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Row breaks out over PCC vote to retain resolution relating to women bishops

29 November 2019

Julian Dowse/Creative Commons

St Peter and St Paul, King’s Sutton

St Peter and St Paul, King’s Sutton

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.

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