Women: debate begins in earnest

by
02 November 2006

ARRANGEMENTS for those unable to accept women bishops, if the Church of England introduces them, were debated in the General Synod on Tuesday morning, when it took note of the Guildford report.

The working group under his chairmanship, said the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, had spent a considerable time looking at the third-province proposals, and took them seriously. They were a proposal for an autonomous, independent Church with its own presiding bishop, legislation, administration, and finance, leaving the remaining Church of England free to ordain women bishops without inhibition.

"But I would argue that this is over-simplistic. . . It would be to deliberately fracture the Church and  - paradoxically - to create a 'new' Church without the possibility of permeability within a single body.

"To those who favour a simple Measure and Code of Practice, I say, 'Wouldn't we all?'" he went on. "But we already know both the pain and the complexity of non-recognition of women's ministry. As we move forward to the episcopate, that complexity and pain cannot but increase; for bishops are at the centre of the structure of an episcopal Church."

His group had listened to the serious request that the non-recognition of women's episcopal ministry could be dealt with by a Code of Practice, but no one had yet spelled out in detail what should be in such a Code. When the group tried to work out some of the detail, it had realised that to be able to assure those opposed that they still had a place in the Church of England needed something in the Measure itself.

He reminded the Synod that the resolution passed last July spoke specifically about canonical obedience, which was a legal concept and could not be dealt with without reference to the Measure. All five members of his group had come to the considered view, with legal advice, that neither an Act of Synod nor a Code unenforceable through the Measure would ensure the inclusion of those who were opposed to women bishops.

They had therefore looked for a "structural" solution, not a separate structure, and had proposed Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA). He said that they had still probably not got the details right, but the broad principle could be the way to go. Some anxieties had already been expressed, both in and outside the House of Bishops, about the structure of dioceses; "but have our dioceses always been jurisdictionally tidy? Will TEA aggrandise the Archbishop at the expense of the diocesan bishop?"

Dioceses had always belonged to the family of the province, with one diocesan church supportive of another. That mutuality was represented by the longstanding jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of the province. There were also those who said that Provincial Regional Bishops could not share jurisdiction; but sharing the episcopate was precisely what happened in many area schemes in larger dioceses.

There were many other issues that would come up, he said. Would bishops in the House of Bishops be able to recognise each other? What of (male) priests ordained by the woman bishop whom a (male) bishop might re-ordain if the priest wanted to come into his jurisdiction?

The group did not reach conclusions. With or without TEA, there would be serious questions. But TEA could be a good framework for looking at such issues.

Canon Dr Judy Hunt (Chester) questioned how the TEA recommendations for parishes that had passed resolutions A and B served the aim of preserving the maximum degree of communion. These would opt for the TEA even if the diocesan bishop were male, as was the norm. What was the theology and ecclesiology underlying this?

Robin Lunn (Worcester) suggested that the vast majority of opinion wanted to keep the Church united. The prospect of TEA was "a lifeboat", enabling the removal of gender discrimination, and enabling those of a different disposition to carry on with their work. Parliament was unlikely to approve a piece of legislation that appeared to be negative (the single-clause Measure). Synod was therefore in "severe danger" of exhausting much on a solution that would not overcome the parliamentary hurdle.

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"We can do better": Christina Rees speaking in the debate on Tuesday

Christina Rees (St Albans) defined tradition as dynamic and changing, not something to be feared.

WATCH had been urged by thousands to go ahead with women bishops, but not at any price. Make arrangements, such as a Code of Practice or statutory guidance, but keep legislation free from discrimination, she urged.

Senior ordained women had also opposed TEA: "Not this way. We can do better." Their experience of the Act of Synod made them urge the taking down of old walls, not the building of new ones. She asked the Synod not to create a new strand of bishops of a different kind. Over the past couple of years, equal numbers of men and women had been selected for ordination training. "Soon, we won't be able to promote a mission-shaped Church with any integrity."

She urged the Synod to take note, thank the working party, but not give up on the principle of non-discrimination. The language of "safeguard", she said, was offensive to all members of the Body of Christ. Were safeguards really needed against the ministry of ordained women?

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, said that the pursuit of unity was "difficult, dangerous, perilous, a matter of balance that requires ultimate patience to achieve".

Michael Ramsey, when Bishop of Durham, had said that the bishop was a bond of unity and the symbol of a Catholic Church, transcending fashion. The bishop touched on four marks of the Church: unity, holiness, Catholicity, and apostolicity; and on the bene esse, the well-being, of the Church. The change would create new barriers to unity and new divisions "among ourselves".

The ecumenical responses heard in the previous day's Synod had shown that the Anglican Church was already a Church in impaired communion. A historic and ecclesial tension in Anglicanism had now been brought to the fore. There were issues of theological anthropology and ecclesiology which needed to be wrestled with with ecumenical partners.

The third province seemed like institutionalising a Church within a Church. These decisions touching the fundamentals of the Church were not for the Church of England alone to take. TEA was a "brave attempt", but was it an "ecclesial anomaly" or a "generous pastoral provision"? The Church was at an impasse, and needed to work with its eccumenical partners on these "huge issues" of men and women in the Church, before acting to create further divisions.

The Revd Geoffrey Harbord (Sheffield) said that there were many, like him, who did not know, were not sure, and could not discuss the way forward, because Catholic Christendom didn't know and was not sure, and many Anglican provinces did not know and were not sure. Under such circumstances, the Church, as Bishop Kenneth Kirk had advised, should take the "least doubtful" course. He was unsure whether the adversarial processes of the Synod were the way to advance. What was needed was a consensual process.

The Roman Catholic ecumenical representative, whose Church had bishops, did not know whether there should be women bishops; but the two other ecumenical representatives, who had also spoken the previous day, and whose Churches did not have bishops, were sure that they should be female as well as male. He asked how not allowing "official" doubt about the consecration of women, as proposed in the report, could be squared with a process of reception. There "must be room for those taking the least doubtful course".

The Very Revd Archimandrite Ephrem  Lash (Orthodox Churches) spoke of the Orthodox concept of reception, which was inaccurately described in the report. It was often said that the Orthodox did not accept the decisions of Councils until they were received. But this was always post factum. The Fathers of the First Council of Nicaea had not thought that they were drawing up the Creed provisionally: they thought that they were proclaiming the faith of the Church. A number of persons hadn't liked this, but the Fathers had not felt the need to provide alternative episcopal oversight for the Arians. There had been councils that were not accepted, of course.

Was the matter in hand one of theology or church order? It could be argued that the Bishop of Rome could, with the stroke of a pen, remove the requirement of clerical celibacy. Was this question of that order, or was it of more profound theological significance?

The Revd Sue Booys (Oxford) wanted space for one another, and also the highest possible degee of communion. In a conversation with a Forward in Faith member from the diocese, she had realised that they each meant something different by a Code of Practice. For him it was the thin end of the wedge, no assurance, ignorable, a real threat. She had in mind a clear set of guidelines, with clear expectations and firm responsibilities.

Ms Booys was puzzled that a Code of Practice could be the right answer where clergy discipline was concerned, but not sufficient when looking towards living together and giving each other space and understanding. A Measure held the different danger of "retreating behind ramparts and defences of our own making" .

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"Clear set of guidelines": the Revd Susan Booys and the Rt Revd Christopher Hill

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Jane Bisson (Channel Islands) suggested that the speed at which women clergy were trying to climb the ladder was unworthy. Equally, she found the prospect of a third province unthinkable; and dreaded what would happen if the Church were not to remain in communion at all. "We still need to come back to God's creative heart when he made man and woman," she said.

God would be distressed to see what they in the Church were doing to one another in this quest for justice and equality. TEA seemed to be born out of desperation. "It is enough to bring me to tears - to see the Church tearing itself apart, all for the sake of the female of the species."

The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, said the Church could not have it both ways: it was either a Church that had women bishops, or a Church that hadn't. He would be keen to support a single-clause Measure if it could be preceded by consensus and a high degree of agreement; but that was not the case.

It was clear that a Code of Practice would not be sufficient. TEA was not perceived as the last word, but as a basis for accommodation of the kind of Church the Church of England was, he said. These questions were still to be sorted out: some had interpreted last July's vote as a vote in principle for women bishops, but the majority did not believe that was what had been debated. TEA might be a more fitting way forward, but the debate was still adversarial in its approach: if it were not derailed by this issue, there would be another one.

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"No consensus": the Rt Revd John Hind, Bishop of Chichester

Canon Professor Anthony Thiselton (Southwell) said his spirits had been lifted by the Guildford report. While he was depressed by the predictability of many of the presentations he had heard, the report opened the door to a fresh area of debate. He quoted St Paul as saying that, however strong rights were, if they damaged those for whom Christ had died they should be forgone.

The present situation was a close parallel to this. Neither a single-clause Measure nor a third province would do: they should both give way to TEA. The Church was fallible, he said, "and we shan't know until the Last Judgement whether we were right; we just don't know how this will work."

One could argue from Christology and the atonement. Jesus refused the Devil 's offer of a quick fix, but chose the painful way forward in accordance with God's will. The atonement was an anomalous act, but sometimes it took an anomaly to put right an anomaly.

