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Holy orders in the Church of England: women bishops and Methodist ministry

15 December 2011


From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, — I am grateful to you for pub­lish­ing Mr Clark’s letter (9 Decem­ber), and to Mr Clark for setting out therein what he would regard as the minimum safeguard necessary to enable him and his fellow-travellers to remain in the Church of England.

Regretfully, however, I must point out that what Mr Clark is asking for, Third Province or no Third Province, is a separate Church. His proposal requires a separate succession of bishops, hermetically sealed from the rest of the C of E, with full episcopal jurisdiction — indeed, given the precise nature of the objection of so-called “traditional Catholics” to women bishops, I cannot see how it could have been any other way; and a sector that does not recognise the orders, accept the jurisdiction, or even in many cases (as the Bishop of London has recently pointed out to those who did not know already) use the liturgy, of the parent body quite simply is a separate Church.

(I had thought, at this point, to start going into the practical con­sequences if such a separate Church were created, but I rapidly gave it up as too horrific.)

I am not myself particularly bothered whether we have women bishops or not, but if this is the necessary price, as I am sure it is, for keeping Mr Clark and his fellow-travellers on board if we do, I am surprised that they themselves have not already concluded (as those who have joined the Ordinariate presumably have) that it is a price that they should not even contemplate asking the rest of the Church of England to pay.

13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ

From Professor Anthony J. Berry

Sir, — Mr Clark claims that the draft legislation, supported by the vast major­ity of diocesan synods, is some­how unfair to laity in parishes. But clearly almost 80 per cent of lay mem­­bers of diocesan synods did not think so.

The clause for provision by delega­tion from a woman bishop or a tainted male bishop was approved by 373 votes to 14. It was the case that almost five-sixths of General Synod members who sought other provision must have voted for it. As they are people of integrity, they must have con­cluded that, while not perfect, the provision was acceptable and workable.

Mr Clark echoes the views, understandable and understood, of the 14 who voted against, and who may agree with his unwillingness to bear contact with a woman priest or bishop or a tainted male bishop.

When slavery was abolished 200 years ago (noting accounts of biblical support for its institution), there were no special provisions for people who wished it to continue.

It is true that the provisions by delegation are a compromise, ac­cepted by the greater majority as necessary, but clearly as regrettable to Mr Clark as they are to those of us who in conscience see no reason to differentiate between women and men in any ordained christian ministry.

Chester member of General Synod
24 Leafield Road, Disley
Stockport SK12 2JF

From Mr N. J. Inkley

Sir, — The size of the task before the General Synod next year in the matter of legislating for women bishops is all too apparent.

Alongside Mr Oswald Clark’s moderate and detailed case for the means of retention in the Church of England of those who in conscience cannot accept the minstration of women priests and bishops, there is a strident call from DARC and NADAWM that no true safegards whatsoever should be extended to them — and that the DARC, WATCH, NADAWM requirements trump all others, even if banishment or expulsion results.

None the less, I am sure that the real mood of the majority in the Church of England is to say yes to women bishops, but not to the extremity of regulation that kicks out people — people like Mr Clark and, for that matter, me, who are no longer opponents, but just not “joiners in”. This extremity is being allowed to be treated as if it were centre ground, and I am convinced that it is not.

Much of this extreme outlook chooses to rest its argument on the thesis that a bishop must be “lord of all/he surveys” within a finite bound­ary. But this is not always the case: the island of Canterbury diocese within Rochester and the coverage of armed-forces units come immedi­ately to mind.

Moreover, male bishops do not seem to be “hedged around with reluctance and embarrassment” (your correspondents’ words) by the existence of flying bishops. Why should a mixed bench of male and female bishops feel any more “hedged around” thereby?

It is quite certain that female bishops are to be with us. It seems that the Church of England has (perhaps to be proved unwisely) set aside any thought of a Third Province. Therefore, the retention, after all, of flying bishops — in a manner fulfilling Mr Clark’s three key points — seems the most astute and reasonable thing to do.

Not unremarkably, it would enable the introduction of women bishops into a status quo on exactly the same basis as male bishops currently find themselves, and there could hardly be any discrimination in that.

6 Knot Lane, Walton-le-Dale
Preston PR5 4BQ

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — Are there not important lessons to learn from the outrage of the Methodists regarding our re­quir­ing the reordination of the Revd Dr Stephen Plant (Letters, 25 November and 9 December), and the proposal to consecrate women bishops?

Not all Anglicans are convinced of the equality of Anglican and Methodist ministries, any more than all are convinced of the validity of women’s ordained ministries. With the former, there seems to be room to dispute exactly what the Anglican-Methodist Covenant affirms. As a result, not all Methodists are con­vinced that we accept their presby­terian orders, and this seems to be confirmed when we appear still to require reordination for certain positions.

This implies that the fudge of joint ordination until all are episcopally ordained is really a denial rather than an acceptance of the validity of pres­by­terian orders, and thus a dishon­ouring of previous generations of Methodist ministers who only had such orders.

In the same way, those in charge of the process to proceed to the consecration of women bishops may be convinced that they have resolved all the problems, but they cannot impose their solution on those who are still convinced that any attempt to ordain or consecrate women to the priesthood or episcopate is in vain.

We can speak of not wanting separate jurisdictions for the traditionalists, but if we accept that our ecumenical partners are part of the Catholic Church in England, that is precisely what we have with our different denominations.

Should those dissenting from women bishops not be given their separate jurisdiction in some Anglican fudge, and feel compelled to separate, then the result will be a separate schism or jurisdiction of ecclesia anglicana, whether we want it or not. So the real choice is not whether to give or not give the dissenters their own jurisdiction, but whether this will be some friendly Anglican fudge, or a more bitter and harder-to-heal division.

Whenever there is schism, one or both sides will be to blame. In the Anglican-Methodist schism, there was blame on both sides: the unbalanced enthusiasm of some Methodists and the persecuting spirit of some Anglicans. Again with the Puritans: we have their uncompromising “reformation without tarrying for any” and our uncompromising insistence on episcopacy and uniformity.

It remains to be seen exactly whether the consecration of women bishops results in yet another schism, and, if so, how much blame history will attribute to the two sides.

In closing, could the solution to finding room in one ecclesiology for both Methodists and those opposed to women bishops be to take another look at the plene esse view of epis­copacy set forth in The Historic Episcopate, edited by Kenneth M. Carey during the South India de­bates? This suggests that the Church has and can exist apart from a fully formed episcopate, but that a unified episcopacy will emerge as the Church matures to its fullness.

17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

From the Revd Dr Nicholas W. Cranfield

Sir, — The Revd Professor Adrian Low (Letters, 25 November) and the Revd David Haslam (Letters, 9 December) express concern about the seeming “reordination” of those who have not been episcopally ordained, although the Canons of the Church of England are quite clear in this regard.

They, however, ignore the real issue at stake. The Master and Fel­lows of Trinity Hall broke their own statutes, which, in common with other Oxford and Cambridge colleges and many other foundations, require them to appoint an ordained Angli­can to the post of Dean of Chapel.

Dr Plant was not even eligible to apply for the post; so how he was short-listed remains somewhat of a mystery to those outside the college. Without changing its statutes, the college would have no other course than to prevail upon the appointee to conform.

10 Duke Humphrey Road
London SE3 0TY

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