Episcopal Oversight [Anglican Pioneer Ministry #4]

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In the last post of our mini-series on Pioneer Ministry and Anglican Identity, we touch on supervision and accountability for pioneer ministry.

Why Bishops?

The role of the Bishop is hugely significant to Anglican practice and identity. According to Ramsey (1985, p.96):

[a Bishop should] remember that his role is apostolic. His apostolicity is seen not only in pedigree which he holds but in his role of guiding the Church in its mission.

It is the Bishop who has ultimate responsibility for the life of the Church in a diocese, and who has responsibility for overseeing and authorising all those who undertake ministry, both those within inherited and pioneer methodologies.

For Ramsey (1984, p.97), the role of the Bishop is:

[To] help the priests to realise “into how high and weighty an office and charge they are called.”

Supervising pioneer ministry

I have been fortunate in my pioneer ministry context to benefit from very good supervision structures. I have regular supervision meetings with my line manager, Revd Justin Groves, who then reports regularly to one of the Archdeacons. We are also accountable to two Diocesan bodies, a diocesan council overseeing work with young people and a newer steering group for pioneer ministry.

We have found these structures to be supportive, collaborative and challenging, rather than controlling, and they have provided a strong foundation for The Lab to grow and develop.

I am very aware that this is not always the case for pioneers, though, within existing church structures.

Authority Dissenters

The Roman Catholic anthropologist, Gerald Arbuckle, writes about the importance of ‘authority dissenters’.

Authority dissenters are those who are in positions of authority within the Church and therefore able to support pioneering people by enabling experimentation and ‘dissent’ from the normal way of doing things.

Arbuckle writes:

As friends of pastoral innovators they can make the structural changes necessary for the ‘pathfinding’ dissenters [pioneer ministers] to use their gifts for the Church

The Lab has certainly benefited from the support of several key authority dissenters, who have managed to hold a tension between challenging and supervising on the one hand, but being supportive and listening on the other. It seems to me that this tension is key to good supervision structures for pioneer ministry.

Some conclusions

In this little series, we’ve explored what Anglican identity means for pioneer ministry. In exploring three key concepts that define the practical outworking of Anglican churches, we’ve found tensions between the established structures and the task of pioneer ministry.

However, there has also been common ground.

We’ve also discovered some possible areas for future dialogue with those who supervise our ministry, in particular around the relationship of a ‘mission order’ like The Lab to the parish system, and in the area of sacramental worship and liturgy.

Check out the other posts in this series:

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About the author: James Henley
James Henley
James has been with The Lab since 2007 and leads our team. He's an ordained pioneer minister in the Church in Wales.