Christians mourn death of bishop Tony Palmer, friend of Pope Francis

Evangelicals and other Christians worldwide are mourning the sudden death of a bishop in a breakaway Anglican church who had become a close personal friend of Pope Francis.

British-born Tony Palmer has died in hospital following hours of surgery after a motorcycle accident in the UK.

He moved with his family to South Africa when he was ten but currenty lived with his wife Emiliana and two children in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. He was a bishop with the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, which embraced the middle ground of Anglican identity.

In January this year Pope Francis sent Bishop Palmer to a charismatic conference hosted by television evangelist Kenneth Copeland, where he unveiled a video message of unity and love that the Pope had suggested he do.

The news of his death was disclosed by Archbishop Charles Hill, patriarch and presiding prelate of Ambassadors for Christ Ministries of America, who wrote on Facebook yesterday (20th): "We are in prayer for the family of Bishop Tony Palmer who was in a motorcycle accident this morning in the UK after hours of surgery he went home to be with the Lord. He was a good friend and brother in the vineyard."

Kathy Schiffer reported on her Seasons of Grace blog: "Tony Palmer, the charismatic young preacher who enjoyed a friendship with Pope Francis, has apparently died in a motorcycle accident. Not a Catholic, Palmer was bishop in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a group that broke away from the Anglican Church and considered itself part of the Convergence Movement."

She described how Bishop Palmer had visited the Pope at the Vatican before the conference with Copeland. "During that meeting, Palmer used his iPhone to record an impromptu greeting from the Holy Father to an American Pentecostal conference. In that video, which was released publicly in February, Pope Francis says to the Pentecostals gathered at a meeting of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in the United States, 'Let's give each other a spiritual hug.' Bishop Palmer's respect for the Holy Father and for the Catholic Church is evident in his remarks in introducing the video to Kenneth Copeland's conference. The message is one of brotherhood, unity and love. "Brothers and sisters," Palmer said to the group, "Luther's protest is over. Is yours?"

Father Dwight Longenecker wrote on his Patheos blog in February that Palmer's CEEC community was founded not only by Anglicans, but a whole range of Protestant leaders who see themselves as part of a "convergent church" movement.

"In a step away from the traditionalist slant of many continuing groups, the CEEC used the 1978 Episcopal liturgy and were happy to ordain women as deacons and priests. This is the group that Tony Palmer belongs to and this is why he is what I call 'the new face of Anglicanism'. One has to ask, when Tony Palmer presented himself therefore as 'an Anglican Bishop' did Archbishop Bergoglio of Argentina have any idea that this was the background and was he aware of this rapidly shifting identity of Anglicanism? I suspect he did not. How was a Catholic bishop in Argentina expected to be aware of the mushrooming complexity of Anglicanism? No doubt as their friendship developed...Bergoglio became aware of the real situation."

Then earlier this month, Father Dwight wrote about the Copeland conference and the video, reporting that after Pope Francis' greeting was played to the conference Copeland gave a warm response and said he wanted to visit with the Pope.

"That meeting has now taken place. Rick Wiles reports that a delegation led by Bishop Tony Palmer traveled to Rome and met with Pope Francis for three hours. James and Betty Robison hosts of the Life Today television program and Kenneth Copeland founder of Kenneth Copeland ministries were accompanied by Reverend Geoff Tunnicliff, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance; Rev Brian Stiller and Rev Thomas Schirrmacher, also from the World Evangelical Alliance. Also in attendance were Rev John Arnott and his wife, Carol, co-founders of Partners for Harvest ministries in Toronto, Canada.

"This meeting is all the more remarkable since not too long ago conservative Evangelicals in North America were inclined to view the Catholic Church as the 'great whore of Babylon' and the Pope as the antichrist. The Evangelical leaders were not only impressed by the simplicity and warmth of Pope Francis's welcome, but they clearly had a fellowship in Christ that has been lacking in the past."

He said the real division in Christianity was not now between Catholics and Protestants but between those Christians who believe in a revealed religion and those who believe in a relative religion. "The real divide is between progressives who wish to alter the historic faith according to the spirit of the age, and those who believe the spirit of the age should be challenged by the eternal and unchanging truth of the Christian gospel."