THE Archbishop of Canterbury has described the General Synod’s provisions for those who are theologically opposed to the consecration of women to the episcopate as an “expression of love”.
Archbishop Welby made his comments as he appeared alongside senior officials and members of the General Synod at Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee, which was considering the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure which had received final approval from the General Synod on Monday of last week (News, 18 July).
The former President of the Methodist Conference, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, said that the inclusion of provisions would lead to “wider incomprehension to the public at large”.
The Archbishop said in response: “This is a very short Measure with an expression of love and concern for those who struggle with it. We are a family, not a political party. We don’t chuck people out who disagree with us.”
He said that the Church was seeking to “love one another, wash each other’s feet, love your neighbour, love your enemy.” He quipped: “If we had done that in the 18th century, then you wouldn’t be a Methodist.”
The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, the Ven. Christine Hardman, rejected a claim from the Labour peer Lord Judd that, because of the provisions, “looked at from another planet it might well seem . . . that women are not on the same footing as men.”
“Up until now we talk about, in our canons, women priests and women deacons”, she said. “In this canon . . . from now on, we will talk about bishops. We will talk about priests. We will talk about deacons. The gender of the bishop, priest, or deacon will no longer be like some separate species where you have got bishops and women bishops, or priests and women priests. We will have bishops, and priests, and deacons.”
Archbishop Welby told the committee that the procedures used to prepare the legislation, using facilitated discussions, had “substantially reduced” the “culture of suspicion” that had developed in the Synod.
After taking evidence for about 75 minutes, the committee deliberated in private before announcing its unanimous support for the Measure, declaring it to be “expedient”.
Parliament has now risen for the summer recess. Sir Tony Baldry, who represents the Church Commissioners in Parliament, said that he hopes to take the Measure to the Commons in September, and that the Lords will consider it in October. If approved by both Houses, it will go for Royal Assent before returning to the Synod to be promulged.
THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he remains committed to the appointment of a conservative Evangelical bishop, and has suggested that procedures for selecting bishops may need to change.
On the specific promise to appoint a conservative Evangelical bishop “within a matter of months”, he told MPs and peers: “We have undertaken to approach the Dioceses Commission to see if we can create a suffragan see,” before immediately back-tracking and saying: “not ‘create’, but if we can use a vacant suffragan see for the appointment of someone holding the conservative Evangelical view on headship.
“This was promised long, long ago in various ways. One of the things that both the Archbishop of York and I feel about this – as did the House of Bishops – is that if we are going to create a climate of trust . . . we have got to keep our word on everything we promise. If you stop doing that, people will not believe you on anything.”
A Church House spokesman later said that “no proposal has yet been put to the Commission. A specific proposal with role specification will need to come from the diocesan bishop in whose diocese the see is.
“As was said at the Synod, conversations are going on, and options explored. The situation hasn’t changed since last week.”
Archbishop Welby also suggested that changes may be made to the procedures for appointing diocesan and suffragan bishops, saying: “There are some absolutely outstanding clergy in both the traditional Catholic and the complementarian Evangelical groups; and we are going to have to develop . . . processes and procedures to make sure that they are considered fairly and equally, to see if they are the most appropriate person for a given post.”
Archbishop Welby has also accepted that consecrating women to the episcopate will be a “further difficulty” on the road to unity with other Churches.
In a letter to the Church of England’s ecumenical partners on Thursday of last week, Archbishop Welby wrote that, while some denominations would welcome the vote at the General Synod, “our other ecumenical partners may find this a further difficulty on the journey towards full communion.”
The Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said in a statement after the Synod vote that the decision “sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us”.
In his letter, Archbishop Welby acknowledged that the decision had divided the C of E. “This is an occasion of deep rejoicing for many, especially for many of the women clergy in the Church of England. They feel that this decision affirms their place and ministry in the life of the Church. For others in the Church of England, the decision may be a source of disappointment and concern.”
Archbishop Welby’s letter also praised the “Christian charity” of the Synod debate, and said that there was a determination not to let sincere theological differences split the Church in two.
“After taking evidence for about 75 minutes, the committee deliberated in private before announcing its unanimous support for the Measure, declaring it to be ‘expedient’. “
This sentence, in this report from the ‘Church Times’ in London, confirms the fact that the Parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee, has received the Report of Archbishop Welby that the Church of England General Synod meeting wishes to go ahead with the Ordination of Women Bishops, and that the Committee will, in turn, present their recommendation to Parliament for permission for legislation to go ahead at the next meeting of General Synod in September. If Synod confirms its decision in September, then both Houses of Parliament will proceed with the necessary civil legal process that will allow the Ordination of Women as Bishops in the Church of England.
The Second part of this article in the Church Times bespeaks an intention to honour the result of a pledge made by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to make room for a special provisional arrangement for conservative evangelicals in the Church to avoid the ministry of a woman Bishop by an alternative means of episcopal election: It seems this may be possible: “if we can use a vacant suffragan see for the appointment of someone holding the conservative Evangelical view on headship.”
This, obviously, would not meet the needs of the alternative Anglo-Catholic minority that needs provision for its own objectors to Women Bishops – who, however, already have designated ‘Flying Bishops’ at their disposal, to meet their needs.
It seems that, in order to get the required consent of General Synod to the proposed Measure, these provisions needed to be included in the final Draft Proposal, which was finally accepted by the July Meeting of the General Synod.
If this allows the Church of England to pass the required legislation with a minimum of disruption to the Church, one might accept that the resulting accommodations – allowing for differing theological view-points on the efficacy of female leadership in the Church of England – with the large majority accepting their ministry – is the best possible outcome for ensuring the continuance of a more inclusive ministerial oversight in that Church.
Arguments which say that this Measure will exacerbate relationships with other Churches – mainly the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches – fail to take into account that, for the Roman Catholic Church at least, they already do not officially recognise our male Anglican Orders as valid! This has not seemingly affected the current degree of fraternal relationship.
If Anglicans have now recognised the need to accept women as co-heirs in the ministry of the Church, this must be an encouragement to other Churches to a like acceptance of the dictum of Saint Paul, when he declared that: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female.”
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand