Diocese of Newcastle issues warning to conservative Evangelical priest ordained bishop by breakaway SA Church

Originally published at the Church Times

The diocese of Newcastle has issued a public warning to an assistant curate who has been consecrated bishop by a breakaway Church in South Africa.

The curate, the Revd Jonathan Pryke, has served at Jesmond Parish Church, in Newcastle, since 1988. He was consecrated as a “bishop in the Church of God” by the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA) at a service in Newcastle on 2 May, a statement from the church said.

The action was taken without the knowledge of the diocese or its Bishop. In a statement, a spokesman said that the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, was now aware of the consecration and had informed the Archbishop of York.

“No overseas bishop may exercise episcopal functions within the Church of England without the express permission of the Archbishop of the province and a commission from the Bishop of the diocese in which they wish to minister,” the spokesman also said. “In this case neither has been sought.

“It is the clearly established law of the land that no one can exercise ministry in the Church of England without either holding office or having the permission of the diocesan bishop.”

The service consecrating Bishop Pryke did not take place at Jesmond Parish Church or any other Church of England place of worship, their statement said. Bishop Pryke took an oath of obedience not to the REACH-SA bishops who consecrated him, but to “bishops and other chief ministers” with whom he works in the UK.

He will continue as a senior minister on the church’s staff, spending 80 per cent of his time with Jesmond, while also ordaining men for the ministry and helping to establish new conservative Evangelical churches under the auspices of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE).

The consecration puts Bishop Pryke at risk of proceedings under the Clergy Discipline Measure. Being episcopally ordained by a Church with whom the C of E is not in communion is likely to be interpreted as “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

Should he be found guilty of misconduct under the measure, he might theoretically be removed from his post at Jesmond Parish Church, and faces a lifelong prohibition from ministry in the C of E.

The news also appears to have surprised GAFCON UK and the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), who agreed last week to appoint their own missionary bishop for conservative Evangelical parishes in Britain, even though the new bishop is a member of AMiE’s executive committee.

In a statement put out this evening, AMiE said: “We can confirm that the consecration of the Revd Jonathan Pryke was a gospel decision taken independently of AMiE. His consecration was never discussed at our Executive meetings.

“Jonathan is a valued member of the AMiE Exec and we are thankful to God for his abundant gifts and wisdom. We will be praying for him in this new season of his ministry.

“The AMiE Executive Committee recently requested that the GAFCON Primates support the consecration of a Missionary Bishop. We were overjoyed when they agreed to do this for the sake of gospel growth.”

GAFCON UK’s own statement said that Jesmond Parish Church and REACH-SA had been working together in England for some time.

“GAFCON UK are aware that Jesmond Parish Church have for some years been in a form of impaired communion with the Bishop of Newcastle, and have developed a special relationship with REACH-SA.

“Over the past few years, several clergy have been ordained by REACH Bishops to serve in the Jesmond church network and in one other part of England.

“Gafcon UK have been informed of the latest developments but cannot comment further at this stage.”

But Jesmond Parish Church insisted the consecration of Bishop Pryke only took place after discussion with the secretary of GAFCON and at least one other English GAFCON bishop.

REACH-SA, formerly known as the Church of England in South Africa, split from the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa soon after its founding, in opposition to the Anglo-Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town.

Bishop Pryke, as well as continuing to work under the Vicar of Jesmond, the Revd David Holloway, will also be responsible pastorally to an un-named REACH-SA bishop.

This bishop “does not want to see bishops ‘parachuted in’ to form a new ‘orthodox Church’ or ‘province’,” the statement said. “He sees the role of REACH-SA simply as helping English people have the courage to take responsibility for reforming the Church of England to be in line with Canon A5, to evangelize and to see growth.”

In 2008, Jesmond Parish Church was listed as in impaired communion or seeking alternative episcopal oversight, by the Revd Rod Thomas, the then chairman of the conservative Evangelical network Reform, who is now the Bishop of Maidstone.

Bishop Thomas said that he was awaiting clarification of what exactly had happened in Jesmond, but also praised the church’s “great record of effective gospel ministry, not least because of the clarity of their biblical teaching”.

“They also have a long record of being in impaired communion with successive Bishops of Newcastle over their views on same-sex relationships – an issue which has the potential to cause great disunity throughout the Church of England,” Bishop Thomas also said.

The “impaired communion” was in fact first declared by the church in 1997 just before the Rt Revd Martin Wharton became Bishop of Newcastle, because of disagreements over homosexuality. Jesmond Parish Church was also accused of breaking canon law in 1998 when it appointed an unlicensed assistant priest to its staff.

The GAFCON UK statement also links Bishop Pryke’s consecration to a document formulated at a conference held by conservative Evangelicals in Jesmond earlier this year.

Convened after the General Synod had declined to take note of the report on sexuality by the House of Bishops, the conference’s statement quotes Bishop Pryke describing the report as a “a fudge that effectively advocated an official policy of institutional hypocrisy by proposing maintaining the biblical doctrine of marriage in public, but giving even greater affirmation to same sex relationships in private”.

The conference resolutions called for all “sexual immorality” by clergy to be met with appropriate church discipline, and suggested all ordinands be made to sign up to a 1987 General Synod resolution which took a hard line on sexual ethics.

In addition to the C of E’s own “confusions” on sexuality, Europe was decried as being on a “suicide mission” thanks to low fertility rates; and the rate of growth of Islam around the world was noted as being higher than that of Christianity.

Another resolution from the Jesmond conference argued that there needed to be a revival of “Celtic evangelism”, based not on the parish system but recalling the way Christianity was introduced to the British Isles by missionary bishops operating out of minsters.

This model was already being rolled out by Holy Trinity, Brompton, the document suggested.