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FiF asks Synod to reject legislation and start to listen

19 October 2012

Glyn Paflin reports from the Forward in Faith Assembly in Westminster


Catholics gathered: youth-club members from St Luke's, Prittlewell, give a presentation

Catholics gathered: youth-club members from St Luke's, Prittlewell, give a presentation

IN A unanimous vote, the National Assembly of Forward in Faith UK, meeting in the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster, last Saturday, resolved that the draft women-bishops Measure was "unfit for purpose" - "notwithstanding" recent attempts by members of the House of Bishops to improve it.

In a resolution moved on Saturday afternoon by the Revd Ross Northing, the Assembly said that the draft Measure failed to provide "the promised honoured place in the Church of England to which our members are entitled".

It called on General Synod members to reject the draft Measure so that "a more measured approach, capable of providing for all of Her Majesty's subjects in the Church of England, might be taken by a future Synod".

Although the resolution was carried nem. con., one priest expressed unease about the wording. "We haven't made enough of the fact that they are taking something away from us," the Revd John Hervé said, referring to the removal of the existing conscience provision if the draft Measure was carried: "An honoured place is not what we are entitled to, but what we have been used to."

The Assembly went on to reiterate, in a further motion, that a Code of Practice could not adequately provide for FiF's constituency, and offered the Church of England a reminder that "acceptable episcopal oversight incorporating the necessary degree of sacramental assurance was the hallmark of a number of proposals in the past which traditionalists could have embraced, not least that set out in the pages of Consecrated Women?."

This 2004 book edited by the present chairman of FiF, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, set out proposals for a third province. It had been prepared, the mover of the motion, the Revd Paul Plumpton, said, at the behest of an Archbishop of Canterbury, to shadow the work of the then Bishop of Rochester's group. Its book represented a set of coherent proposals for dealing with the problems that women bishops posed over jurisdiction and sacramental certainty. "The General Synod did not even give the courtesy of a perusal to these proposals - but I should not complain, because it did not give much more to poor old Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali."

In fact, throughout the process, the Synod had appeared to be on "caller display" whenever FiF called, and didn't want to pick up the phone; and he spoke of the "cowardly" withdrawal by the House of Bishops of its "somewhat modest" amendment to the draft Measure this summer once the amendment had been attacked by "a group of unreconstructed Sixties feminists".

Fr Northing said that the concept of "respect" in the amended draft was of "neither use nor ornament", since it had no legal force. "Brothers and sisters, what a mess of pottage!" he said. "We cannot give up our birthright for that. We need guarantees in the Measure. This is just going to mean that bishops treat us with as much or as little respect as they see fit."

But one bishop, it was said, had suggested that the advice was that it did have legal force; and the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, told the Assembly that if the legislation went through, they would have to look at what that legal force might be. But it was "not a very strong basis on which to go forward", he said.

The Revd Paul Benfield was sorry to disagree: the draft Measure was based on "false principles", and the discussion over Clause 5(i)(c) had been a "dangerous" distraction. "This Measure doesn't give us what we need, and that is the end of the matter."

And Canon Simon Killwick said that no lawyer had been able to give him a legal definition of "respect"; but if one or two members of the House of Bishops had tantalisingly said that they had received such advice, then the Church needed to "get it out and publish it".

"They really want to tie us in knots," was the comment by Felicity Greenfield, a lay representative from St Hilda's, Leeds, who said that the draft Measure would take away lay people's rights in law, as enshrined in Resolutions A and B. "Many of us have theological reasons why we are opposed. But how many on a PCC could articulate them in front of a bishop or his representative? Many will freeze."

Earlier in the afternoon, the Assembly carried a motion urging the bishops of the Mission Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda to "secure a continuing ecclesial future for all who may turn to them, in the event that the proposed legislation before the General Synod to attempt the ordination of women as bishops is passed".

The Assembly also received a young people's presentation, and encouraged members of FiF to continue to pray for and encourage vocations among men to the priesthood, and among men and women to the religious life, if the traditional Catholic witness in the Church of England was to be maintained. This was vital, what- ever happened in November. The "new response to the psalm", it was told, should be: "No priests: no future."

There were presentations to stalwarts who had bowed out: Sister Anne Williams CA, and the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett and his wife, Betty; and to the current director of Forward in Faith, Stephen Parkinson, who was praised for his "tireless work" since 1993, and who stands down at the end of the year.

His successor will be the present Clerk to the General Synod, Dr Colin Podmore, who is also director of the Central Secretariat and of Ecumenical Relations at Church House.

Dr Podmore, an ecclesiastical historian who has worked at Church House since 1988 in fields that include ecumenism, liturgy, and reviews of appointments processes, appeared on the platform to make a brief statement. He said that it had been a matter of vocation to work at Church House, as it was now to take up this new post after Easter. "I can't wait," he said. He will be available for interview then.

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