Bishops' Mission Orders

What is a Bishop's Mission Order?

It is a new opportunity in the Church of England created by the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007 and the Code of Practice with it:

  • the Measure allows bishops to issue a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) where a church planting initiative would cross parish boundaries or involve collaboration between parishes;
  • a BMO is not needed for a church plant within a parish. But if the plant takes root, a BMO could be a helpful means to aid the plant to maturity - for example, to help it be recognised as part of the overall governance of the parish.

 a beginner's guideA BMO is issued as part of a three-stage process

This is described more fully in Bishops' Mission Orders: A beginner's guide.

Stage 1: Making the proposal and initial explorations

The bishop or any office holder in the diocese, such as an incumbent or Church Army evangelist, can make a proposal for a church plant that would cross parish boundaries or involve more than one parish.

The bishop is required to undertake an initial enquiry into the proposal. He will normally delegate this task to someone - like an Archdeacon or Diocesan Missioner - who is not directly affected.

The bishop has significant power to broker new arrangements but must follow the correct procedure. He must consult the incumbent(s) of the parish(es) affected by the proposal. If the bishop turns down the proposal, he must give his reasons. There is no appeal.

Stage 2: Drafting the Order and formal consultation

The bishop will issue a draft Order, which will describe the objectives of the mission initiative, for example, where leadership and authority will lie and who will celebrate Holy Communion.

A period of formal consultation will then follow. Consultation will include:

  • those with a significant interest in, or who will be affected by the initiative;
  • ecumenical partners;
  • the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee.

If ministry through the church plant is to be exercised in a place without the consent of the incumbent(s) concerned, such as in a school or town centre, the incumbent(s) must be consulted, but they have no right of veto.

Stage 3: Making the Order and review

The Order will be revised if necessary, brought into effect (provided the leaders of the initiative give their consent) and then kept under review. The bishop will appoint a Visitor, who will add an extra layer of oversight to the venture on the bishop's behalf.

The Visitor should visit the emerging community at least twice a year, must report to the bishop every 18 months, and is required to see accounts and ensure that child protection and other such legislation has been complied with. The Visitor is not a substitute for a coach or mentor.

There will be a major review after a maximum of five years, following which the Visitor will make a recommendation to the bishop. If the Order is renewed, there will be a further review, up to a maximum of five years later. At that point the bishop will decide if the BMO should be made permanent.

The BMO can be light touch to start with, with more provisions added later

The BMO can be light touch to start with, with more provisions (eg, for deanery representation) added later:

  • it can be revised or revoked at any time, following a recommendation from the Visitor to the bishop, who will consult the parties involved;
  • it is assumed that good practice will be to grow the order organically.

A BMO may contain provision for public worship

Appendix 3 of the Code of Practice sets out some guidelines. What follows is a brief summary and interpretation of these guidelines, though there is no substitute for reading the Appendix itself.

Sometimes a fresh expression starts in a private context, such as a home, and does not involve the administration of the sacraments. The ordering of non-sacramental worship in that situation is not prescribed or limited by canon law, and the use of authorised liturgy is not required.

When worship takes place in a public context (for example, it has been advertised) and whenever the sacraments are celebrated (whether in a private or public setting), attention should be paid to the relevant  requirements of canon law and the authorised liturgy.

Canon law contains considerable flexibility. Canon B4 permits the bishop to approve forms of service for use on occasions for which no other provision exists. Canon B5 allows 'a minister having the cure of souls' (which would include a minister overseeing a fresh expression) to permit the use of forms of service which he or she considers suitable on such occasions.

These 'occasions' would include the mission contexts in which fresh expressions typically operate. This is an important source of flexibility for pioneers. It allows worship to be tailored to the culture of those involved.

These forms of service should observe certain principles, however. They should be:

  • Candle in front of sheet'reverent and seemly', as understood in the context;
  • they should be consistent with the essential doctrines of the Church of England;
  • they should help people grow to maturity in the faith, which will mean keeping forms of worship under review - 'would something different be appropriate at this stage?'
  • they should involve a creative dialogue between the mission context and the traditions of the church. The UP dimension of church contains a suggestion for managing this dialogue in a creative and flexible way, which does justice to both sides of the conversation.

Practical problems can arise when celebrating Holy Communion within the legal framework set by canon law, which should be observed at all time. We suggest some ways of overcoming these in The UP dimension of church.

Comment: Baptists like me (and others with a congregational form of church) may find this section irrelevant or a troubling legacy of the Christendom era with its territorial approach to church and society. But I am convinced that the permission-giving role of bishops and the supportive accountability they offer has enabled numerous fresh expressions to thrive. Maybe Baptists need bishop-equivalents to galvanise fresh expressions? Stuart Murray Williams, Urban Expression

Some useful resources