No more broad bishops in London

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.

In April this year I reflected:

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.

13 thoughts on “No more broad bishops in London

  1. To keep up the punning, I could note that the upcoming funeral of the Church of England will require a broad-hearsed undertaker!

    Oddly enough the anti-spam word for this comment is “broad”. I must restore the biblical set of anti-spam words which disappeared on an upgrade.

  2. By the way, I see from an announcement I already linked to that Bishop Broadhurst’s responsibilities have already been assumed by Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Edmonton. He is of course not to be confused with Jane Alexander, Bishop of Edmonton, Canada, and the boss of my friend Tim Chesterton.

    Wheatley seems to be from the same wing of the church as Broadhurst. Interestingly he is “allegedly gay and known to have been gay at the time of his appointment in the 1990s”, but maintains that he is celibate. In this he is like Jeffrey John whose appointment as a bishop was blocked in 2003. There is an odd inconsistency here. If Wheatley were to follow Broadhurst to Rome, as a single man he could be a candidate for head of the Ordinariate – but perhaps he would not be acceptable as gay even if celibate. Another inconsistency? I’m not sure.

    If both Broadhurst and Broadbent have been relieved of their responsibilities, and since there is a vacancy for Bishop of Stepney, this means that the Diocese of London is down from its normal six bishops to only three. Life will be busy for those three!

  3. I don’t think it was his comments on the forthcoming Royal Wedding, for which he has apologised, that resulted in Bishop Pete’s “suspension”.

    No, I suggest it was his ill-judgment in continuing over a period of time to post further remarks concerning members of the royal family, including some quite abusive remarks about the personal appearance of the heir to the throne, that did it for Bishop Pete.

    This is all very unfortunate and, I suspect will only be solved by moving Bishop Pete, perhaps to Richborough (which I think has been hinted at on the Ugley Vicar blog).

  4. Graham, I guess you are right.

    Yes, a move would probably be good for Bishop Pete. But not to Richborough – there’s nothing there except a power station! I just read the Ugley Vicar’s plea for evangelicals for the flying bishop vacancies. But I don’t think Broadbent would be suitable, not least because he has no personal problem with women priests and bishops. Indeed I guess he has personally ordained women, which probably disqualifies him in some eyes. Anyway I don’t think he would accept any move other than to his own diocese – anything else would look like demotion. Maybe the church can find a small out of the way diocese for him, a move he would find hard to reject.

  5. Peter, good to see yur contributions starting to flow again.

    I found your comment on +Peter Wheatley interesting. I have known one or two Forward in Faith, Resolution ABC followers who are supportive of same sex activity and promoting those who support it in the ordained ministry. The F in F argument in part hangs on continuity with an understanding of historic catholic faith, and the idea that it is wrong for one branch of it – in the case of women as presbyters and bishops – to break ranks and innovate. Yet in another breath they are happy to break ranks from history and the widest catholic church and innovate on same sex issues.

    Am I alone in seeing a selectivity in the argument here? At least Reform bases its arguments on both issues on exegisis of Scripture, even if in places I question that exegisis.

  6. Colin, I suspect there is a rather different issue here. These F in F people are very interested in matters of church order but not much interested in moral issues. I suppose they would, rightly, claim that the validity of ministry doesn’t depend on the behaviour of the minister. I wouldn’t agree with their priorities – but do wonder if some on the other side are over-obsessed with sexual morality.

  7. Amazing! As Church Mouse reports, the Mail on Sunday has completely changed its tune on this and published an article in support of Pete Broadbent. Of course they might say that they are just publishing a balance of articles, but they don’t always see the need to do that! But actually I think there is some consistency here. The press thinks “This clamping down on anything other than the official line is deeply defensive” because they are against any kind of censorship – and they don’t want their flow of controversial remarks from people in high places to dry up!

    It was also interesting to see Ruth Gledhill’s video, on the same Church Mouse post, showing support for Bishop Pete from General Synod members.

  8. The London Evening Standard now has a rather belated article about Broadbent, focusing on the Facebook campaign. It is good to see that the spokesman for the Bishop of London is now talking about “The question of when the bishop returns”, with no “if”. So probably this matter will blow over quite quickly and Broadbent (but not Broadhurst) will be quietly restored to his job once it has done so.

  9. I am pleased to see that, as reported by the Telegraph, Bishop Pete has now been allowed to resume his public duties. As I predicted in my comment above on 3rd December, this matter has indeed blown over quite quickly – and the Diocese of London has been without both broad bishops for only two weeks. As Maggi Dawn wrote, “Bout time too”.

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