The Church of England has always prided itself on being a broad church. The Diocese of London has always been at the heart of that church (and my old home of Chelmsford was within it before 1846), and in recent years has become one of its success stories: from 2001 to 2008 church attendance there grew by 9.1%, compared with an average fall of 5.8% for the whole C of E. Part of the reason for that growth, I am sure, was that the diocese catered for the varied needs and preferences of churchgoers by providing a broad range of churches and services.
That breadth in the diocese was, perhaps accidentally, symbolised in the names of two of the suffragan bishops in the diocese: John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham, and Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden. These two bishops with “broad” names also illustrated the breadth of the church: on the right, Broadhurst, who is also chairman of Forward in Faith, as a traditional Anglo-Catholic; and on the left, Broadbent as an evangelical who also calls himself a Christian Socialist.
But now the Diocese of London has lost both of its “broad” bishops in one month, and in doing so has abandoned its broad bent. (Has anyone else managed to get those two words into a sentence together? 😉 )
It was in October that Bishop Broadhurst became one of five Anglican bishops to announce that they would join the Roman Catholic Church and its new Ordinariate. This implied his resignation as Bishop of Fulham, but that was announced officially only in early November (effective from the end of December). A major reason for Broadhurst’s move seems to be his dissatisfaction over exactly how the Church of England plans to introduce women bishops.
Then this Tuesday the Bishop of London asked Bishop Broadbent “to withdraw from public ministry until further notice”, because of his comments on the forthcoming royal wedding, which I mentioned in a previous post.
Now personally I think that Broadhurst did the right thing, because the position he and his fellow “flying bishops” held in the Church of England was always untenable, and this was becoming all the more obvious as the church moved towards accepting women as bishops. On the other hand, I consider that Broadbent has been very badly treated – and I have joined a Facebook page to support him. I also read that former Archbishop Carey has supported Broadbent – this has not been noted as widely as it could because sadly the Murdoch group has chosen to hide content in The Times behind a subscription wall.
But my point in this post is not to debate the issues. Rather it is to note how symbolically the Diocese of London has lost both of its “broad” wings and as a result has become much narrower. Is this the way the Church of England is going? Now that the Anglo-Catholic troublemakers have been edged out, is the same to happen to evangelicals who rock the boat? While Broadbent has not opposed women bishops, he was “one of three serving bishops in the Church of England to refuse to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference”. While that is not of course the immediate reason for his suspension, it would have been all the easier if he was already in disfavour in high places.
I think it was Wallace Benn who suggested that a wrong decision on [women as bishops] might lead to the Church of England losing both its evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings. I couldn’t help thinking of the Church as an airliner in the air … The airliner has lost power … and is gradually losing height. If it wants to continue to fly it needs to restart its engines – and it can do that only by turning to God. But the worst decision it could make is to cut off both its wings. Without them it cannot even glide to a relatively soft crash landing; its only hope is to plunge straight to disaster. So please, Church, let’s avoid that, stop bickering about side issues, and look to God to regain the power to fly.
Well, the Church of England has already lost much of its “broad” right wing, with the departure of the “flying bishops” (who can no longer fly apart from the airliner!) and their supporters. Perhaps it could continue to fly on “a wing and a prayer”. But the worst thing it could do is to cut off its “broad” left wing for the sake of balance.
However, I write this as someone who has effectively jumped off the threatened left wing – that is, the Broadbent rather than the Broadhurst one. In September, when my wife and I moved to Warrington in the north of England, we started to attend Oasis church in the town, which is outside the Church of England and flying its own independent course. Perhaps as the Church of England pursues its relentless course towards a crash we should all be looking for other ways to keep aloft and moving closer to God.