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Amended women-bishops clause speaks of ‘respect’

21 September 2012

by staff reporters 

Helpful to the House of Bishops: the Revd Janet Appleby

Helpful to the House of Bishops: the Revd Janet Appleby

CAMPAIGNERS for women bishops cautiously welcomed the amend­ment made to the draft legislation by the House of Bishops on Wednesday of last week. Traditionalist and con­servative Evangelical groups ex­pressed concern about the amend­ment.

The "Appleby amend­­ment" was suggested by the Revd Janet Appleby, a Team Vicar in the Willing­ton Team Min­is­try, and Vicar and Minis­ter in the Church of the Good Shep­herd Local Ecu­menical Pro­ject in Wallsend, Tyne & Wear; and it won "over­whelming sup­port" from the House of Bishops, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury said on Wednesday. The House welcomed "the simplicity of the new text, its em­phasis on respect, and the pro­cess of dia­logue with par­ishes that it will promote".

The wording states that the Code of Prac­tice attached to the Measure should cover "the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which re­spects the grounds on which Par­ochial Church Coun­cils issue Letters of Re­quest under sec­tion 3". Letters of Re­quest are the means where­by a parish could ask for a male priest or for episcopal oversight by some­one other than the diocesan bishop.

This is an amendment to Clause 5(1)(c), inserted by the House of Bishops in May, which stated that the Code of Practice should cover "the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration of women" of the PCC in a traditionalist parish. It was after much debate about this wording that the General Synod referred the draft Measure back to the Bishops in July.

On Monday, a letter to the House of Bishops from 17 senior women clergy said that the new wording "addresses enough of our concerns to enable us to encourage General Synod to vote for the final approval of the Measure".

WATCH, which cam­paigns for women bishops, said on Wed­nes­day of last week that it was "pleased" that the House of Bishops had "listened to the anxi­eties" voiced about 5(1)(c), but "disap­pointed" that the House of Bishops "did not feel able" to with­draw it completely. WATCH is now consulting its members on the new word­ing.

On Monday, the Ca­tholic Group in the General Synod said that it was grateful to the House of Bishops for "retaining the life­belts in Clause 5(1)(c)" but "con­cerned that they have let some of the air out of them by reducing 'is consistent with' to 'respects'". The Group "continues to have grave doubts about the sea­worthiness of this ship [the Measure] and the reduction in the effect­ive­ness of the lifebelts gives it less confidence in the proposed voyage".

Forward in Faith, a traditionalist group, said on Sunday that its members could take "some comfort" from the decision not to delete 5(1)(c) altogether, and wel­comed the language of "respect" in the revised wording, which  "indi­cates that the theological convictions held by traditional Catholics and orthodox Evangelicals on this dis­puted question continue to occupy an authentic and honourable place in Anglican teaching and practice". The Code of Practice would now assume "huge significance".

The chairman of the conservative Evangelical network Reform, the Revd Rod Thomas, said on Wed­nesday that Reform was "deeply disappointed" that Clause 5(1)(c) had "been weakened to the point where any additional provision it may have offered for conservative Evangelicals has been removed". Reform will consider its next step at its national conference next week, he said.

The General Synod will vote on the amended Measure in November.

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, told BBC Radio Stoke on Sunday that the result "may be touch and go", given the composition of the Synod: "You get more activists and fewer middle-of-the-road people on any council - and it's the danger that we get the really enthusiastic people who are against from several different points of view."

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, wrote on his blog last Friday: "Being pragmatic, this probably means that we will need all supporters of women bishops to vote for the Measure and as many opponents as possible to abstain rather than vote against."

After announcing the amendment last week, Dr Williams said: "I am convinced that the time has come for the Church of England to be blessed by the ministry of women as bishops, and it is my deep hope that the legislation will pass in No­vem­ber."

He said that it was "particularly significant and welcome that the new text emerged not from the House of Bishops itself but rather from a serving woman priest".

Mrs Appleby said on Thursday of last week that she had "come close to despair" at the July Synod meeting. She had spent a lot of time, she said, listening to a lot of people at the Synod, "even people I disagree with vehemently - but that's life."

When the consultation on the future of Clause 5(1)(c) was an­nounced, at the end of July, she consulted colleagues and friends, including those who oppose women bishops. She then worked on a new wording with her husband, just before going on holiday in early August.

"Nothing is going to please every­body; but something was needed to show that women are valued in the Church, but so are those who, in conscience, cannot accept their ministry.

"I would like to see women bishops, but I hope we can find a way forward that also shows courtesy to those who disagree."

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