16th July 2010
THE AFTERMATH OF THE GENERAL SYNOD
The members of the General Synod have returned home; no doubt some will be preparing their addresses for the forthcoming Synod election in the autumn. For many this Synod achieved exactly what was wanted as far as the ordination of women to the episcopate is concerned but for a sizable minority it has left them feeling despondent and unwanted. When the Bishop of Manchester commended the draft legislation for revision in February 2009 he emphasised that it would be possible to make significant changes during the revision process. Despite the valiant efforts of some members of the Revision Committee what came back to the Synod this July was even less helpful than the original draft. I was not surprised. It was inevitable once the bishops decided to put the process in the hands of the Synod rather than controlling it themselves, which they had been doing until May 2008 when they sent a motion to synod recommending a Code of Practice as the best way forward. We have consistently said since then that ‘a Code of Practice will not do’ and there is no reason we should change our minds. It simply will not do – not then and not now.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York made a brave attempt to amend the legislation and while I did not think it would have been able to achieve what some hoped it would achieve it was defeated in the House of Clergy. It is not often, if ever, that two Archbishops have proposed an amendment to such a contentious piece of legislation concerning the future unity of the Church of England; to have done so and not succeeded says a great deal about the problems of our synodical structures. The Draft Measure will now go to the dioceses for further scrutiny though it is highly unlikely that it will not gain the necessary support. It will return to the Synod in 2012 when it will need to gain the necessary two thirds majorities in all three Houses of Laity, Clergy and Bishops.
If the Measure is passed -if it isn’t the issue will not go away-the landscape in the Church of England for traditional Catholics and Evangelicals will be bleak. There will be no resolutions to be passed, no Episcopal Visitors to petition for, the Act of Synod will be abolished and the episcopal ministry of the Bishops of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough will not exist. The process of reception so ably explained by Dame Mary Tanner in New Directions a few months ago has been forgotten. All the promises which were made to us in the early 1990’s about having a permanent honoured place in our Church have been ignored. No doubt many of the supporters of women’s ordination will say there has been compromise on both sides. They will point out they preferred a simple piece of legislation without a statutory Code of Practice. However, from our point of view, this legislation offers us little hope. It addresses none of the issues which are of concern to us and about which we have argued for so long. The only provision will be that a parish can request a male incumbent or the sacramental and pastoral care of a male bishop when needed. It is simply not sufficient for those for whom it is supposed to apply. Far from providing for those who have serious theological objections to the ordination of women the legislation allows parishes to discriminate against women.
I cannot overemphasise how serious this situation is for us. No amount of promises from the Archbishop Canterbury and others that there is more to be done can produce anything which would address the issues of jurisdiction, ecclesiology and sacramental assurance which we require.
Many of our priests signed an open letter before the July Synod of 2008, which began the process which has led to the present draft legislation, in which we said.
It is with sadness that we conclude that, should the Church of England indeed go ahead with the ordination of women to the episcopate, without the same time making provision which offers us real ecclesial integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead. We will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue to minister as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home.
The time for such discernment on the part of priests and laity has drawn considerably nearer since last week end. We will all have difficult questions to consider and the answers may depend as much upon our particular circumstances as on our understanding of the Church. What is essential is that we should have a period of calm reflection and prayer before any important decisions are made. Priests and people will need to have serious conversations about the future; we cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope this will go away. The priests in the Richborough Area have been invited, with other clergy from the Province of Canterbury, to a Sacred Synod on the 24th September to take counsel together.
The visit of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to our country in September will give us a good opportunity to meditate on our Lord’s call to Christian unity. The high spot of the visit will be the Beatification of John Henry Newman who himself wrestled with similar issues in his day. This may be a moment when his thoughts and writings can help us to consider the way forward.
May God bless you as you discern his will for you,
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