Friday, February 22, 2013

Women in the Episcopate

This post is a response to the Document 'Women in the Episcopate: a new way forward' produced by a working group of the Church of England tasked with bringing legislation for the ordination of women as bishops to the General Synod.  It was produced after a larger facilitated meeting also including invited members of interest groups and individuals from the wider Church.  It has been submitted to the working group for their consideration and is posted here for wider interest.

Women in the Episcopate –
a response to GS MISC 1042

1.    Thanks and appreciation are due to all those involved in producing the ‘new way forward’ in this fraught debate.  As a new member of the General Synod, elected after the November vote, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the process.
2.    The overwhelming sense of those ordained and lay, inside and outside of the Church, who have spoken with me in relation to this issue is that the General Synod’s vote in November did harm to the mission and the ministry of the Church of England.  I am, therefore, fully supportive of the suggestion of the ‘fastest possible timetable’ contained in the document.

3.    I agree with the first proposition that the rejected draft Measure does not offer a realistic starting point for a new process.

4.    I also agree with the second proposition that any new approach should rest upon the bishop being the ordinary and chief pastor of everyone in the diocese.  Indeed, I think that it would be dangerous to take a different approach.  All diocesan bishops should be of the same order in law and practice.  If certain bishops, based solely on their gender, were treated differently in relation to their being the ordinary, then it would appear that a different class of bishop was being introduced.

5.    I agree with the third proposition that a complete package of proposals that could be considered together would be beneficial.  If this would give more confidence to the minority who dissent from the will of the Church, then this is helpful.

6.    I also agree with the fourth proposition, that holding together twin objectives of a shorter, simpler measure and a total package that provides a sense of security for the minority would be ideal.  It is important that this second objective is true to the statement in the document that it ‘not involve the majority in any new element of compromise on matters of principle’.

7.    I think, however that a fifth principle has been missed.  That is that in dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women, some provision of a pastoral and a structural nature for ordained women is needed.  The rejected draft measure included something to this effect.  Whilst not wedded to the exact nature of the provision, some such provision should be included as part of the ‘totality of the elements in the package’.

8.    I am also hesitant about the proposal (48) that elements of the provision relating to women’s priestly ministry should be retained, especially insofar as it is based on the 1993 Act of Synod.  My hesitation arises from a number of places:

a.     There was no theological integrity to the 1993 Act of Synod.  A bishop may have been wrong to ordain women, but that would not affect his ability to conduct other valid sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation or ordinations).  Article XXVI provides that “the Unworthiness of the Minsters … hinders not the effect of the Sacrament”.  Separate episcopal provision was not required for the integrity of those who did not in conscience support the ordination of women to the priesthood.
b.    The effect of the 1993 Act of Synod in practice was to create a church within the Church.  One of the PEVs, now a member of the Ordinariate, has stated that it was a deliberate policy to mirror the structures of a diocese.  “We did all this as if we were setting out to be a diocese.”  This was necessarily subversive of the authority of the Diocesan bishop and of the integrity of the Church.

c.     One of the major problems facing the Church of England, not least in the light of the failure of the vote in November 2012, is an increase in the polarizations and divisions within the church.  A huge contribution to this has been made by the way in which the 1993 Act of Synod was used.  Perpetuating this use of ‘provision’ for the minority can only create more entrenched division and further polarization.

9.    I think that the use of provision similar to the 1993 Act of Synod could work at this juncture if a number of PEVs were provided, but that the role of the PEV were more clearly defined so that they were not trying to create a parallel diocese.  The PEV could perhaps be more closely integrated into, and have other duties within, the staff of the appropriate Archbishop. The detail of this would have to be worked out.  However, without a re-integration of all Anglicans in England into the Church of England, the minority would not genuinely have ‘an accepted and valued place’ in the Church.  They would simply have a semi-detached place within the Church of England.  If such a semi-detached place is what the minority desire, then that raises a different set of questions.

10. I offer these thoughts to the Working Group together with my prayers for their work.

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