Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East poised to divide into three new provinces

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The upcoming provincial synod of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East is poised to split the province into three. The division of the provinces comes amidst discord within the diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf which may also divide over issues of finances, doctrine and discipline.

The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf newsletter, the “Synod Scene” in its report on the February 2019 session of synod held in Larnaca stated: “The Diocese of Egypt has put forward a proposal to Provincial Synod to become a province in its own right. Jerusalem has indicated it plans to do the same. If both are successful only [the diocese of] Iran and [diocese of] Cyprus and the Gulf would remain.”

A commission led by the Ven Bill Schwartz, Archdeacon in the Gulf was tasked with reviewing the proposal, but the Synod Scene reported the decision to divide has already been taken. “Egypt in particular is pressing for a speedier resolution and there are fears that it could be presented as a fait accompli at the next meeting of the Provincial Synod in May [2019].”

The Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis, Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf told synod the call to divide had “not been thought through.” He put forward a motion to synod that “affirms the current and potential benefits of living with diversity, variety and mutual interchange in the existing configuration of the Province; and requests Central Synod to give close consideration to the impact of proposed changes” on each of the four dioceses.” The bishop’s motion was adopted by synod without dissent.

In his letter to the 6-9 May 2019 Egyptian synod, the Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Rt. Rev. Mouneer Anis confirmed the division of the province was underway.

He wrote: “[Y]ou may remember at Synod 2017 we decided to start the process of transforming the Diocese of Egypt into a province that is composed of four dioceses: Egypt, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Gambella (Western Ethiopia). We thank God that all the primates of the Anglican Provinces of Africa welcomed this step in their meeting in May 2018. Last week the Anglican Consultative Council agreed to send a committee in order to investigate the matter and report back to their standing committee.”

The Diocese in Jerusalem has also expressed its desire to become a stand alone province. Sources at the top of the province tell Anglican Ink, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, has offered oral support for the plans, but has not committed himself in writing to the project.

If the province divides, the internal divisions within Cyprus and the Gulf may see the dissolution of its current structure. It was formed in 1974 by amalgamating chaplaincies to British expatriates in Cyprus with congregations serving American and European oil industry workers and their families, and Indian and Sri Lankan evangelicals.

Congregations in Dubai, Qatar, and Oman have pulled away from the diocese and withdrawn their financial support for Bishop Lewis, while the chaplaincy in Aden has been shuttered due to the civil war in Yemen.

Under the headline“Hijacked” the Synod Scene reported control of the Anglican Centre in Doha, Qatar had been turned over to the parish council by the Qatar Foreign Ministry. The parish said that it would now reduce its contribution to the diocese by 60 per cent — a 30 per cent reduction in the diocese’s annual income.

The newsletter denounced the parish move, reporting the synod adopted a non-binding resolution asking the parish to return financial control of the Anglican Centre in Doha to the diocese.

A 25 March 2019 open letter from the parish to the diocese noted the Synod Scene account was not accurate. The parish had raised the funds to build the Anglican Centre without diocesan support, but in 2005 the Qatar government gave control over the property to the diocese. The diocese then charged rent to the parish on the property it had built as well as to the other Christian groups that use the multi-purpose property. Christians in Qatar asked the government to review its decision and earlier this year the government vested control in the parish building with the parish council.

The division between Cyprus and the Gulf over finances is mirrored by a division over doctrine and discipline with a liberal catholic ethos on Cyprus competing with an evangelical worldview in the Gulf. The former Archbishop in Wales, the Most Rev. Barry Morgan was invited by Bishop Lewis to address the synod, prompting some evangelicals to stay away.

Should the Gulf pull away from Cyprus, diocesan insiders tell AI, the Gulf would have the internal financial resources to be a stand alone diocese. Cyprus, however, would not and would likely have to be absorbed by the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe.