The Church of England Evangelical Council, founded by John Stott in 1960 to provide a collective evangelical voice in the Church of England, has recently published a report on The Future Role of Bishops in the Church of England, which it commissioned from Brierley Consultancy.
The report is based upon a 23% response to a Likert-style questionnaire which was emailed early in 2010 to over 1,000 members of the Council. Respondents were disproportionately male (86%), clergy (69%) and aged 50 and over (74%), which may or may not reflect a skew in the actual membership of the Council as a whole.
The questions were arranged around five topics, comprising a couple of dozen statements in all: the role of the diocesan bishop; the appointment of bishops; the work of suffragan bishops; the bishop and his national role; and the bishop and national issues. There were also two ranking questions. The full results will be found at:
Asked to rank five dominant issues facing a bishop today, 84% of respondents placed mission in first position, followed by declining church attendance (19%). Still further behind were financing ministry (5%), church unity (4%) and homosexuality (4%). Even when second, third, fourth and fifth preferences were factored in, mission remained the clear front-runner.
The primacy of mission was reinforced by the answers to another ranking question on the priorities of a bishop. To teach and defend the historic faith (55%) and to lead the Church in mission and ministry (51%) were the two issues of first rank, easily surpassing to be the voice of the Church in the public square (9%), to offer pastoral care for the whole Church (6%), and to manage Church resources most effectively (3%).
The Likert-style questions asked about specific issues in isolation. 88% of Anglican evangelicals surveyed considered that a bishop should resign if he supported clergy in active homosexual relationships, and 75% were clear that the consecration of women bishops would divide the Church.
In respect of Church and state, 80% wanted bishops to continue to sit in the House of Lords, but only 27% supported their appointment by the Prime Minister and Queen (the remaining 73% disagreeing). Three-fifths favoured bishops being elected by their diocesan clergy and their appointment for a fixed term of 10 years.
One-third of respondents felt that bishops were out of touch with ordinary Church life, and one-fifth wanted them to be judged on their performance and to be paid accordingly. 62% did not consider it appropriate that they live in palaces or especially large houses.
These latter findings were among the aspects of the survey to be featured in the summary published on the front page of the Church of England Newspaper for 7 May 2010. This also quoted the Bishop of Willesden (a member of the Council) apparently casting some doubt on the representativeness of the survey.