By Mark Michael
A diocese of the Church of England plans to designate a new “flying bishop” to minister to Anglo Catholics who do not accept the ordination of women.
The Diocese of Lichfield’s synod on June 30 voted to revive its suffragan See of Oswestry, and to designate it for a provincial episcopal visitor to serve traditionalists in the West Midlands and Southwest of England. Lichfield is just north of Birmingham and 100 miles northwest of London.
The new Bishop of Oswestry will live in the diocese and serve as a member of Lichfield’s senior staff team. Consecration is planned for January 2023, and the new bishop will fill the role left vacant by the resignation of the Rt. Rev. Jonathan Goodall as Bishop of Ebbsfleet. Goodall was received into the Roman Catholic Church in September 2021 and was more recently ordained as a Catholic priest.
The See of Ebbsfleet will be designated for a bishop assigned to serve complementarian evangelical parishes throughout the Province of Canterbury, who will succeed the Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas, who is set to retire in October.
The Church of England’s two other provincial episcopal visitors are the Bishop of Beverley, who serves parishes in the Province of York, and the Bishop of Richborough, who serves parishes in the East. The Bishop of Fulham serves traditionalists in London and Southwark dioceses, while serving on the Bishop of London’s staff team. Four other traditionalists hold diocesan and suffragan roles in the church.
Lichfield’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Ipgrave, expressed his support for reviving the see, which had been created in the nineteenth century but never filled, stating: “I greatly value and have benefitted from the ministry of women as deacons, priests and bishops, as has this whole Diocese of Lichfield. The proposals have been discussed at consultation events – listening to a variety of viewpoints – in recent weeks in the diocese and I am pleased that diocesan synod have given their support.”
“I and my episcopal colleagues will be committed to working with the new Bishop of Oswestry and with all our clergy, both women and men, to strengthen mutual flourishing as we grow together into Christ.”
The Church of England’s traditionalist Anglo Catholic bishops (known collectively as bishops of the Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda), expressed gratitude, noting that “such an arrangement would inevitably bring with it benefits for Society parishes in that area,” including the 25 traditionalist parishes in Lichfield diocese. They also urged that the significant group of parishes in the Diocese of Exeter, about three to four hours drive away from Lichfield, not be neglected in arrangements for the new bishop’s ministry.
The new assignment also solves a geographical irregularity in the previous assignment of traditionalist parishes in the West and Southwest to the See of Ebbsfleet. Unlike Oswestry, a significant town located within the area overseen by the provincial episcopal visitor, Ebbsfleet is a tiny hamlet in far Southeastern England, where St. Augustine and his monks landed in 597, beginning what became a successful reestablishment of Christianity in Southern England.
The five former Bishops of Ebbsfleet, two of whom resigned to become Roman Catholics, lived within their area of ministry but had limited engagement with episcopal colleagues in the region.
Established as part of the 1992 legislation that permitted the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England, the system of provincial episcopal visitors aims to facilitate the “mutual flourishing” of church leaders who hold different beliefs about women’s orders. The continued need for three traditionalist bishops, each of whom serves over 100 parishes, and the ordination of 28 men by the Society’s bishops this summer testify to the enduring vitality of the movement.