A PCC that split on a vote to consider rescinding its Resolution was told that those drafting the House of Bishops’ Declaration that accompanied the women-bishops legislation “left some unhelpful ambiguity”, it emerged this week.
The PCC of St Peter and St Paul, King’s Sutton, held a vote in September last year whether to remain under the episcopal ministry of the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Revd Norman Banks. Six members voted in favour and six against; one abstained. The chair of the PCC then delivered a casting vote in favour of the status quo.
This prompted an appeal to the Archdeacon of Northampton, the Ven. Richard Ormston, against the decision.
The email sent by Archdeacon Ormston to the PCC to explain the decision made, and the legality behind it, seen by the Church Times this week, describes the matter as “a most complex issue. . . It is not straightforward because the House of Bishops’ Declaration cannot be understood in isolation from the Church Representation Rules. There is some unhelpful ambiguity in the Declaration which has led to the difference of opinion at Kings Sutton.”
The diocesan registrar had concluded, however, “that the voting, with the use of the casting vote, was correct”. This was because the Church Representation Rules — “the foundation on which all PCC meetings are constructed” — provided for a casting vote in the event of an equal division of votes.
The House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, which accompanied the women-bishops Measure of 2014 (Synod, 21 February 2014), sets out the arrangements available to those whose theological conviction leads them to seek the priestly or episcopal ministry only of men.
It states that a PCC that has passed a resolution seeking such arrangements is “expected to review it from time to time especially when a vacancy arises in the benefice”.
It states that a motion to rescind a resolution should have the support of either a majority of those present at a meeting at which at least two-thirds of members are present, or a majority of all the members of the PCC.
On Tuesday, the director of Forward in Faith, Dr Colin Podmore, rejected the suggestion that the Declaration was unclear. “I can’t see any ambiguity, because the Declaration is clear that for a resolution to be rescinded there must be a majority in favour of rescinding it, and, in this case, there wasn’t,” he said.
Archdeacon Ormston’s email states that the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, would “fully honour” the PCC’s decision, but also advises that “it is permissible for the PCC, as opposed to aggrieved members, to refer the matter to the Independent Reviewer.”
The annual report of the independent reviewer, Sir William Fittall, who is charged with considering disputes about the implementation of the Declaration, upholds the use of the casting vote in a scenario that matches that of King’s Sutton.
This week, Roger Neill, a member of the PCC who supports rescinding the resolution, argued that it did not reflect the views of the congregation.
He had been commissioned by the PCC to conduct research during the expected interregnum (the incumbent was due to retire), which had included interviews with 39 members of the congregation, three-quarters of whom were “open to women priests”, with some “positively wishing for” the rescission.
A new incumbent, the Revd Matthew Robinson, was licensed in September.