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The start of an episcopal free for all?

The start of an episcopal free for all?

Anglican Futures
May 17, 2024

On Saturday 10th May 2024, the Church in Wales consecrated their youngest ever bishop. According to his biography, the now-Rt Revd David Morris is just 38 years old, has a cat called Gordon, and in his spare time enjoys enjoys gardening, travelling and keeping fit. He also enjoys spending time with his fiance, Mr Marc Penny.

He is not the first bishop in the Church in Wales to be in a same-sex relationship; the Rt Revd Cherry Vann, the Bishop of Monmouth, has been in a same-sex civil partnership since 2015. David Morris is, however, the first to describe his same-sex partner as his fiance, which would suggest they have plans to marry.

It is the sign of the times that this is hardly newsworthy.

However, the fact that one of the bishops laying hands on David Morris was a member of the Church of England, who was there as a representative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, makes this a very significant event.

The video below is the recording of the consecration service - with the laying on of hands taking place at approximately 1hr 10 minutes. This clip shows Rt Revd Jill Duff, Bishop of Lancaster (in the Church of England) and an Honorary Assistant Bishop of St Asaph (in the Church in Wales), moving forward to lay her hands on David Morris at the moment of consecration.

In the simplest terms, the laying on of hands by bishops, during the Anglican consecration service, is a sign that the gathered bishops give their approval to the individual joining their number. In effect, one generation of bishops selects the next generation of bishops, "the intention of which is to safeguard, transmit, and restate in every generation the apostolic faith delivered once for all to the saints." [1]

Thus, in this service, the laying on of hands was accompanied by the following prayer (spoken in Welsh by the Archbishop of Wales):
"Send your Holy Spirit upon your servant, for the office and work of a bishop in your Church. Fill him with the grace and power which you gave to your apostles, that as a true shepherd he may care for your people and lead them in proclaiming the saving gospel of your love."

It is also important to note that Anglican bishops are consecrated as bishops of the "Church of God"- not as bishops of the 'Church in Wales' or 'Church of England' - so the decision to consecrate someone in one province automatically has implications for the whole Anglican Communion.

This is why the decision of TEC, in 2003, to consecrate Gene Robinson, a divorced man in a same-sex relationship, was so significant. It was his consecration, rather than the blessings that had already taken place, which the Primates said marked a "crucial and critical point" in the history of the Anglican Communion.

Then, as now, the majority of global Anglicans believed that apostolic teaching calls for those engaging in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage to be loved by the church and called to repent. Without repentance, such a person cannot be considered a "true shepherd" and therefore should be precluded from ordination or consecration. It was, therefore, TEC's willingness to consecrate a man in a same-sex relationship which tore "the fabric of [the] communion at its deepest level."

Returning to the events of Saturday 11th May 2024, Bishop Jill Duff told Anglican Futures that she was asked to attend the consecration of Bishop David Morris as a representative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York [2]. She was very clear that it was in that capacity, rather than as an honorary assistant bishop in the Church in Wales, that she did so.

This raises a number of issues of national and international significance:
First, this means a bishop of the Church of England was involved in the consecration of a man whose conduct would prevent him from being consecrated as a bishop in the Church of England.

The Church in Wales may have decided that the consecration was "in accordance with their Constitution" but the Church of England has yet to agree. It is surely wrong to consecrate a bishop of the Church of God whose life and teaching is contrary to the doctrine that you have personally sworn to uphold.

Second, it would appear that it was actually the Archbishops of the Church of England who asked Bishop Jill to represent them at the consecration.

The involvement of the Archbishops raises the stakes. This cannot be seen as the act of a 'rogue' bishop because it appears to have the approval of those responsible for provincial discipline. It seems, that they too are willing, at least behind the scenes, to commend the ministry of a bishop living in a manner contrary to the current doctrine and practice of the Church of England.

This would give credence to the rumours that the forthcoming CofE Pastoral Guidance will "by the removal of 'so-called' discipline" mean that "clergy in some dioceses are going to be able to marry their same-sex partners. Maybe as soon as this autumn."

This consecration therefore appears to be a hint of what will soon become normal in the Church of England.

Third, it therefore goes without saying that the Archbishops have little concern about the impact of their decision on the wider Anglican Communion.

Earlier this month, ten Primates from Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, refused to attend the Primates Meeting in Rome, because of "more than 25 years of 'repeated departures from the authority of God's Word.'"

