Most conservative Evangelical parishes not transparent on male headship, survey suggests

04 October 2019

Bishop of Maidstone’s plea for transparency unheeded

DIOCESE OF MANCHESTER

The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd Mark Ashcroft, with deacons ordained at Petertide this year. Half of the deacons in this photograph would have had their “enquiries about ministry . . . channelled . . . away from ordination to priesthood” at churches with a theological commitment to male headship, Lizzie Taylor, a member of the Cambridge Churches Women’s Equality Network, said

The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd Mark Ashcroft, with deacons ordained at Petertide this year. Half of the deacons in this photograph would have had t...

TEN months after the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, urged conservative Evangelical parishes to be transparent about their position on male headship, few have complied, a new survey suggests.

Bishop Thomas’s website lists 144 churches that have passed a resolution under the House of Bishops’ Declaration, signalling a theological commitment to male headship. This enables them to restrict clergy posts to men and to receive episcopal ministry from a man.

Last December, Bishop Thomas said that “the criticism that we are not being altogether transparent must be heard” (News, 25 January). He was responding to an article in the summer magazine of the group WATCH (Women and the Church), in which Lizzie Taylor, a member of the Cambridge Churches Women’s Equality Network, expressed concern that “those churches that espouse male headship . . . do not mention this on their church websites or in general communications.” New joiners might never be aware of the PCC’s original choice, she said.

This week, Ms Taylor said that the Network had studied the websites of 61 of the parish churches and found that almost 90 per cent “did not comply” with the request for transparency.

Of the seven that did, four offered “obfuscatory statements” or placed the information in an “obscure” part of the website, she said. Statements such as that provided by St John’s, Tunbridge Wells (“We look to the Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas, for our episcopal oversight”), she said, “would not explain to the ordinary female churchgoer that her contributions and roles would be actively managed and limited by the church leadership”.

Three churches had “clearer statements”, among them St John’s, Hensingham.

“This lack of transparency is undermining the mutual trust and reciprocity that is a basic general requirement for the operation of the 2014 settlement on women in the Episcopate across the Church of England,” Ms Taylor said.

“Further, it is specifically impeding women’s vocations in the Church of England. Many Resolution churches are in university and commuter towns. Young women exploring their futures there are unexpectedly finding themselves to be in churches where their gifts are actually being controlled and limited, and where their leadership contributions, discernment, and enquiries about ministry are channelled to roles subject to men and away from ordination to priesthood. This works against the operation of Guiding Principle 1 of the 2014 settlement: that all orders of ministry be open equally to all without reference to gender.”

On Tuesday, Bishop Thomas said: “I have drawn this matter to the attention of clergy of Evangelical parishes which have passed resolutions. The Bishop of Maidstone’s own website now contains a map showing the location and details of Evangelical resolution churches. In addition, as resources allow, we are working on a directory of these churches, also for the website.”

Members of the Network also visited three churches — Christ Church, Cambridge, St Ebbe’s, Oxford, and St Helen’s, Bishopsgate — to collect every piece of written information available to church members and visitors. It found that none contained any information about the church’s position on women’s leadership.

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