Women Bishops Legislation draws Statement from forward in Faith Chairman Feb 25, 2012 It seemed right to leave a pause for reflection after the meeting of the General Synod in February, which devoted much time to further consideration of the draft legislation on women bishops.
We are hugely grateful to the Venerable Cherry Vann, Archdeacon of Rochdale, for introducing the Diocesan Synod Motion on behalf of the Diocese of Manchester, and for the gracious and generous way in which she did so.
This motion invited the House of Bishops to consider amending the legislation, in order to introduce provisions for those unable to accept the ordination of women to the episcopate along the lines of those contained in the amendment proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which was very narrowly defeated in July 2010.
While the Manchester motion was not passed in the form proposed, the debate was a helpful one. Many members of Synod, including those from the Catholic Group, but by no means only them, spoke eloquently and forcefully in favour of arrangements whereby those unable to accept women in the episcopate, on theological grounds, would be able to continue in the Church of England with integrity and a real opportunity to flourish.
It was enormously encouraging to hear the speeches of younger lay people, women and men, and younger priests, putting our case. It was encouraging, too, that a third of the House of Clergy and well over 40% of the House of Laity voted against any amendment to the Manchester motion, indicating significant dissatisfaction with the legislation in its present form.
In the House of Bishops, 16 bishops voted against amending the Manchester motion, among them the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of London and Durham, and a number of other senior diocesan bishops.
A further 5 members of the House of Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Winchester, abstained.
The motion which was passed in its final form still gives the House of Bishops room to take a fresh look at the legislation; and, of course, it remains true that the House of Bishops has the discretion to amend the legislation in any way its sees fit, irrespective of the voting on this particular motion in the General Synod.
We shall be praying hard now for fresh wisdom at the meeting of the House of Bishops in May, and for a willingness to listen to those many voices in Synod which urged that, for the sake of the Church of England as a whole, and her unity and mission, a way forward may be found to enable supporters of women in the episcopate and those who cannot assent to the development to move forward together.
We are not there yet. Forward in Faith continues to stand ready to help in any way, that such a solution may indeed be found.
X Jonathan Ebbsfleet, Chairman First Sunday in Lent, 2012
I was intrigued, on first reading this epistle from the Bishop of Ebsfleet (one of the two Archbishops’ ‘Provincial Episcopal Visitors’) that the bishop’s name, Jonathan, was preceded – not by the customary + denoting a bishop in the Church, but by an X. One wonders whether that is a special notation – to indicate the uncertanty of his official standing within the Church of England. It would surely afford ‘Ebbsfleet’ no status at all anywhere else!
However, x Jonathan’s letter, on behalf of the English branch of ‘Forward in Faith’ – an oxymoron if ever there was one – depicts a moderate indication of hope; that the two Archbishops (and presumably the entire House of Bishops of the Church of England) will be fiddling with the Motion approved by the 2011 General Synod to consent to the Ordination of Women Bishops, in accordance with a ‘Code of Practice’ – that would allow authority to a female Diocesan Bishop to approve of the ministry of a P.E.V. to minister in her diocese.
Seemingly, that would not suit F.i.F., whose members require that the P.E.V. be given the right to respond to the request of an anti-women parish to minister to them – but without having to apply to their female Diocesan Bishop for permission to do so. It will no doubt be remembered that the two Archbishops (Canterbury and York) tried to get a motion to that effect passed through General Synod, but it did not get the necessary approval.
Even though the Archbishops commended that – in the debates to be undertaken by the individual dioceses – an amendment be voted on: to the effect that the simple ‘Code of Practice’ be altered to accommodate F.i.F.’s request for unfettered ministry from an outside Episcopal Visitor – this has not been acceded to by most of the dioceses, which have already made their approval of the original ‘Code of Practice’ obvious.
F.i.F.’s hopes are now pinned on the Archbishops and the House of Bishops altering the form of legislation, that would accommodate their special and, to my mind, sexist and unreasonable demand for the bypassing of a female Diocesan Bishop’s authority to approve of P.E.V. ministry within her diocese. If this happens – as F.i.F. hopes will be the case – this would over-rule the wishes of the individual dioceses of the Church of England for a female bishop to exercise episcope over who should minister in her diocese.
This would perpetuate a non-catholic two-tier system of episcoapl ministry within the Church of England – that was first introduced when women were ordained to the priesthood in that Church – a system unique in the Anglican Communion, and something the Archbishop of Canterbury has said he did not want to perpetuate.
One can only pray that the Holy Spirit will have Her way on this important issue.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand