DELEGATES at Forward in Faith’s National Assembly have been told to steel themselves for a difficult and unpleasant struggle for survival. The warning came after the General Synod voted in July against any structural provision for the opponents of women bishops, and in favour of a statutory code of practice.
Meeting in the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster, at the end of last week, the 500 Forward in Faith (FiF) delegates also resolved to help traditionalists in Wales affected by a recent Bench of Bishops meeting which decided to discontinue additional episcopal provision for traditionalists (News, 26 September).
The Revd Alan Rabjohns of Credo Cymru (Forward in Faith, Wales) drew a moral from the Welsh experience for English FiF members. This provision, he said, derived from the code of practice piloted through the Church in Wales’s Governing Body by Dr Rowan Williams (Bishop of Monmouth at the time). In 1996, at the last minute, it had swung the vote in favour of the Bill for women priests. Now, “it was not worth the paper it was written on.”
The message reiterated from the platform was that delegates should stand together, say “a code of practice will not do,” and be able to explain the arguments why.
Many people who took a different view of women bishops shared their concern at what the Synod had done, the Assembly heard. The Bishop of London and others had begun to realise that jurisdiction was a necessary part of any solution.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was in favour of women bishops, was nevertheless opposed to the code of practice, Prebendary David Houlding said. But Dr Williams’s warning to the Synod had fallen on deaf ears. “He is in favour of the principle [of women bishops], and spoke so clearly in favour of the principle that when the ‘but’ came, it could not be heard.”
The Rt Revd John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham and chairman of Forward in Faith International, said that there was talk about walking away. “If we walk away, we should try to do it together,” he said. “This is not the time to go.”
Some would go because their consciences told them to, and their first duty was to their conscience. But now, he said, “It is time to reassert our position. It is time to fight for the Catholic faith. It is time to fight for our heritage. It’s our culture; it’s our history; it’s our property.
“The Church of England didn’t build St Augustine’s, Kilburn: Catholic money did — or St Peter’s, Plymouth; or the Ascension, Lavender Hill. We built it. We endowed it. Our future. For God, for the gospel, for the Catholic faith.”
To the people who had said to him: “We hear your pain: we will make provision for you” — so “outrageous and patronising” — he wanted to say one thing: “Either we will make provision together, or we will make provision without you. You will not make provision for us.”
Traditionalists were not babies or “difficult teenagers”, he said. “We need a jurisdiction, because a ghetto for bigots will not do for us — not a safe place where we can die.”
Prebendary Houlding said that a code of practice would mean extinction. “Do not be deceived by this word ‘statutory’. . . As far as we are concerned, it means nothing. It merely means there has to be a code of practice to accompany the Measure. It can still be overturned at any time in the future. So, from our point of view and what we are trying to secure, which is an honoured place in the life of the Church of England, it is an irrelevance.”
Many people still did not understand why a code of practice would not do. “An honoured place means a place where we can live and flourish and grow. That’s what we have been doing. But when you feel the rug is being pulled from under you, the first thing that happens is that you cease to flourish.
“Oh yes, we can keep our churches going. The clergy must go on being faithful. The laity, too, must go on being supportive and helpful and ardent in their discipleship. But where is that spark to be that will help to grow the Kingdom of God? It is as if that light has been put out.”
He told them to stay calm. “Yes, we are fearful — I’m very fearful. We are angry — of course we are angry. We have every right to be angry. But we must make sure that our anger and fear is channelled right to maximum effect.” It was “the last battle”.
Keep the arguments theologically focused, he said, “for that is where our integrity lies. We’ve spent a lot of time in the last decade being part of the C of E at every level, even sometimes when we haven’t wanted to be there, or it’s been distasteful, for whatever reason. We have been there; we have taken our part; we have argued consistently our cause at every level of the Church’s life.”
They must resolve to carry on. “It won’t be easy and it won’t be pleasant, but it is not the end yet. There are all sorts of voices, which are authentic and genuine, encouraging us at the moment to look in other directions. That may be perfectly appropriate to do. . . Any provincial autonomous arrangement that we might arrive at by way of jurisdiction must never be seen as an end in itself. It must always be something that leads us to a deeper communion within the universal Church, however that is to be worked out. . .
“But meanwhile we have a job to do. We have to resolve to carry on with the struggle, because the synodical process is not yet over.”
The Revd Jonathan Baker told the assembly that he had resigned from the legislative drafting (Manchester) group, because a code of practice could not deliver parity of positions — of respect and of theological integrity. His own bishop (Oxford) had removed any doubt he had on this point by saying that the Synod had “driven a stake into the ground”. This meant that there was no room to doubt the “settled view” of the Church of England.
This called into question whether the C of E still believed in the concept of reception. Indeed, other members of the drafting group had told him that reception “never meant what I thought it meant that allowed me to be ordained”.
A code of practice also had nothing to say about male priests ordained by women bishops. Sacramental assurance would be a particular problem for the laity (as the clergy tended to know one another). “As a very senior lay person in the Church of England said to me a few months ago, when he goes to a church and goes on holiday and visits a parish different from his own, how will he know that a priest in apostolic orders is standing at the altar celebrating holy communion? It’s as simple as that.” He was warmly applauded.
No one with a proper sense of what a bishop is and does would want what was likely to be offered, he continued. “Without jurisdiction, without oversight, without being able to relate to parishes and the people in their care in all the ways which every other bishop does, bishops without jurisdiction will simply be empty shells called upon to perform fancy services where priest and people want that to happen. That is not the apostolic ministry of a bishop.”
Dr Christopher Knight, a FiF member but not a delegate, stood up at the assembly to protest that it had not been presented with a motion endorsing GAFCON’s Jerusalem Declaration. He was told from the platform that the council had amended a regional motion to avoid giving time to the declaration which would be better spent on the implications of the General Synod’s vote on women bishops.
If the assembly wanted to endorse the declaration, delegates would need to have the text in front of them. Hugh Pratt, treasurer of GAFCON, who had at this point stated his willingness to propose an amendment to that effect, then withdrew it.