The Revd Mary Bide (Oxford) said that, as precentor of a cathedral, she had been struck by the fact that even those who could not accept the ordination of women respected her authority as precentor. Her concern about TEA was that the authority accorded a bishop could change according to the gender of the office-holder. While it was necessary to work with sensitivity with those who could not accept women in the episcopate, nothing must be done to undermine the authority of a bishop, regardless whether the bishop was male or female.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) said that he could not believe that the Church had the authority to introduce women bishops. But if it did, those opposed must be protected and secure, and anything less than a Measure enforceable in law would not do. He welcomed the rejection of the one-clause Measure, but any question of passing a Measure that referred to a Code of Practice to be drafted later would not be sufficient. Such a delay would be unacceptable to both proponents and opponents of women bishops.

Oversight involved aspects of jurisdiction, he said, including the selection of ordinands and pastoral reorganisation; and he welcomed the fact that jurisdiction was central to the issue. But would a PRB have jurisdiction? "Shared jurisdiction is not jurisdiction at all." He thought the report was apt to muddle jurisdiction with the merely functional.

The Revd Angus MacLeay (Rochester) suggested that the conservative Evangelical voice had been largely ignored over the past ten years in the Church of England, and needed to be heard. No conservative Evangelical bishop had been appointed: the "hatches have been battened down and carefully sealed." On issues such as order within the Trinity, a model for relations within marriage and ministry, or issues of order within New Testament ministry, the Church of England was opening more doors that caused problems - over homosexuality, for instance.

These two areas had not been addressed in the debate. The Church would need the voice of the conservative Evangelicals in the years ahead, and they wanted space within the Church to get on with their task of preaching the gospel.

Sarah Finch (London) wanted to speak for a group of women whose voice had not been heard last July: those who saw the differentiation of roles in the local church as God's plan for his people. Permanent deacons had been persecuted and ignored, and selectors were hostile to them. Diocesan directors of ordinands were not persuaded that teaching and preaching among women was genuine ministry. The debate could not proceed if ordination to the episcopate were seen as a matter of justice. Other women were in need of equal opportunities to minister if women became bishops.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, was concerned with the final paragraph of the report, which said that communion in the Church of God would find its fullness only with the coming of his Kingdom, and that until then it was complicated and untidy. But could this justify disunity and inconsistency, he asked.

He wanted to be able to welcome "with joy" ordained women to the episcopate in the Church of England, but he also did not want to unchurch anyone. He was not convinced that a Church that put forward such a marriage of conflicting convictions could be a sign of life, love, and truth. Instead, it would be a Church of increasing disunity, in which people would not flourish.

Baptismal communion was not enough to create and sustain the Church: what was also needed was a eucharist with its commonly agreed ministry. But if one bishop did not recognise another bishop as a bishop, then it was not one Church but two Churches.

The Church should not rush to a resolution that would result in a further divided Church with an even more damaged episcopate, into which women would one day be ordained. That would bring no joy to women or to anyone, he said.

Dr Chik Kaw Tan (Lichfield) said that only if it was right to ordain women as priests would it be right to ordain them as bishops. But more than a decade after women had been ordained priests in the Church of England, many people remained unconvinced. At a meeting last month in Central Hall, across the road from the Synod, 2000 people had expressed their opposition to it. "Reception is far from complete." A majority vote in the General Synod did not equate with a correct decision for the Church. Such a serious doctrinal decision could not rest on a synodical majority vote. TEA would still mean women bishops' exercising "unacceptable jurisdiction".

Canon Martin Webster (Chelmsford) said that he had been "energised" at the last Synod sessions by the extent to which "mission-shaped" thinking had progressed. There were a series of statements in the report about the powers, responsibilities, and duties of a PRB, but Canon Webster was concerned about their presenting an obstacle when it came to thinking about mission and reorganisation.

There was already difficulty about reorganisation where A, B, or C parishes were involved. He suggested that the bishops look at the powers and authorities of the PRB, "and to some extent reduce them". No area bishops who had a duty to consult with the diocesan would ignore direction from the diocesan. He hoped episcopal arrangements would be delegated, not transferred.

Canon Martin Warner (London) welcomed the report, and recognised the generosity underlying it, given the working group's five different starting-points. It made no reference to cathedrals, but they were an important statement of Anglican identity, which had an important role in the diocese. They were more than simply functional, but also capitular and collegiate, local and universal. This said something about the bishop, "something about identity, which precedes function". He hoped to hear more about how TEA could be advanced.

