Episkope 1
Home Up Act of Synod Interpreting Authority Episkope 1 Episkope 2 Diaconate Reception

Centre for the Study of the Christian Church & St George's House, Windsor Castle.


An ecumenical Consultation on 'Episkope and Episcopacy', sponsored by the Centre for the Study of the Christian Church and St George's House, Windsor Castle, was held at St George's House from the 10th to 12th September 1998. The participants included representatives of the faith and order bodies of the United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of England. The Consultation heard papers on episkope (pastoral oversight) and epsicopacy in various traditions of the Christian Church from the Revd Dr Paul McPartlan, the Revd Murdoch Mackenzie, Dr Gareth Jones, the Revd Neil Dixon and the Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis.

In plenary discussion the following points received substantial support:

Pastoral oversight in all its forms is a ministry of Christ himself. The pastoral ministry that is entrusted to individuals is grounded in baptism. Therefore all Christian churches have episkope. There needs to be a formal mutual recognition of authentic episkope in the churches. It would help the Free Churches if the Church of England initiated this mutual recognition.

The diversity of forms and expressions of episkope, together with the fact of anomalies and inconsistencies in all traditions, should be acknowledged. The complex fabric of structures pastoral oversight in the churches makes ecumenical convergence difficult at the practical level.

There is a need for public, representative persons in the leadership of the churches and the symbolic element in their role may be acknowledged. The Lima Statement of 1982 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry helpfully distinguished communal, collegial and personal forms of ministry at every level of the Church's life. But the relation between the personal forms of ministry and the other two needs further clarification. The Free Churches are not as comfortable with the personal as with the communal and the collegial. They are concerned to place constraints on the authority of individuals.

When the Free Churches consider the possibility of adopting episcopacy, they ask, What sort of bishop do we mean? For them leaders must be primarily servants and models of the ministry of word and sacrament. Bishops would have to fit in to their ecologies of episkope with their conciliar checks and balances. There must be structures of mutual accountability.

A need for further work was identified in the following areas

Educational - to overcome stereotypes and fantasies about leadership and bishops in particular. Some Free Church people may not be fully aware of how the Church of England now operates a bishop-in-synod model of episcopacy.

Theological - to explore the tension between functional and ontological concepts of ordained ministry and the relation between orders and offices. Also how apostolicity is expressed through structures that provide visible continuity.

Practical - to consider such concrete matters as terms of office, titles and forms of commissioning for bishops in a Free Church context. The phrase of the Lambeth Quadrilateral 'the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration' was thought worthy of further study.

The Consultation was judged to have been a worthwhile and constructive. It was agreed that a follow-up Consultation was desirable and that it would be appropriate for there to be some input from the Lutheran tradition. The dates for the 1999 Consultation on Episkope and Episcopacy are 30th September to 2nd October.

Paul Avis,
Centre for the Study of the Christian Church,
The Sub Dean's Office,
Exeter Cathedral,
1 The Cloisters,
Exeter, EX1 1HS.
(01392 425229)

& Church House,
Great Smith Street,
London, SW1P 3NZ.
(0171 222 9011)

Laurence Gunner,
Directing Staff,
St George's House,
Windsor Castle,
Berkshire, SL4 1NJ.
(01753 866313)

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