The final three and the future of the Church of England
There are now but three men left who may yet be able to stop the death of the Church of England and destruction of the Anglican Communion. These three bishops: Andrew Watson (Guildford), Paul Williams (Southwell and Nottingham), and Phillip North (Blackburn). Pray for them.
Since the Church of England Synod voted in February to welcome the proposal of the Bishops to introduce prayers of blessing for those in same-sex unions implementation groups have been meeting. The implementation groups for Living in Love and Faith have given an update (GS2303) in which they state that the route of Archbishops approval (Canon B4.2) is being given particular consideration because it “may provide more legal protection for those ministers who choose to use the Prayers”. Put simply if the ‘Prayers of Love and Faith’ are commended under B5 it is local ministers who will be liable to legal challenge whereas, if approved under B4.2 it will only be the Archbishops liable to legal challenge. What is missed from this statement and analysis of it so far is how if approved via B4.2 it is only Diocesan Bishops who can enter into a legal challenge. These three aforementioned Bishops will be the only Diocesan’s still in post come the November Synod who have not given public approval to the Prayers of Love and Faith project, given that the Fourth, the Bishop of Coventry, has been kicked upstairs.
How have we ended up here?
It was made clear to the bishops at February Synod that commendation via B5 meant that the legal position was left unchanged, and it was made clear that those opposed to Prayers in Love and Faith thought the Bishops legal justification for the Prayers was not sound. The Bishops came to realise that should they use this route then those who used the Prayers of Love and Faith would be open to legal challenge and as a multitude of legal battles was judged not to be in the revisionists interest the idea of commendation was dropped. The February Synod also made clear that the route of approval via B2 was not open as there was nowhere near two thirds support for the Prayers of Love and Faith, therefore, the idea of authorisation via the normal means for liturgical change will not be entered into by revisionists. This leaves authorisation via Canon B4. In terms of legal challenge B4.1, approval via convocations, would be the most legally robust but there is a big problem; the vote was so close at February Synod amongst the clergy that there is no guarantee there would be approval in both convocations. An approval via one convocation only would leave the Church open to a judicial review on the basis that one convocation had decided the Prayers were not indicative of a change to the doctrine of the Church of England and another that they were. The result of this judicial review could be a judgement to the effect that they were indicative of a change, in which case the approval by one convocation would be voided, the prayers themselves would become illegal, and the only means for future approval would be via a non-existent two thirds majority for revision to the liturgy and doctrine of the Church of England. It is for similar reasons that approval severally via Diocesan’s would not work as it would open every Diocesan who has approved the prayers up to legal challenge and multiple legal cases is not in the revisionists best interest. This then only leaves Canon B4.2 which is approval by the Archbishops, the big benefit of this is that it leaves only two people, the Archbishops, liable to legal challenge and under only narrow circumstance i.e. by two or more Diocesans of their jurisdiction.
The two, and the three
Given that the Bishop of Coventry has been kicked upstairs, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been insulated from legal challenge as it is only the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, in his jurisdiction who has not given public support for the Prayers. There are then in reality only two men Philip North, Bishop of Blackburn, and Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, who have not given their approval and who will have a legal right to challenge the approval of the Prayers of Love and Faith. As the Archbishops will have approved the Prayers together the Bishop of Guildford will be able to join the case against the Archbishops should it be lodged by Philip North and Paul Williams.
What would be the point of the legal Challenge?
Should the legal challenge succeed it could lead to a seismic change in the Church of England. Firstly, it would mean that the Prayers of Love and Faith would become illegal as would any prayers of blessing for same-sex couples in the Church of England. Secondly, the position of the Archbishops would become untenable and therefore it is likely both would resign from their post. Thirdly, it is difficult to see how the Church could credibly appoint two heterodox Archbishops and the appointment of an orthodox Archbishop to either post would significantly hamper efforts to revise the Church of England’s doctrine in the future. Fourthly, this new situation may then lead to an exodus of revisionists from the Church of England over time.
Should the legal challenge not be brought or not succeed the freedoms of Christians in the UK are in doubt. Chillingly as reported in Christian Today, the Church of Egland's own Archbishops’ Council recently intervened in an employment tribunal case arguing that there is a “distinction between appropriate and inappropriate manifestation of belief”, i.e. expressing the orthodox Christian position on matters of sexuality is inappropriate. This intervention was instrumental in undermining the case of a Christian school pastoral assistant, Kristie Higgs, against her employer who had fired her for sharing concerns on social media about the sex education curriculum at her own child’s school. This intervention shows orthodox Anglican clergy what they can expect should they refuse to acquiesce to the revisionist position on sexuality in the future. It should also demonstrate to the final three that much more is at stake then just the future direction of the Church of England.
If these two, and three, succeed in this hour the road ahead is still difficult, but if they heroically stand up to the Archbishops and the legal challenge fails then there will be no place in the Church of England for orthodox clergy and believers. If anyone is in doubt they need to look no further then the case of Rev. Dr Bernard Randall for a foretaste of what is to come.
“Wake up, and strengthen what remains”
Here are the contact details of the three Bishops aforementioned. Please tell them you are praying for them, and encourage them to stand up for the faith once delivered to the saints. The Church of England’s future is in their hands.
The Rt Rev Philip North, Bishop of Blackburn
Blackburn BB1 9EF
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Installed 24th June, email not yet publicly updated)
The Rt Rev Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham
Southwell, Nottingham, NG25 0JH
The Rt Rev Andrew John Watson, Bishop of Guildford
Surrey, GU4 7QS