On 5 May, the Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed by Matthew Price of BBC Radio Jersey on the relationship between the Bishop of Winchester and the Church of England in the Channel Islands, for which the Bishop of Dover has temporary episcopal oversight. The BBC notes that this is the first time that the Archbishop has spoken publicly “about a fall out between Jersey’s Anglican churches and those in the UK”, and although the interview generated comment on the Islands, it has not been widely reported on the mainland.
The BBC’s report Commission to look at Channel Islands’ Anglican split featured news of the Commission that will be established to look at the relationship between the Anglican Church in the Channel Islands and the Diocese of Winchester.
Anyone reviewing the issues relating to Jersey (and more broadly those of Channel Islands as a whole) is faced with a “Catch-22” situation – there are few on the mainland with a sufficient appreciation of church and secular matters on the Island who can give an holistic assessment of events within this context; and there are few on the Island who view events from other than an Island perspective: the latter tend to adopt either pro- or anti-stance towards the Jersey “Establishment”, and both have a strong anti-Winton element.
Approaching the Archbishop’s interview from a “mainland, CofE perspective”, it was apparent that both the interviewer and the Archbishop had been briefed on the major issues to be raised in the ~7 minute interview. However, the answers given did not satisfy everyone, and some of the inevitable uncertainties were construed as evasiveness or an inadequate appreciation of the situation. Against these perceptions, account needs to be taken on what may be said in such an interview given the legal, procedural and other constraints.
Unsurprisingly, the Archbishop’s major concerns were pastoral, focusing on the people and communities most affected by recent events. Important points within the interview included:
– The change to temporary episcopal oversight by the Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, was at the request of the Rt Rev Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester;
– The Archbishop could not predict the length of this temporary episcopal oversight, but he indicated that the Commission would commence its work “quite soon” and “hopefully” would report in one year to eighteen months, following which there would be a “period of adjustment”;
– The Terms of Reference of the Commission were likely to be: “how is the mission of Christ in the Channel Islands best served by the church; how is the community best served and the people best loved; and what structures are going to be best for that”;
– Returning to the former episcopal oversight under the Bishop of Winchester would be an option supported by the 500 year links between the diocese and Jersey, but other alternatives have not been ruled out at this stage;
– It was clear that the Archbishop was in regular contact with the Bishop of Winchester, but had met the Dean of Jersey on only one occasion;
In addition to uncertainties on the timing and ToR of the Commission, which would have benefitted from a more positive response, another unsatisfactory aspect of the interview was the Archbishop’s reply when questioned on the Dean’s role in relation to “HG”: he stated that “to get the detailed answer, [it was necessary] to look at legal reports that have been made”. Whilst this statement is probably correct, it is difficult to verify since few of the relevant documents are in the public domain.
Whilst the temporary delegation of episcopal oversight falls within a Bishop’s vires under section 13 Dioceses, Mission and Pastoral Measure 2007, the process for a permanent change may involve a more lengthy procedure, depending upon the format of any new arrangement that are envisaged.
The Dioceses Commission was formed under the 2007 Measure, and
“may make reorganization schemes either of its own volition in consequence of its review work, or in response to proposals from diocesan bishops. Schemes normally require the approval of the diocesan synods concerned and always require that of the General Synod. If a diocesan synod does not consent, the Archbishop of the Province may nevertheless authorize the Commission to lay the draft scheme before the General Synod if he is satisfied either that:
– the interest of the diocese in the scheme is so small that a lack of consent by its synod should not prevent submission of the draft scheme to the General Synod, or
– there are ‘wider considerations affecting the province or the Church of England as a whole that require the draft scheme to be submitted to the General Synod’.”
Although not directly comparable, the Commission commenced a review of the five Yorkshire dioceses (Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield and York) in autumn 2009, the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales came into being on 20 April 2014 and the transformational programme will extend until 2016. Nevertheless, the present legal issues associated with the Church of England in Jersey and Guernsey are more complex since they involve not only the Church’s ecclesiastical law but the recently-introduced Canons of the Church of England in Jersey in addition to constitutional issues specific to the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. The already complex issue of canonical obedience is further complicated by the terms of the Letters Patent appointing the Dean of Jersey, about which the States Assembly expressed its views in 2013.
Thus on present information, the timeline for introducing changes in the organizational structures of the Channel Islands would appear to be: twelve to eighteen months to the publication of the Commission’s Report; plus a further period for “adjustment” if a return to the status quo is considered; plus a further substantial period of time if changes are made under the 2007 Measure.
Although the primary objective of the Commission is to develop a pastoral solution acceptable to all parties, this will necessarily be underpinned by a detailed examination of the ecclesiastical, constitutional and other legal issues. A critical short term issue for the Bishop of Dover to address is the appointment of a new Dean of Guernsey to replace the Very Rev. Canon Paul Mellor who is due to retire in August. Significantly, Canon Mellor is reported by the Guernsey Press as saying that whilst the handling of the HG affair had been the catalyst for the recent split, there had been longer-term problems under the surface on account of the complex relationship between the Bailiwick and the UK.