Professor Helen Leathard (Blackburn) talked about the symbolism of human sexual diamorphism. Recent research had shown that the male and female genders differed very little, and that the female genome type included the male. Jesus had become incarnate as a male "surely because of cultural necessity"; but he had gone beyond cultural constraints. There were "clear examples of women's apostolic ministry being instigated by Jesus".

The Revd Dr John Davies (Derby) said the TEA proposal still conceded too much for both sides in a polarised situation. He advocated a gradual approach: make women suffragans "for now", because then "the knife would not have to go so deep into the Body of Christ."

David Jones (Salisbury) said he thought someone from the House of Bishops should stand up and rejoice publicly in the ministry of the 2000 ordained women who were holding the Church together, many in the most difficult parishes in the country.

The Revd Sarah Chapman (Winchester) said that, with TEA, the Church could be putting itself "into strong water that we may not be able to get out of". In the report, there was "hesitancy" about whether the Church had actually received women priests or not. "We cannot talk about women bishops if we are unsure about women priests. Are they, or are they not?" she asked.

The Revd Jonathan Clark (London) said: "We can't both do it and not do it." Ordaining women as bishops would be a self-offering to the call of Christ, not a response to a secular call. "We should do it because it is right," he said. Some people believed it would disrupt Catholic unity, but such Catholicity did not preclude disagreement. "We cannot wait until everyone agrees, otherwise we will wait for ever." Not to ordain women bishops would also be to make a breach with the Methodist Church, which was about to take this step.

He told Synod members to act according to their consciences. "These proposals are in danger of hiding the main purpose," he said. Instead of greeting the proposal for ordaining women bishops with joy, it was being presented as a "problematic change", to be overlooked as much as possible. Women bishops were to be temporarily "invisible" to those who did not agree with them.

The Revd John Cook (London) said that he had worked happily with ordained women curates, and yet he believed there were still important questions about leadership. TEA meant that bishops could be recognised by those who wanted to recognise them.

The Revd Stephen Coles (London) spoke about his parish in Finsbury Park. When he first went there, women were not allowed into the sanctuary. Gradually they had been allowed to serve and give communion, and then he had occasionally asked a woman priest to preside and preach while he acted as her deacon. It had led to a change in attitudes.

Churchill had said that democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others, said Canon Jim Wellington (Leicester), and TEA was the worst solution but for the other two. It was an illusion that there was consistency in Anglican theology. Some claimed that Anglicans shared ministry with the universal Church; others claimed the right to introduce changes unilaterally. TEA was more honest and truthful. "The sheer untidiness is its strength, rather than its weakness."

Mary Johnston (London) found the idea that an individual priest and whole parishes might separate themselves from their diocesan bishop very disturbing. It was said that some people in the parishes just couldn't notice the difference, but many might be very bothered indeed to find their bishop could not have them in their care.

The Revd Roderick Thomas (Exeter) said that, as a conservative Evangelical, he had felt sorrow to hear the issues spoken of in terms of social justice rather than of leadership in which men and women served each other. He warmly welcomed the spirit of the report. TEA really offered a basis for discussion. There were obvious obstacles, such as jurisdiction, which mattered enormously, but without some such scheme the future was bleak indeed.

The Revd Jeremy Crocker (St Albans) spoke as a Catholic in favour of the ordination of women, who believed a priest or bishop stood in place of Christ at the altar. What did it say to the mission field when gender was a restriction? Mr Crocker was concerned that the Synod did not go away from this session saying, "It's my way or it's no way."

The Revd Ruth Worsley (Southwell & Nottingham) urged the Church to be honest about its differences - "show that God touches us all, and can work through us all."

The Revd Simon Killwick (Manchester) said that the single-clause Measure would not provide for those who could not in conscience accept the ordination of women. A Code of Practice was not adequate. He welcomed the proposal that jurisdiction be transferred. The "considerable disarray" in the two provinces that accepted women bishops should give pause. He criticised the language of "schism" in the report as unhelpful. The C of E had been living with schism for 400 years. "As Anglicans, we believe schism is sometimes justified."

The Archbishop of Canterbury offered a "brief contribution" on the theological foundation of the debate, which was really about where authority lay. Since this was not going to be resolved in a hurry, there might be a dimension in the report's proposals that could help the Synod find a structure to carry forward together, seeking principles and ideals to which all could "submit" in good Christian conscience, and a means of godly concord.

It would not resolve the question of authority, but might give the Church a way forward. "We need to think about what emerges from our theology in the process of working for this." The Church had not passed this way before, Dr Williams said. "What happens won't be a reproduction of some classical identity." The process might help the Synod to think about that.

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