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Headship and consecrations: Primates prepare ground for Synod vote

20 June 2014


Talking heads: the Archbishops in consultation during the debate on women bishops at General Synod in York, last year 

Talking heads: the Archbishops in consultation during the debate on women bishops at General Synod in York, last year 

THE appointment of a Church of England bishop who holds a conservative Evangelical view of "headship" could take place within months, if the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are successful in their efforts to ensure that this "aspiration" is met.

They say that they are consulting with a view to this, because they recognise that such an appointment is "important for sustaining the necessary climate of trust" around the new package of draft legislation and other provision for the consecration of women bishops in the C of E, and the safeguarding of the consciences of church people who are opposed to the change.

A note (GS Misc 1079) from the Archbishops on women in the episcopate was released at Friday's media briefing in Church House, Westminster, before the final-approval vote that is on the agenda for next month's General Synod meeting. For this vote to be carried, a two-thirds majority is required in every House of the Synod. The previous draft legislation for women bishops was lost when it narrowly failed to achieve two-thirds in the House of Laity in November 2012.

Speaking at the briefing, the Synod's secretary general, William Fittall, told reporters that expectations in the Church around the new draft legislation were high, and, if it were similarly defeated, he would expect "shock and bemusement" to exceed anything that had occurred in 2012; but it was "far from clear that the House of Bishops would go back to the drawing board. The Church would be in new and uncharted territory."

The Archbishops' note recognises that "it is evident that to date the normal processes for appointing diocesan and suffragan bishops have not delivered the aspiration to appoint a bishop who holds the Conservative Evangelical view on headship. It is also unclear whether the processes are capable of doing so within a reasonable timescale.

"We are therefore now consulting others with a view to ensuring that the aspiration is met within a matter of months."

The Archbishops' note also refers to the issue that "once the episcopate is open equally to all irrespective of gender, there will be some bishops who will unable in conscience to participate in the laying on of hands at some services. There will also be new bishops who, because of the theological convictions held by them and those to whom they will minister, will have concerns about who presides and shares in the laying on of hands at their consecration."

The Archbishops say, however, that the arrangements for consecrations will remain in their hands, under the Royal Mandate. "After careful thought and prayer we do not believe that an attempt to offer detailed prescriptions as to how consecration services should be conducted in every circumstance would help to establish the relational framework offered by the five guiding principles" (that were drawn up the House of Bishops as the basis of the new legislative package).

Nevertheless, "As Archbishops we will exercise that responsibility in ways that exemplify the five guiding principles, enabling bishops to serve across the spectrum of our teaching and tradition. Any special arrangement to which we may agree in particular cases will arise out of a spirit of gracious generosity, and will involve only such departures from the norm as are necessary to fulfil the spirit and purpose of the Declaration and to maintain the peace and unity fo the Church. No consecration duly performed by either Archbishop as principal consecrator would be invalid."

Canon law in the C of E requires at least three consecrators to take part, one of whom is the Archbishop of the province or another bishop appointed to act on his behalf.

The General Synod will meet over the weekend from 11 to 15 July. Other items on the agenda include safeguarding matters, new draft baptism services, a presentation by the Revd Jim Wallis, and others on the Armed Forces Covenant, and on the new Churches' Mutual Credit Union, a motion on clergy vesture during the time of divine service, and another concerning the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015.

The president of the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Irmgard Schwaetzer, will address the Synod as an ecumenical guest.

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