Women’s Ministry in the Church of England – a Historical View

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes who writes about Loyal Anglicans : A historical view.

A few years ago, the Church of England’s General Synod passed a resolution declaring that both those who agree and those who disagree with the ordination of women are ‘loyal Anglicans’.

Since then, this phrase has been repeatedly quoted by those who disagree with women’s ordination. Look here, the argument runs. We are loyal Anglicans – Synod has agreed – and we cannot be called disloyal just because we don’t support the church’s decision to ordain women. You have to let us have everything we feel we need to flourish. Separate bishops. Separate dioceses, preferably, but failing that certainly separate Chrism masses, separate ordination services, separate selection conferences. It isn’t disloyal or separatist to ask for these things, we are assured: how can it be, when we know everyone involved is a ‘loyal Anglican’?

Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the illogicality of basing your argument on a declaration that both sides are loyal, and then using that declaration as an excuse for disowning your opponents as invalid innovators who are not loyal to the inheritance of faith.

Instead, I want to consider the phrase ‘loyal Anglicans’ as a historian. Because from a historical perspective, this phrase ‘loyal Anglicans’ is a very richly evocative phrase.

It is hardly going too far to say that the entire basis of Anglicanism is loyalty. Loyalty to the Crown over the Pope, mainly. And secondly, loyalty to a prescribed way of doing things rather than to our own ideas.

But if Synod’s statements are to be taken as the grounds for argument, there is no getting away from the fact that Synod has said that women can be ordained. That women can and should become bishops, that there are no fundamental theological objections to women’s ordination. And since Synod has declared women can be ordained, there is no grounds for refusing to accept that your (male) bishop is a loyal Anglican, let alone demanding an alternative one with whom you can agree.

We should stop the creeping separation that we have allowed to infiltrate the Church of England since the Act of Synod. Let’s all go to the same Chrism masses, the same ordination services. Let’s enact unity, rather than talking about it. Or let’s stop, please, claiming to be loyal Anglicans.


Miranda Threlfall-Holmes here challenges those in the Church of England who continue to claim that both side of the Women’s Ordination dispute are ‘Loyal Anglicans’.

One would have thought, like Miranda, that loyalty involved an acceptance of the polity and praxis of the Church to which the said ‘loyalists’ happen to belong. Members of the Church of England, in order to be loyal to that Church, are surely bound by its Canon Law – as promulgated by its General Synod.

Women have already been a part of the ordained ministry of the Church of England for so long now that  Women’s Ordination has become part and parcel of its mainstream development and ongoing mission. The fact that, hitherto, there has been a level of institutionalised division in the Church on account of the questionable provision of alternative episcopal oversight for those who do not believe that women have the requisite authority from God to minister as clergy, should not cloud the issue: that those who will not accept the ministry of women are not at unity with the larger body of the Church, for whom women’s ministry is not only valid but vital.

For the Church of England to continue to accept this division – on the specious grounds of gender difference – is not only illogical but also actually intentionally divisive, and therefore the direct cause of an institutionalised schism within the body of the Church. The sooner this divided ‘loyalty’ is disposed of, the better – for the sake of integrity and catholic order.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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1 Response to Women’s Ministry in the Church of England – a Historical View

  1. Pingback: What might women’s ordination look like? | Katie and Martin's Blog on the Lutheran Church in Australia

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