IT IS not as if we are starting from a blank sheet. We have lived with the ministry of women priests, together with the provisions enshrined in the 1993 Measure, as well as the Act of Synod, in a way that, in the face of disagreement, has enabled us to be in the highest possible degree of communion.
And it has worked. Apart from the odd skirmish, the Catholic movement of our Church and its Reformed tradition have flourished in many ways, promoting the overall mission of the Church of England. The advent of women in the episcopate brings about a new situation, which hitherto we have not had to face, and which goes far deeper and divides us much more fundamentally than before.
Bishops’ being out of communion with each other is the consequence of having women bishops, not of making provision. We must seek to continue and extend the present arrangements in order to meet the new situation. The task, therefore, is to create an ecclesial framework that will enable all members of the Church to live together in the highest possible degree of communion in the new circumstances that the consecration of women will bring about.
These arrangements must be for the benefit of the whole Church, and not just designed for those who might have to take advantage of them. They must enable the Church to enshrine in its polity the integrity of both positions. The principles of “open reception”, so ably expounded again recently by Mary Tanner, must remain the basis of our theological understanding and practice.
Only when this is embraced by statute can there be any guaranteed place of security and parity for “those who dissent from as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate” (Lambeth Conference 1998).
THE legislation now before the Synod, by abolishing Resolutions A and B, removes from the laity the right not to have imposed on them the ministry of a woman priest or bishop. It could force parishes to accept a male priest ordained by a woman bishop.
It gives no guarantee (as was originally proposed by the Manchester Group) of having bishops who would make the declarations that they would not ordain women and who would be duly consecrated on that basis.
The response to the psalm has been that “a code of practice will not do” — because it can’t do — it can never enshrine the theological and conscientious position of those who could not accept such a development.
The question before the Synod now is: how can we not exclude a significant part of the Church of England from both its Catholic and Reformed wings? Be in no doubt, exclude is exactly what the draft legislation, if unamended, will do to many loyal Anglicans.
THIS is where the Archbishops’ statement is to be so warmly welcomed, as it seeks to achieve what is necessary to maintain our unity. Their proposal is for “co-ordinate jurisdiction”, to be given by statute, signifying that the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop remains intact; but that there would also be a specially designated bishop to exercise ordinary jurisdiction for all those who might require such a relationship.
This is essential because it is a sign that this authority comes from the Church itself, and not by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop, whose authority could not be recognised in the first place.
Nor would “transfer” of authority be required — that would diminish the authority exercised by the diocesan — because this designated bishop would possess ordinary jurisdiction for this purpose.
We wait to see the exact wording of the Archbishops’ amendment, and how it will cover those particular functions to be exercised by such a bishop and how his ministry would be guaranteed to be acceptable to the constituency who might look for such episcopal oversight. Local codes of practice, alterable from time to time by diocesan synods, could not establish a consistent national standard.
It may be that a “voluntary society”, as has been suggested, although it was rejected by the revision committee, still has the potential to provide a framework for the exercise of any such jurisdiction. There is room now for further exploration of this idea.
ALL this seems to point us in the right direction. The challenge that remains is to define the functions that such designated bishops would exercise, and to secure their appointment, in order that our Church might flourish.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has frequently warned that he is unhappy with the draft legislation as it has been proposed, recognising as he does that it leads inevitably to the exclusion of many. He has profound ecumenical concerns about how the ARCIC dialogue might continue, should we depart down a road whereby our Catholic credentials are no longer discernible.
The family home must continue to have room for everybody, where we can live together and honour each other. Loopholes remain, but we are now facing the possibility of finding the right way forward.
Dr Williams is trying to make sure the home is secure for all who want to live in it and witness to the power of the gospel from within its walls. We must be grateful to both Archbishops for this intervention, and work with them to bring to fruition their vision. We want a lasting settlement, not a final solution.
Prebendary David Houlding is Vicar of All Hallows’, Gospel Oak, London, and Master General of the Society of the Holy Cross.