Dilemma in the Church of England – Episcopal Collegiality

One step forward, two giant leaps back – the English Episcopate
21/01/2015 By Kelvin Holdsworth

There have been times in my ministry in Scotland when I have really wondered whether the Scottish Episcopal Church’s relationship of full communion with the Church of England is a good thing. I may not be a nationalist but I guard the independence of my church very fiercely. Recently though, rather than wondering whether full communion with England is a good thing, I find myself wondering whether it in fact still exists.

Here’s the thing. Next week a bishop will be consecrated in the Church of England who will be the first bishop of that church who happens to be a woman.

Now, I’m all in favour of the Episcopate being open to both men and women. I always have been. However, what I mean by that is that I’m in favour of the Episcopate being opened to both men and women on the same terms. I’m not really in favour of it being opened to women on a different basis to that by which men are consecrated. And for that reason, I’ve always been rather suspicious of what’s going on down south.

I watched many people in England celebrating the vote to allow women to become bishops with very mixed feelings. You see, I was aware that the terms were not really so good.

Next week, the first woman will be consecrated in York Minister. There will be rejoicing. However, I know a number of women and a number of men in the church for whom the rejoicing will be somewhat muted and rightly so.

Just a few days after Libby Lane is consecrated a bishop in York Minister, there will be another consecration of someone called Philip North. He is being made a bishop and he is one of the people who don’t accept the ordination of women. And the word has apparently gone out that all those bishops who consecrate Libby Lane are not to lay hands on Philip North in order to “preserve” or “protect” for him and those who share his views an untainted, “pure” line of succession which has not been interfered with by anyone who either is a woman or who has actually touched a woman in a previous consecration.

This idea of being tainted because you have touched a woman in a religious service is vile. One might presume that anyone who held to such a view would be regarded by the institution as being unworthy of being made a bishop and thus a leader of men people. But no – not only is the Church of England going ahead with this plan, it was actually built into the plan to ordain women in the first place. If women were to be ordained then there would continue to be bishops who didn’t recognise those women as bishops and who would continue to be ordained by a line of male bishops who had not been contaminated by those pesky women.

Now, remarkably to many of those of us outside England, there are actually people who think this is a good idea. There are actually people who think this is what inclusion looks like and who think that this was a price worth paying for women being made bishops.

(Remember at this point that congregations who don’t fancy having a girl bishop can opt to have a boy bishop instead too).

This hideous situation is demeaning of women. It is demeaning of men too because it demeans our common humanity. But it is demeaning of God too.

But wait! It gets worse.

I know you are probably wondering how it can possibly get worse, but it does. You see, the Church of England has decided (I’m at a loss really to know how) that it needs always to have a bishop who “holds a conservative view on headship”. Now, this means that it is going to have a bishop who has been appointed with a job description that demands that he (yes, he) believes that men have headship over women.

People sometimes erroneously presume these people to be Evangelicals but that’s a slur on very many Evangelicals. The name for this is religious misogyny and the C of E is not just practising it but making sure that it will be practised in perpetuity.

Now, you might well say – “oh, that’s the Church of England for you, what does it matter to us?”

But it does matter. Are our bishops all in full communion with the Church of England’s bishops. All our bishops have shared in a consecration with a female participant, so I presume they are well and truely “tainted” from that point of view, thank goodness.

It matters too because those of us outside the Church of England tend to take the Anglican Communion rather more seriously than many in the C of E do.

When a bishop who happened to be gay was consecrated in the USA, many in the C of E were up in arms because they hadn’t been consulted.

Well, these two developments in England that are coming up are things that those of us around the communion haven’t been consulted about either. And if we don’t get to share the decision making, we can at least hold our noses whilst it happens and say that it must never happen here.

The official recognition of a theology of taint in the Church of England applying to those who touch Libby Lane was not in my view a price worth paying for the ordination of women as bishops.

The search for a bishop and the establishment of a permanent post, for someone who holds a doctrinal position stating that men have a headship role over women by definition is also not a price that was worth paying.

The cause of equality has made a big step forward with the opening of the Episcopate to women in England but has been accompanied by two giant leaps backwards.

The position of the Scottish Episcopal Church has become quite clear on the Anglican Communion in recent years. We love it – but not at any price.

PS – before anyone starts belly-aching about the need for the Scottish Episcopal Church to elect a female bishop, can I remind anyone tempted to comment that the only way we can do so is by bumping off one of the current bishops. Those advocating this development should let the General Synod Office in Edinburgh know which bishop they’d like removed in this way and their chosen method. Once that has been done we’ll have an election, but I’m warning you not to prejudge the outcome, we’re still likely to try to select the best person for the job, regardless of gender. That’s what equality looks like.

Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth’s article rightly draws to our attention that, very shortly, the Church of England will be entering into a state of divided loyalty – a situation where the first Woman Bishop, Libby Lane, will be consecrated in the historic York Minster, with the following consequence:

A few days later, Philip North, who disagrees with the C. of E.’s policy of ordaining women to any sacerdotal ministry, will also be ordained Bishop in the same historic place. However, the difference will be that – the hands laid on Bishop Libby will not be considered as sacramentally ‘orthodox’ enough to be applied to the episcopal ordination of Bishop Philip. How this may affect the future collegiality of the College of Bishops has yet to be experienced.

How can this be? One might well ask. However, the enabling legislation for this two-tier episcopal integrity has already been enabled by the Church of England General Synod, which legislated for two separate understandings of episcopal integrity – presumably in order to obtain agreement for women to be allowed to become bishops in the Church of England.