At the time, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the media that they, "were no less loved" and that their absence was "very, very grievous". He said that he longed to "hear their voices and their words and their thoughts."

Such words sound very empty when, just a few weeks later, he is sending a representative to commend and consecrate a man who embodies the very departure from God's word that led to their absence.

If the Archbishops of the Church of England wanted to hold out a token of peace and reconcilation to the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) before the first GSFA Assembly in June, this was not the way to go about it.

Fourth, this consecration reveals how even the orthodox have been seduced by the idea of 'plural truth'.

Bishop Jill Rt Revd Jill Duff has been described as a "hero" by orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England.
• She is well known for speaking in favour of the traditional teaching of the church on matters of sexuality at General Synod and as part of the Church of England Evangelical Council's video, "The Beautiful Story".
• In November 2024, she told General Synod, "if we bring the Pastoral Guidance, which includes pastoral provision for our clergy to enter same-sex civil marriage, this is a change of doctrine."
• She was one of fourteen bishops who published a paper outlining the Church of England's doctrine of marriage in January 2023.
• She was one of four bishops to vote against the House of Bishops' proposals to introduce the 'Prayers of Love and Faith' in February 2023 and one of eleven bishops to sign a statement distancing themselves from the decisions of the House of Bishops in October 2023.

It therefore came as a surprise to many that she was prepared to consecrate Bishop David Morris.

Bishop Jill told Anglican Futures that she had thought very carefully about whether to be involved in the consecration and felt comfortable that all involved knew she believed both David Morris and the Church in Wales to be "in error". She explained, however, that being a reconciling presence between England and Wales, after 1500 years of bitterness, "took precedence over contemporary political battles in England".

It is unlikely that Bishop Jill meant to suggest that the issues that have torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion at the deepest level were just a local spat, but there is still a danger that that is how it will be heard.

More importantly, the very idea that a bishop could participate in the consecration of someone they believe to be "in error" is only possible by putting to one side the belief that a bishop's primary calling is to "safeguard, transmit, and restate in every generation the apostolic faith delivered once for all to the saints."

But Bishop Jill Duff is not alone in this. For ten years, the current Archbishop of Canterbury has pedelled the view that the ultimate expression of holiness is a Church which holds together diametrically opposing views about fundamental issues on which the apostles spoke clearly.

Such teaching has turned on its head the idea of the bishop being the 'focus of unity'. Traditionally such a designation was founded on their canonical duty to teach truth and drive away error. Unity was therefore found in, and under, God's revealed word or 'apostolic teaching'. Contemporary ideas of 'plural truth' have led bishops to consider themselves to be the 'focus of unity', which they achieve by accepting and blessing a multitude of contradictory perspectives and values.

Finally, this consecration may have negative impacts on the orthodox in the Church of England who are "compelled to resist".

Although Bishop Jill is not a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), she is seen by many as a representative of the orthodox cause.

CEEC have consistently argued that to bless a same-sex relationship, or to ordain someone in a same-sex relationship, rejects apostolic teaching. It is this that leads them to call for a "legally secure structural settlement" which allows them to remain within the Church of England, but clearly separated from those who do not accept this view. One of the key requirements of such a settlement is for clergy and lay people to receive the episcopal oversight of an orthodox bishop.

Such an argument will, however, be that much harder for them to make now that one of the most orthodox bishops in the Church of England has commended and celebrated the episcopal ministry of a man living in a same-sex relationship. How can an orthodox ordinand presume to reject the ministry of someone who an orthodox bishop has demonstrated they would be happy to consecrate?

Bishop Jill Duff may seek a "missional ecosystem" where the orthodox can flourish alongside those in error - but her actions suggest that she does not believe that such an ecosystem will require the level of provision CEEC have requested.

Bishop David Morris is only 38. He is likely to have at least thirty-two years of episcopal ministry ahead of him. Thirty-two years when, unless he repents, the apostolic faith will not be passed on in an undiluted or uncorrupted manner. Thirty-two years of error.

Encouraged by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, Bishop Jill has, perhaps with the best intentions, prioritised healing the hurts of the past and the institutional unity of the church today, over the need for apostolic unity in the next generation.

Sadly, this has had the unintended consequence of making the future of the orthodox in both the Church in Wales and the Church of England less secure.

"Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." - John Neuhaus

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