Friday, 24 January 2014

Jersey Splits from Diocese after 700 years.

A lot is being made of the split between Jersey and Winchester, where Jersey has been moved to another Diocese (that of Canterbury) for the time being. The thrust of the headlines are that "Jersey's church is breaking away from the Diocese of Winchester - ending 500 years of historic links between the two institutions." But it is only five hundred years, compared with the split from Coutances after seven hundred years, and Jersey is staying within the Church of England, so the effect on the average man or woman in the street will not be noticeably different. The services will remain the same, christenings, marriages and funerals will take place as before, and very little will really change.

In a way, it is rather like the change from Crown to Prime Minister with appointments of Bishops. The Crown Nominations Commission, after consultations with the Diocesan Vacancy-in-See decides on two names. These are forwarded to the Prime Minister, who chooses one of them, by convention, the first names one.

But after the break with Rome in Henry VIII's time, it was the monarch who had the decision on appointments. The Monarch gradually received more advice from the Church, but it was still open to them to decide on their own. King Charles II made some appointments purely of his own volition, as for example, as he did in appointing Thomas Ken to Bath and Wells in 1684. But when Mary II died, a commission was appointed in 1695 to advise King William III, who had little knowledge of the Church of England.

By the time of the first Georges, the monarch was already relying on their Prime Ministers to advise them on the appointment of Bishops and Archbishops. During Lord Liverpool's Premiership, it was an established convention that a Prime Minister can insist on having the last word over any ecclesiastical appointment to be made by the Crown. The pattern of submitting names to the Prime Minister began largely with Archbishop Davidson in the 20th century, and was continued by his successor Cosmo Gordon Lang. By this time, the monarch had effectively relinquished control over appointment of Bishops.

For the churchgoer in the pew, however, these changes made little difference. They had no say over their new Bishop, whether finally chosen by Monarch or Premier. The same is true of the change from Winchester to Canterbury. Apart from the name of the Bishop in one prayer being altered (it is always the diocesan Bishop), there are no changes of significance, and nothing like the upheavals of the Reformation.

Jersey had been part of the Diocese of Coutances since at least 912, and possibly earlier, and while the Reformation had brought great changes in the church, strangely the Island remained part of the Catholic Diocese of Coutances, despite changes being attempted:

Warburton's history notes that "when King John was dispossessed of Normandy, he brought them under the bishop of Exeter's jurisdiction for a short time; but they were soon restored to the bishopric of Coutances, and so continued until the reign of Henry the Seventh"

It should be remembered that King John instituted an order to suppress the "alien priories", those whose mother house was in Normandy, and who paid dues to them. Like the dissolution of the Monasteries, this was a move motivated in part by politics, part by finance. The move to Exeter probably was related.

The change in King Henry's time was another move to bring them within the scope of English dioceses, and more in line with English hegemony:

"All through the Middle Ages the Channel Islands formed part of the French Diocese of Coutances. On 28th October 1496 King Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, requested Pope Alexander VI to transfer them to Salisbury. Three years later he asked to have them transferred to the Diocese of Winchester. The Pope did as Henry asked - but the Pope's Bull had no effect. Right up to the reign of Elizabeth I the Bishop of Coutances exercised jurisdiction over the Islands. "(4)

But in 1565, the Bishop of Coutances began to petition for non-payment of dues in Guernsey. He wanted, in the Queen's name, payment of all such dues and sums of money as has been his right to be paid to him.

"He sent his Procureur, or agent, with orders to make application for their recovery to the Governor, who referred him to the Bailiff and Jurats. They summoned John After, the Dean, to appear and answer to the Bishop's demands. When he presented himself, the Bishop's Procureur protested against After, as not having any right to the deanery, or to the parishes of St. Martin and St. Peter-in-the- Wood (both of which, by the queen's appointment, he was possessed of) , because he held them without any authority from the bishop of Coutances."

"The dean replied that he had sworn obedience to the Queen of England and her laws in matters ecclesiastical, that he had renounced the pope and all foreign jurisdiction, and that he held the deanery and the two parishes by Episcopal authority through the Bishop of Winchester, who, most probably from other circumstances, had some inspection over the spiritual affairs of the island at that time, though the order for annexing it to that see is of later date. Dean After then declared, that if the agent of the bishop of Coutances would, in his master's name, take the oath of fidelity to the queen, promise to obey her laws in matters ecclesiastical, and renounce the pope and his adherents, he would acknowledge the authority of the bishop of Coutances in the island; and he added that he was ready to give any further answer that might be required of him." (1)

The Bishop, however, was determined to try and regain his dues, and now he took his case to London, which was a mistake, because in 1569, the break with Coutances became absolute and irreversible:

"In 1569 the then Bishop of Coutances was on a diplomatic mission in London. He complained that the dues from the Island's Deaneries were not forthcoming. The Privy Council unearthed the Bull and the Royal Letter of 1499; an order in Council of 11th March 1569 executed the separation of the Islands from the Diocese of Coutances and placed them under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Bishop of Winchester" (4)

But matters were not quite as clear cut as that might suggest. Some of the leading Channel Islands Protestants had fled to Geneva in the time of Queen Mary, a natural choice as French was native to both locales. When they return in Elizabeth's reign, they put into effect radical solutions to church governance, doing away with a Dean, using the Geneva Prayer Book (which was in French), and setting up Church Consistory Courts to ensure that strict Presbyterian discipline and moral standards were adhered to. It was like the Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, but come many years earlier.

Although a Dean was reinstated temporarily by James I, the Civil War brought Puritanism back to Jersey, and it was not until the restoration that there was a firm restoration of Anglican order, and the Book of Common Prayer. Nevertheless, the legacy of Calvinism ran deep:

"It was, in fact, 1818 before the Anglican form of Confirmation was administered for the first time by Dr. Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, as the Bishop of Winchester was not well enough to do so. The Islands then had to wait until 1829 to receive the first Episcopal visitation from their Anglican Bishop, Dr Sumner of Winchester."(4)

The present move from Winchester to Canterbury is presently described as an "interim measure". As it seems largely to have been fuelled by an acrimonious power struggle between the Bishop of Winchester and factions supporting the Dean in Jersey, this seems quite possible.

Of course, interim may in fact mean a decade or more, but in terms of the thousand fold history of the ancient churches in the Parish Churches that is no more than a fleeting moment.

We should remember that the clash is between people within the church rather than the much greater clash of theology at the Reformation, and by removing the Channel Islands from Winchester, the Archbishop of Canterbury evidently hopes to defuse the quarrels.

How successful he is will depend on the rhetoric of those pressing for more permanent independence, but it would be foolish indeed for any Jersey contingent to seek to repudiate the oversight of Canterbury, as mediated through the Bishop of Dover. That may depend on the ego of some of the principal protagonists, whom I won't name here, but who have made statements, written letters, and can be rather easily identified in their push for independence, which in one instance, is not merely ecclesiastical but political. As big fish in a little pond, they might to well to remember the rebuke given to the disciples in Luke 9, verse 46-48.


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