As Fr. Kelvin states here, one wonders where other provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion were consulted on this important issue – especially when one remembers the absolute furore when The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. were subject to the fury of other provinces of the Communion, when they allowed a gay priest to be ordained as bishop in their own jurisdiction – without first obtaining ‘permission’ from other provinces of the Communion. The outcome from this was a cause of schism in the Communion!

This latest legislation by the Church of England does rather seem like implementing one rule for the C.of E. and another for T.E.C. AND, what does it say about the true equality of women in the Church of England, when an implicit theology of ‘taint’ seems to have entered into its theology of ministerial orders?

(See also) http://www.christiantoday.com/article/consecration.of.traditionalist.bishop.set.to.highlight.church.of.england.divisions/46349.htm

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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6 Responses to Dilemma in the Church of England – Episcopal Collegiality

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    Perhaps for some time yet, we must live with an ambiguous rainbow.
    Set this current situation against the whole U.K.political scenario which is anybody’s guess, as the state of flux which currently exists.
    I say these things, because apart from the U.K.,; globally there is doubt, uncertainty and a great shifting of tectonic plates of political order, social order and economic stability.
    The vox populi is making itself heard.
    We are called as Christians to live through such times, not with despair.
    The general Synod of the CofE has made decisions to make the two different integrities to co-exist.
    So both sides must advance in prayer.
    One understands questioning as to lack of consultation, “taint” of validity, etc. etc.,.
    But are such things the flagships in our Discipleship of Christ.??
    Let us all go forward with Charity ever before and with us.
    ; Whilst the substance of doubts raised in this matter are not the same as those in the back and forth of opinion /argument which existed prior to England’s divorce from Rome and immediately thereafter, one cannot help but see a sameness in all the nuances of debate.
    Our Discipleship in Christ surely calls on us not to be cast adrift in all of this.!

    pray Brethren ! And pray again.!

    Jesu mercy.! Mary pray!

  2. Brian Ralph says:

    I am afraid I find myself more and more in disagreement with the Church. It is time to tell these fools to get lost. They may find a position for a while in Rome but even there, I think the tide is turning. I would be embarrassed if any of my friends discovered this. Most of them would have trouble remembering when they were last in a church, probably the last wedding and let’s face it church weddings are getting few and far between. Yet their lives are more “Christian” than these idiots. I am gradually realising that any problems I have in my life are mainly due to my Christian upbringing. When I lived in Sydney I refused to enter a church (and walked out once) when one of the misogynist bishops was present. They serve a different God to me. and are a disgrace.

  3. kiwianglo says:

    Thanks, Murray and Ralph, for your separate responses to my post. I have just read several protesting articles on the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ web-site and have given a suggestion (tongue-in-cheek, I must say0 that might save the C. of E. some embarrassment:

    When, as a boy in the 1940s, I was confirmed in Holy Trinity church, Coventry (U.K.), the bishop wore a pair of white gloves. Would it be possible for future episcopal rites in the Church of England to be dealt with in a similar way – so that ‘sacramental assurance’ might be maintained by the gloves, rather than the officiating bishop? Perhaps there could be different coloured gloves for male and female candidates, so that no mistake is made – by ‘taint’.

    It seems to be that, with this upcoming situation, where even the Archbishop of York will be barred from Fr. North’s consecration because of his involvement with the prior ordination of The Revd. Libby; if a bishop of each theological understanding of the ordination of women could undertake to transfer episcopal authority to one set of gloves, and they were used only to consecrate either female or male candidates; then that might secure a more meaningful ‘sacramental assurance’ than the actual hands of any of the collegially-impaired members of the House of Bishops. (takes tongue out of cheek).

    • murraysmallbone says:

      Fr. Ron, your foray into humour of a “glove job” for future Episcopal Consecrations gave me a few chuckles-bringing some “Merrily on High” humour to an otherwise grave matter.
      I suppose under Roman Canon Law, the mere touch would not be a sign of “Lack”, but rather the very intention of doing so.
      You were fortunate to be confirmed by a gloved Bishop. In the late 1950’s when I was confirmed by an Aussie .. Anglo-Catholic Bishop, the weather was far too hot for gloves. And also the boys among us were told not to wear hair Brylcreme; which was the youth fashion for the hair, in those days.This to avoid the Bishop’s hands being ” anointed” with hair oil.
      Would it be fair to say that as and from the consecration of Fr. Philip North,those consecrating Bishops will be referred to as “THE NORTH LINE” for future such consecrations/priestings.
      The latter as an historical matter, like looking up the line of consecrators for Archbishop Matthew Parker, following the untimely death of Queen Mary 1 of blessed and glorious memory.
      So from now, the question will be;” Were you ordained in the North Line or not.? Rolls will be examined!!! A return to the mid Sixteenth Century !!!

      “Whom shall we follow now” ?

      Jesu mercy! Mary pray!

  4. murraysmallbone says:

    The Lane/North Episcopal consecrations (consternations) could actually represent the unofficial creation of The Third Province within the CofE.
    Shall we rename the Central line on the London Underground as the Lane Line and keep the North(ern) Line as such; crossing each other at Tottenham Court Road to be renamed York Station.

    “MIND THE GAP” when boarding and or alighting. !!!!!!
    For non- London readers- “Mind the gap” is written on platform edges on the London Underground; the “gap” being the gaping space between platform edge and carriage entrance.

  5. kiwianglo says:

    Thanks, Murray for your comments. Yes! It would seem that the former thought of the possibility of a special Province of the Anglican Communion for dissenters to women’s ordination might have been the better idea. At least, Bishop North and his companions would have some commonality with the likes of ACNA and GAFCON – both of which groups have indicated their departure from reliance upon the Church of England’s Canterbury provenance.

    It looks as though the ‘Extra-Provincial’ provinces might soon outnumber the originals, which would not worry me too much! Agape!

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