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Lambeth Conference reaffirms protection of diocesan boundaries

Posted on: August 8, 1998 3:05 PM
Related Categories: Lambeth Conference 1998

By David Skidmore
Lambeth Conference Communications

Diocesan and provincial boundaries are sacrosanct, at least in the mind of the Lambeth Conference.

At the Friday afternoon plenary session (August 7), the bishops adopted an amended resolution (V.13a) reaffirming the 1988 Lambeth Conference's declaration barring bishops or priests from exercising episcopal or pastoral ministry in another diocese without the permission of the local bishop or ecclesiastical authority.

The original resolution, sponsored by North American and Caribbean Region bishops, asked for Anglican primates to "oversee compliance" with the 1988 resolution. The amended version dropped that phrase, and instead asked the primates to encourage their bishops to "consider the implications" of the 1988 resolution.

Reaching collegial understanding

Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and sponsor of the amendment, said the intention of both the 1988 resolution and the present resolution was to create a communion-wide "collegial" understanding of the inviolability of provincial and diocesan boundaries. Despite the lack of communion-wide canons, provinces are accountable to each other.

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

Earlier the conference adopted a resolution authorizing the Primates Meeting to intervene in dioceses or provinces in crisis, noted Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church. If a conflict does develop between congregations and the diocesan bishop, or between a diocese and its provincial leadership, then there are provisions for intervention, he said. However, it remains "a very sound principle," he said, for bishops to respect diocesan boundaries when invited by congregations to preach or preside. "I do think that needs to be a matter of invitation and mutual respect, and not simply a right."

Problems for episcopal visitors?

Among those opposing the resolution were two Church of England bishops serving as episcopal visitors for congregations opposed to the ordination of women. Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham and 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 supercedes 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.

By passing this resolution, he said, the Communion would be in conflict with the spirit of the resolution (III.2) adopted yesterday shielding bishops from being forced to ordain candidates or license priests in their dioceses. While respecting the conscience of individual bishops, the resolution, he noted, also recognizes that congregations have a right to "appropriate episcopal ministry" in the interest of maintaining the "highest degree of communion possible." According to Barnes, this means a parish has the right to request ministry from a bishop outside the diocese or province.

Special provisions possible

While the 1988 resolution's understanding of diocesan boundaries may not be as fluid as the current situation in the Church of England, said Archbishop Peers, it is not at odds with the present policies. The episcopal visitor plan in England, as well as provisions for non-boundary jurisdictions such as Navajoland in the United States, are the result of canonical actions by the entire province, he said.

What Bishop Barnes and Bishop Broadhurst are talking about, he said, "is parallels to living within those jurisdictions." He has no desire, he said, "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.

A motion to discharge the resolution by Bishop Emmanuel Kolini of Kigali (Rwanda) was narrowly defeated.