Postcard from London

REACH, a South African denomination claiming Anglican allegiance but not recognized as part of the Communion, is the body behind an irregular consecration of a curate in Newcastle to serve as a bishop for Church of England conservative evangelicals.

At the center of the Newcastle action is the Rev. Jonathan Pryke, an assistant curate at Jesmond Parish near the center of Newcastle. The May 2 consecration was not held on an Anglican site.

REACH’s history dates to the mid-19th century. Controversy in South Africa led Canadian Anglicans to call for the first Lambeth Conference in 1867. The church in the Cape Colony had suffered a split: the Rt. Rev. Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town and an autocratic Tractarian, had triggered revolt among evangelical and liberal clergy who refused to acknowledge his authority.

The Lambeth fathers did not formally discuss the situation in the Cape. But they created no impediment to formation of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), and it was inaugurated in 1870 with Gray as Archbishop. An isolated number of parishes refused to throw in their lot with CPSA, tenaciously adhering to the name the Church of England in South Africa (CESA).

The result was several rounds of scandalously expensive litigation. The South African Supreme Court and the United Kingdom’s Privy Council both ruled that CPSA was distinct from the Church of England. CESA won, in legal terms, but CPSA held most churches, properties, cathedrals, church schools, training institutions, and endowments. CESA remained a loosely connected group of independent congregations for more than a century.

CESA entered a new era in 1955. Its representatives invited the Rt. Rev. G.F.B. Morris, recently retired as Bishop of North Africa, to be their first bishop. CESA had another staunch ally. For many years, bishops from the Diocese of Sydney would stop over at Cape Town, while traveling to or from London, to minister and confirm in CESA congregations. During the tenure of the Most. Rev. H.W.K. Mowll of Sydney, a constitution was drafted for CESA in the 1930s. With it came a fresh infusion of evangelical energy.

CESA was a source of various disputes. Its second presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Stephen Bradley, openly supported apartheid. Leaders of the apartheid government often called him an Anglican leader, much to the chagrin of the CPSA.

CESA’s third presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Dudley Foord, was recruited from Sydney in 1984 and was consecrated with participation of a CPSA bishop. Some hoped this might open the way to rapprochement, but neither side particularly warmed to the proposition. Foord resigned and returned to Sydney after a tenure of three years.

CESA set up George Whitefield College in 1993, and another Sydney import, D. Broughton Knox, was its first principal. In 2013, the church changed its name to the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA). In the last two decades, it has expanded to neighboring Namibia and Zimbabwe and claims 100,000 adherents.

Pryke, who has been on the staff of Jesmond since 1998, is believed to have been consecrated to the episcopate by the Most Rev. Glenn Lyons, REACH’s presiding bishop. The identity and orders of his co-consecrators have not been revealed. Pryke took an oath of allegiance to “bishops and other chief ministers” with whom he works in the United Kingdom, so he owes no canonical allegiance to REACH.

The action took place without the knowledge or consent of the Rt. Rev. Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle. Jesmond Parish has long said it is in impaired communion with the diocese.

Pryke is expected to spend 80 percent of his time working with Jesmond Parish and the remainder working with affiliated churches of the Anglican Mission in England.

The Rev. David Holloway, the senior minister of Jesmond Parish, believes the Church of England’s Clergy Discipline Measure will not apply in this case. Ecclesiastical lawyers are studying the case, and it is not yet clear what their response will be.

The Rt. Rev. Rod Thomas, appointed as Bishop of Maidstone to work with conservative evangelicals, is reserving his opinion.

The action in Jesmond caught GAFCON by surprise. Except for a conversation with GAFCON’s general secretary, the Most Rev. Peter Jensen, Jesmond’s statement makes plain there was no consultation with GAFCON’s primates. A week earlier, GAFCON’s primates stated their intention to send a missionary bishop to the United Kingdom amid conservative concerns about the state of the Church of England.

Archbishop Jensen confirmed it was entirely independent of GAFCON. “But it does show, I think, that the situation in England is becoming very difficult for those who hold the traditional and biblical view.”

John Martin

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