Bishops agree to respect boundaries

Published October 1, 1998


Bishops should respect the boundaries of dioceses and especially provinces (usually meaning national churches), most Anglican bishops agree.

Archbishop Michael Peers opened debate on the motion which came from the North American and Caribbean region.

Recently, a parish in Arkansas declared itself under the authority of a bishop in Rwanda because it opposes its own bishop’s pro-gay stance. The move raises a host of theological and practical problems for the whole church.

And although the conference voted to maintain a conservative position with respect to homosexuality, the likelihood that the American church will vote to bless same-sex unions and authorize ordinations of non-celibate gays raises the prospect of more dissenting parishes allying themselves with bishops outside their province.

In an interview at the conference, Archbishop Maurice Sinclair, the hardline evangelical primate of the Southern Cone (South America, except Brazil), said he believes that the divisions between liberals and conservatives on the homosexuality issue will inevitably lead to the rise of political provinces and primates rather than the geographical divisions the church currently uses to define boundaries and jurisdictions.

Opposing the motion were two Church of England bishops serving as episcopal visitors for congregations opposed to the ordination of women. Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham, an episcopal visitor for the Canterbury province, said “that living together in a community involves mutual recognition and mutual love. And right now, given our divisions, I think we do need to show generosity to each other.”

He was joined by Bishop Edwin Barnes, suffragan bishop of Richborough and also provincial episcopal visitor for the Canterbury province, who said the resolution would make his job impossible.

As the provincial episcopal visitor for the Archbishop of Canterbury, he said he has a pastoral responsibility to lay and clergy that supersedes the authority of the diocesan bishop. The Church of England’s episcopal visitor plan, adopted by General Synod in 1993, is something the whole Communion “would do well to enlarge on,” he said.

But Archbishop Peers argued the motion would not affect the ministry of the English “flying bishops” because they operate within the laws of the Church of England.

However, there are no laws governing the relationship of the Rwandan bishop, the parish in Arkansas and the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

Archbishop Peers said the intention of both the 1988 and 1998 resolutions was to create a communionwide “collegial” understanding of the inviolability of provincial and diocesan boundaries. Despite the lack of communionwide canons, provinces are accountable to each other.

“This conference cannot obligate, but it can urge,” he said.

Archbishop Peers said he had no desire “to restrain the right of bishops to debate one another,” whether privately or in the public media. “But I cannot for the life of me imagine moving into someone else’s diocese to debate against their will,” he said, drawing scattered applause.

Also speaking against the resolution was Bishop Emmanuel Gbonigi of Akune (Nigeria) who argued that restrictions on bishops crossing jurisdictional lines would hamper the church’s evangelism. “We need to share and to allow ourselves to interact,” he said.


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