THE Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began this week with renewed pleas to the Church of England not to fragment over women bishops and to explore new possibilities, such as a religious society for traditionalists.
“The country is watching you,” the Revd David Cornick, a United Reformed Church minister, told Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and members of other Churches in Westminster Abbey on Monday evening.
“We hope your bishops will remain a focus for unity and not a sounding board for discord,” Mr Cornick said. The debates in Synod on women bishops were “vicarious performances of some of society’s deepest anxieties, which is why the press whoops for joy and treats the whole thing as a pantomime”.
About 300 came to hear the former Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, the Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, the Revd Dr Michael Ovey, and Canon Lucy Winkett of St Paul’s Cathedral speak in “conversation” on “Women Bishops — Where does the Church of England go from here?”
Bishop Gladwin said that denying women priests entry to the episcopate was “corrosive”. Bishop Jarrett said that the Church should stick to its 1998 Lambeth resolution, which affirmed those who accepted women bishops and those who did not as “authentically Anglican”.
Mgr Andrew Faley, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said that the Pope’s offer of an Ordinariate was not an “escape hatch” for people who could not face the ordination of women.
Dr Ovey said that there were fears that there was neither a secure nor an honoured place for Evangelicals or Catholics in the Church of England. “We may not find a way to hold the fabric of our fellowship together. That fabric is already frayed.”
Selection for ordination, training, and deployment would be denied to those who, out of conscience, could not accept the principle of women’s episcopacy, he said. Because the former could not be deployed nationally, they would then be deemed “uneconomical”.
The Revd Lady Richardson, a former President of the Methodist Conference, said it was “unthinkable” that women would be excluded from any part of ministry when Methodists were in a covenant with the C of E.
Canon Jane Hedges of Westminster Abbey, who chaired the meeting, said that the Abbey, as a Royal Peculiar “detached” from church structures, was an ideal place to hear different views.
On Tuesday, she welcomed the idea of a religious society for traditionalists which had been mooted in the Abbey last June, and emerged again at the meeting. The Dean, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, had sent the idea to the revision committee, she said. “When it came up again last night, there was a feeling that this could still be a way forward. It would emphasise the positive elements, and parishes would belong to the society while serving the whole population. We discussed it in Chapter this morning.”