Church could create ‘Cabinet’ roles in major shake-up
Senior members of the Church of England could be appointed to such titles as ‘Brexit Bishop’ or ‘Covid Bishop’ as part of a major shake-up that would see government-style roles for church leaders.
The plans, part of a sweeping consultation currently being considered, have led to claims the Church wants to form a ‘shadow government’ to comment on political issues with ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury as Prime Minister’.
Tory MP Michael Fabricator told MailOnline the reorganization resembled an opposition party and could have unintended consequences.
“It sounds like an interesting innovation – it’s like an opposition political party appointing shadow ministers,” he said.
“The consequences may not be what the Church of England had hoped.”
The documents, seen by the newspaper, laid out ideas of “significant changes in the form, structure and number of dioceses and bishops” as part of a historic upheaval in the functioning of the church.
The Church said it was considering creating non-geographical roles for certain bishops who could serve as spokespersons on “special topics” and gave the examples of “Brexit Bishop” or “Covid Bishop” in the document of consultation.
The proposals also include a redesigned ecclesiastical map that could see some dioceses merged and new senior “regional” bishops to oversee larger areas.
Linda Woodhead, professor of theology at King’s College London, told The Times the proposals were “dramatic”.
She said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury would become Prime Minister with a cabinet of people. This makes the church a shadow government.
How the Church of England currently works
The Church of England was formed by Henry VIII after he severed ties with the pope in the 1530s when the Catholic Church would not allow him to annul his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon.
The Act of Supremacy, established in 1534, was an important English Act of Parliament which recognized Henry VIII as the “Supreme Head of the Church of England”.
Today, the Queen still serves as head of the Church and is responsible for appointing archbishops, bishops and deans.
The Church of England is currently led by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, who are the most senior of the 106 bishops.
They provide advice and guidance to churches across the country in the 42 dioceses and make decisions about the Church in society.
Each diocese is made up of parishes and clergy that the Church says are at the heart of their communities.
The Church of England also has a legislative role in Britain.
The two archbishops and 24 other bishops sit in the House of Lords and are known as Lords Spiritual.
They are considered to bring a religious ethic to the secular process of law.
The Reverend Marcus Walker, rector in London, told The Times that proposals to save money in struggling dioceses were “eminently sensible”, but added: “The church does not need bishops acting as shadow government ministers, they need bishops who are shepherds of their flocks.’
The Church of England, which is allegedly non-partisan but has been accused of being left wing in the past, is made up of the two provinces of Canterbury and York under which there are 42 dioceses.
Each diocese consists of a structure of commissions and councils responsible for different aspects of the work of the Church, including personnel and education in schools.
The Church is led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and 106 other bishops who guide and direct churches across the country.
They also make decisions about the Church in society while the General Synod acts as the legislative body of the Church, and determines and creates the laws of the Church.
The Times reports that the changes are being considered to address financial difficulties faced by some dioceses – 27 of 42 operating with a deficit – and to reflect “current demographic patterns”.
He also suggested that bishops should be freed from “managerial time requirements” so they have more time to focus on the “mission” of the church.
According to the Times, the document adds: “The changes contemplated by this document are significant.
“If implemented, they will have a significant impact on the culture, roles and responsibilities, and structures within which the episcopate [body of bishops] of the Church of England works.’
It is understood that, if implemented, all changes are likely to be introduced over 10 years.
The Church of England said the changes were proposed as part of a discussion with bishops across the country about how they see their ministries developing in the future.
William Nye, general secretary of the House of Bishops, told MailOnline: ‘For some time bishops in the Church of England have been prayerfully reflecting on their ministries and responsibilities and whether any aspects could be reshaped to make them more effective in supporting local churches.
“Over the past year, the Bishop of Ely and others have had conversations with most bishops and have summarized a wide range of ideas and suggestions – some more developed than others – from those discussions. in a document intended for the bishops themselves.
“They spent time talking and praying about these ideas at the College of Bishops in September last year and have continued to do so ever since.
“This is an ongoing process and some of these suggestions, especially some of the simpler ideas, such as ways for different dioceses to work more closely with neighboring dioceses, are already being put forward. But all will not necessarily be highlighted.
The Church is non-partisan but is increasingly accused of being left-wing.
Ahead of the 2015 general election, the church angered some Tory ministers after it published an open letter calling for a ‘new direction’ of politics to replace a society they say is self-serving, fragmented and misguided by politicians.
The Church insisted the letter was intended to counter the message – then promoted by comedian Russell Brand – that participating in politics is pointless.
The bishops said it was not their intention to tell people how to vote.
But the “letter to the people and parishes of the Church of England” suggested that inequality and social injustice had increased under the coalition.
They said the burden of austerity falls on the poor and unemployment is “corrosive to human dignity and sense of identity”.
Among the demands of the letter, they called for maintaining EU membership, rethinking nuclear deterrence and an end to the first-past-the-post voting system.
More recently, the Church has seemed to meddle in the debate over historic statues and the country’s colonial past.
Last year, the Church asked cathedrals and churches across the country to examine their monuments for links to slavery and colonialism and to take action if there were any.
Actions that could be taken include removing, moving or modifying plaques to include contextual information.
The Church of England set up an anti-racism task force which carried out a review of the steps it had taken to address its own role in the slave trade.