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Headship bishop sought to help pass women legislation

27 June 2014

Petition: Campaigners from Proper Provision, a group of conservative Evangelical women, present a petition to the Archbishop of York in 2012. Signed by 2228 Anglican women it called for provision for those who would seek alternate episcopal oversight if women were admitted to the episcopate

Petition: Campaigners from Proper Provision, a group of conservative Evangelical women, present a petition to the Archbishop of York in 2012. Signed...

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.

In a note to the General Synod, released last Friday, 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 women-bishops legislation and Declaration.

The Archbishops have also offered a measure of reassurance to traditional Anglo-Catholics about the consecrations of bishops who would minister to them under the new conscience provision. Forward in Faith welcomed the recognition that "special arrangements will be needed in respect of presidency and laying on of hands at some consecrations, in response to the theological convictions not merely of those to be consecrated but also of those to whom they will minister."

A two-thirds majority in every House of the Synod is required for final approval. A statement from the campaigning group WATCH (Women and the Church), which held a press conference last Friday, says: "The vote is expected to be close. This is the same Synod that did not pass the previous legislation in November 2012, and the same people will be voting, so the vote is likely to be tight." It urges Synod members to abstain if they cannot vote in favour of the legislation.

The Synod's secretary general, William Fittall, said last Friday that expectations in the Church were high, and, if it were 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 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 by 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 of the Church. No consecration duly performed by either Archbishop as principal consecrator would be invalid."

Forward in Faith's response, signed by the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, says in part: "We trust that all that is implied in the statement about the need for appropriate arrangements will be honoured. . . If a female bishop were to preside or share in the laying on of hands at such consecrations, that would plainly frustrate their purpose. Male bishops who have joined in consecrating the women concerned will surely wish to show solidarity with them on such occasions.

"We agree, naturally, with the statement which the Archbishops make regarding the exercise of their own ministry of ordination. We are pleased to note that the matter of presidency at ordination services has not been foreclosed, and we look forward to further consideration of this important question."

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