was no one legal person with whom there was an exchange of promises to do work in exchange for a wage. There was no need for promises as to, for example, the duties of the rector which were to be found in ecclesiastical law.

106. One might think that the employer must have been the Church of England but as I have already explained, the Church of England is not a legal person.”

But that, I would suggest, tells us simply about the legal capacity of the Church to sue or be sued and nothing about the nature of the Church as a worshipping community. Whether or not “That judgment helps us define the ultimate identity of the Church of England” is, I would suggest, only arguable at best.

[For a licensing case involving ordinations by REACH-SA/CESA, see the Bishop of Winchester’s report to the Archbishop of Canterbury, In the Matter of Canon C12(5) of the Canons of The Church of England – The Reverend Richard John Coekin v The Bishop of Southwark, 5 June 2006.]

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[With grateful acknowledgements to Anglican Ink and thanks to Matthew Chinery for alerting me to the report.] 

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Church of England: confusion over episcopal consecration in Newcastle" in Law & Religion UK, 9 May 2017, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/05/09/church-of-england-confusion-over-episcopal-consecration-in-newcastle/

6 thoughts on “Church of England: confusion over episcopal consecration in Newcastle

  1. If Jonathan Pryke has been appointed by REACH-SA as a bishop, in what way is his legal position different from that of someone renouncing Church of England ministry to take up a position in another denomination? If he were to breach safeguarding or health and safety laws, say, while pursuing work on behalf of REACH-SA, would the Diocese of Newcastle be liable or REACH-SA?

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