The process for creating a Suffragan See
On Saturday 26th November, Leicester Diocesan Synod supported the proposal for creating the new diocesan role of Suffragan Bishop of Loughborough to replace that of the Assistant Bishop of Leicester on the retirement of Bishop Christopher Boyle, the former diocesan bishop of Northern Malawi. The Press Release states: “the proposal must now go to the Church of England’s national Synod, and if agreed by them it will then require royal assent. All being well, a new bishop could be appointed by the end of 2017”. Unlike the appointment to an existing but dormant see on which we posted earlier, new suffragan sees are seldom created; this post reviews the issues involved.
Under section 12 Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007, (“the 2007 Measure”), each diocesan bishop has a duty to “keep under review the provision of episcopal ministry and oversight in his diocese and shall, in carrying out that duty, consult widely such persons and bodies as he thinks fit”. As the Explanatory Note states: “A main purpose of this requirement is to ensure that consideration of the need for existing suffragan sees begins before the vacancy arises, in order to limit the delay in filling them which might otherwise result”.
The Leicester Diocese Press Release notes that there are now a number of limitations on the appointment of stipendiary Assistant Bishops and it was therefore necessary to create a new suffragan see which carried the title of a particular place. Loughborough is “the next largest centre of population after Leicester, and has a world renowned university and vibrant mix of churches, it was enthusiastically chosen as the name for the new bishop.”
Assistant bishops and suffragan bishops
On 1 September 2016, a Downing Street Press Release reported that the Queen had approved the nomination of the Revd Canon Mark Simon Austin Tanner to the Suffragan See of Berwick; appointment to the see followed the retirement of the Rt Revd Frank White, the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, who was formerly suffragan Bishop of Brixworth. Both here and for the proposed see of Loughborough, the role of the stipendiary assistant bishop is being replaced by a suffragan bishop.
Whereas most suffragan bishops are stipendiary posts, this is not the case of assistant bishops, the majority of whom are non-stipendiary “honorary assistant bishops”, such as the five who were commissioned in March this year by the Rt Rev Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Some suffragans, however, may also act as an assistant bishop (by invitation) in a number of dioceses; for example, the Bishop of Maidstone with regard to his role of headship for the conservative evangelical view,and the Provincial Episcopal Visitors, (PEVs) of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough. Whereas the Bishop of Maidstone undertakes episcopal ministry in both Provinces, each of the PEVs focuses his ministry on a single Province.
Dormant Sees and New Sees
The 2007 Measure contains provisions for the filling and creation of suffragans sees, sections 17 and 18 respectively. Following our post Bishops: from announcement to installation, the stages leading to the installation of a suffragan bishop were reviewed in Suffragan bishops: from selection to ordination & consecration which also included those relating to assistant bishops.
There are a number of dormant suffragan sees within the Church of England, many of which have been vacant for many years; until this year, the see of Berwick had been in abeyance since 1572. Although in recent years, appointments have been made to a number of formerly dormant sees, including Berwick, Islington and Maidstone, the creation of a new suffragan see is an infrequent event, such as the see of Knaresborough in 1905, Brixworth in 1988, and in 2014, Bradford (following the dissolution of the former see of Bradford) and Huddersfield. A full list of suffragan sees is on Peter Owen’s web site. In the case of the Leicester diocese, however, there was no convenient dormant suffragan see, and it was therefore necessary to create one de novo.
Provisions with respect to creation of suffragan sees
Section18 of the Measure provides that: “No bishop of a diocese shall petition Her Majesty in Council to direct under the Suffragans Nomination Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict. c. 56) that a town in his diocese shall be taken and accepted for a see of a suffragan bishop as if it had been included in the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 (26 Hen. 8 c. 14) unless his proposal to do so is approved by the diocesan synod and the General Synod”. It then lists the stages for the creation of a suffragan see:
1. After consulting (if the bishop is not an archbishop) the archbishop of the province the bishop shall send a copy of his proposal, together with a statement of his reasons for making it, to the [Dioceses] Commission for it to report thereon.
2. On receiving such a proposal, the Commission shall prepare a statement of the effect of the proposal on the mission of the Church of England if implemented and, in consultation with the Commissioners, an estimate of the financial effect of the proposal and shall include the statement and estimate in its report.
3. The bishop shall consider the report of the Commission on the proposal and if he decides to proceed with it he shall lay the proposal before the diocesan synod for its approval.
4. A copy of the proposal and of the report of the Commission thereon shall be sent to every member of the diocesan synod at least three weeks before the session at which the proposal is considered.
5. If the proposal is approved by the diocesan synod, the bishop shall lay the proposal before the General Synod for its approval.
6. A copy of the proposal and of the report of the Commission thereon shall be sent to every member of the General Synod at least fourteen days before the beginning of the group of sessions at which the proposal is considered.
7. Where the Business Committee of the General Synod determines that the proposal does not need to be debated by the General Synod then, unless notice is given by a member of the General Synod in accordance with its Standing Orders that that member wishes the proposal to be debated, the proposal shall, for the purposes of subsection (6) above, be deemed to have been approved by the General Synod.
The creation of the see of Loughborough has now reached the penultimate step in the process. When in post, the suffragan bishop will “work alongside the Bishop of Leicester to support churches, schools and chaplaincies across the whole diocese. He or she would carry a particular responsibility for encouraging black, Asian and minority ethnic Christians and for enabling the whole diocese to be confident in sharing the Christian faith with others”.
With thanks to Peter Owen for his valuable comments