Adrian and I have asked for an opinion of this vexed question from the Archdeacon of Cambridge, the Venerable Alex Hughes, and here follows edited comments from an email he sent us:
“I think there are two issues at stake with respect to the ‘unusual’ status of St Edward’s. First, there is the question of ecclesiastical jurisdiction – i.e. whether or not it is a Peculiar. Second, there is the question of its submission to Canon Law.
On the first point, you ask whether I would write something to clarify the position of St Edward’s. I do have a fairly firm view on this matter, which is that St Edward’s is not a Peculiar, and that its uniqueness lies only in the manner of appointing clergy. This represents the view of certain well-established legal authorities , and the extensive research of a former member of the congregation at St Edward’s; but the question has never been tested exhaustively, and the costs of doing so are probably prohibitive. Arguably, whether or not St Edward’s ever was a Peculiar, such status was abolished anyway by statutory powers given to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the 19th century. My inclination, therefore, would be to behave as if St Edward’s is fully a parish within the Diocese of Ely under the Ordinary authority of the Bishop of Ely and the Archdeacon of Cambridge. One symbol of this would be for the Churchwardens to acknowledge their position as Officers of the Bishop by attending my Visitation and swearing themselves in alongside other Churchwardens.
On the second point, whether or not a church has Peculiar status, it cannot simply set aside Canon Law; and all clergy who hold a Bishop’s licence are bound by their oaths and declarations to abide by Canon law, which includes the requirement that they only use such forms of service as are authorized or allowed by Canon. In view of this, St Edward’s should expect to hold services which clearly belong within the family of Church of England liturgies, either of the Prayer Book or Common Worship. Given the extent of material authorized by Common Worship (running to several volumes of liturgical texts) I would be surprised if St Edward’s found it impossible to achieve this. And it is quite possible to introduce additional material to services on an ad hoc basis.
[Furthermore it would still need to use BCP or CW liturgies] because the church would still be under Ordinary authority (i.e. of the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall), who would presumably require that the church only uses authorized Church of England liturgy”.
Adrian and I have duly been sworn in as Churchwardens at the Archdeacon’s Visitation in May, and are doing our best to steer a course between the former errant direction and that approved by the Diocese, while retaining our distinctive style.