Bishops: from announcement to installation

When does +Steven Sheffield become +Steven Oxon?

Last week we reported that No 10 had issued a Press Release which stated: “The Queen has approved the nomination of the Right Reverend Steven John Lindsey Croft, MA, PhD, Lord Bishop of Sheffield, in the Diocese of Sheffield for election as Bishop of Oxford in succession to the Right Reverend John Lawrence Pritchard, MA, MLitt, on his resignation on 31 October 2014,”  [emphasis added]. Although the Oxford diocese Press Release indicated “Bishop Steven expects to take up office in the early autumn”, at parish level those of a more legal frame of mind have asked the question “exactly when does +Steven Sheffield become +Steven Oxon:?” In July 2014, as a follow-up to Women in the episcopate: legislation and its adoption Peter Owen wrote a guest post Choosing diocesan bishops in the Church of England which summarizes the steps involved in the appointment of a diocesan bishop.

In the case of Oxford, we are now at step 12,

  1. The public announcement is made, typically four to eight weeks after the CNC’s second meeting. Number 10 issues a press release and the nominee is taken on a public tour of the diocese,

which leaves steps 13, 14 and 16,17 before Bishop Steven’s enthronement in Oxford Cathedral:

  1. The Queen issues instructions – traditionally described as the congé d’élire – to the College of Canons of the cathedral of the vacant see to elect a bishop: she also tells them whom to elect. The College holds its election in private and then announces the result publicly [more below].
  2. The election then has to be confirmed by the Archbishop of the Province or by his Vicar-General on his behalf. Once these proceedings have confirmed that everything has been done correctly, the person elected becomes the bishop of the diocese.
  3. If the new bishop is not already in episcopal orders s/he is consecrated shortly after the confirmation of his election.
  4. The new bishop pays homage to the Queen. This can only happen when the Queen is in England, and her annual two-month summer stay in Scotland can sometimes cause a delay.
  5. Finally, the new bishop starts public ministry with a grand, but largely symbolic, enthronement in the cathedral.


Further details of the procedure are given in the CofE’s Briefing for Members of Vacancy in See Committees and in the 4th edition of Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, edited by Timothy Briden, [the current Vicar General of the Province of Canterbury, see below]. The wording of the announcement from No 10 reflects the constitutional position regarding the appointment of bishops, as stressed in the briefing:

“It is an important principle that although the Crown nominates, it is not appointment by the Crown but acts of the Church – election on behalf of the diocese and confirmation of that election on behalf of the province and the wider Church – which make the person concerned bishop of the diocese”.

This reflects the procedure used since Saxon times, the system codified in a 1214 charter issued by King John under which the King, as founder and patron of diocesan sees, would grant the Chapter a congé d’élire accompanied by a separate letter nominating or presenting a candidate. After the election he would inform the Archbishop of his assent and request him, as Metropolitan, to confirm the election.  The procedures were enshrined in statute in the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533 and are still in use.

Election by College of CanonsFollowing the announcement by No 10, as noted above, the next step is for the Monarch to send a congé d’élire – a licence under the Great Seal – to the College of Canons of Oxford Cathedral, as defined in S5 Cathedrals Measure 1999, giving the college leave to elect a bishop. This is accompanied by a letter missive containing the name of the Crown’s nominee. The briefing explains: “The traditional (and statutory) name for the act whereby the consent of the diocese is expressed is ‘election’.

“Only rarely has this involved ‘free election’ or a choice between alternatives; by the eleventh century (when the election of bishops was much discussed), election was a procedure for giving legal validity to a decision which had usually already been taken.  ‘Election’ is a biblical term, referring to the divine choice or calling – which may be discerned through human processes and human institutions – and thus remains an appropriate term for this solemn expression of consent.”

Under the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533, individual members of the College of Canons are not obliged to vote for the Crown’s nominee, although the College is under a corporate duty to elect him or her; the penalties under praemunire which formerly applied if it did not do so were abolished by s 13 and Schedule 4 Part 1  Criminal Law Act 1967. If the Crown’s nominee is not elected, the Crown may proceed to appoint the nominee by Letters Patent, if he or she is willing to be so appointed.

Confirmation of ElectionsBriden notes that

“the next step is the purely formal, quasi-judicial one of confirmation of the election by the judge who is vicar general of the Province: the objections may be heard, there are only two valid grounds of objection” – viz. some defect in the method of election; and the person before the Vicar General is not the person of the Crown’s choice.

The person named takes oaths of allegiance to the Crown and obedience to the Archbishop, and at that point becomes in law the bishop of the diocese. It is this confirmation of election that commits to the new diocesan “the care, government and administration of the Spirituals of the said Bishopric”. In cases where the person has not previously been consecrated as bishop, s/he must be so consecrated before s/he can perform the sacramental acts of a bishop.

At the end of the ceremony, the Archbishop gives the new bishop his or her Mission – the mandate or authority to continue the mission entrusted to the Church in a particular place and at a particular time. This statement draws on the Crown Nominations Commission’s discussion of the tasks facing the new bishop, both in the diocese and more widely within the House of Bishops, which in turn will have been informed by the statement of the needs of the diocese agreed by the diocesan Vacancy in See Committee and also on the Archbishops’ statement of the requirements of the mission of Church of England as a whole.

The proceedings conclude with the Archbishop delivering the mandate for the enthronement of the new bishop to the person charged with the enthronement. In the Northern Province this is the dean of the cathedral, in the Southern Province the Archdeacon of Canterbury.

Homage to the Monarch; restoration of the temporalities; enthronementThe new bishop pays homage to the Queen and receives from her the temporalities of the see. Formerly these would have included the episcopal residence and estates, now vested in the Church Commissioners, and the only temporalities now administered by the Crown during a vacancy-in-see are the patronages of livings of which the bishop is patron by virtue of his or her see.

The final stage in the process is the essentially symbolic enthronement (installation) service in the cathedral church of the diocese.

Lords spiritual: Eligibility for membership of the Lords Spiritual is governed by the Bishoprics Act 1878 as amended by the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015, and additionally by the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords [2015]. Members of the House may not take their seat until they have obtained a writ of summons, which are issued by direction of the Lord Chancellor from the office of the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. New writs are issued before the meeting of each Parliament to all Lords Spiritual and Temporal who have established their right to them and who are not statutorily disqualified from receiving them. Since bishop Steven is currently a Lord Spiritual, his translation from Sheffield to Oxford will be governed by Standing Order No. 1.09, Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords [2015], viz.

“1.09 An archbishop, on appointment or translation to another see, and a bishop who has become entitled to sit or who already has a seat and is translated to another see, applies for a writ to the Lord Chancellor with evidence to support his or her claim”.

The introduction and sitting first in Parliament is covered by Standing Orders Nos. 1.11 to 1.15, and Oath of Allegiance by Standing Orders Nos. 1.16 to 1.25.

With regard to women bishops in the House of Lords, bishop Steven’s translation to Oxford will not create vacancy in the Lords Spiritual; if a woman is appointed to the See of Sheffield, when a vacancy next arises she will become eligible to become one of the 21 Lords Spiritual under S1(3) Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015.


For those interested in the equivalent handing over of the spiritualities of a benefice to a new incumbent, Gareth Hughes has posted Welcoming the new vicar: institutions, collations and inductions on his Ad fontes blog.

Link to “Briefing for Members of Vacancy in See Committees” updated, 25 September 2022 at 20:53. 

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Bishops: from announcement to installation" in Law & Religion UK, 20 April 2016,

13 thoughts on “Bishops: from announcement to installation

  1. A companion article on the procedures applicable to Suffragan Bishops and Assistant Bishops would be helpful.

    • Indeed. I’ll give it some thought. At least it is a simpler procedure than for diocesan bishops. dp

      • An answer to your query is to be found in the Order of Service for the Ordination and Consecration of The Venerable Karen Maris Gorham to be Bishop of Sherborne in the Diocese of Salisbury and The Reverend Canon Michael Robert Harrison to be Bishop of Dunwich in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich by The Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops. This states:

        “In the Jerusalem Chamber before the service, the Bishops-designate of Sherborne and Dunwich take the Oath of Allegiance to The Queen’s Majesty and the Oath of Due Obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury, tendered to them by the Principal Registrar”.

        i.e. the same oaths of allegiance and obedience taken by a diocesan, and by analogy, it is when these oaths have been sworn that the candidate becomes in law the suffragan bishop of his or her see.

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