WHILE the 2014 settlement that enabled women to be ordained as bishops has “broadly worked”, the Church has failed to explain it to those within the Church, or to wider society, a new report says.
Moreover, traditional Catholics and complementarian Evangelicals feel that their positions are “tolerated at best, rather than being encouraged to flourish”, and there is concern about whether someone in a senior position who does not support women’s ordination can truly support the vocations and ministry of female clergy.
The report, set to be discussed in the General Synod next month, is the outcome of research conducted by the Implementation and Dialogue Group, established in 2018 in response to the Independent Reviewer’s report of matters surrounding the nomination — and subsequent withdrawal — of the Rt Revd Philip North as Bishop of Sheffield (News, 9 February 2018).
It was tasked with reviewing how the House of Bishops’ Declaration and the Five Guiding Principles — part of the settlement that made possible the admission of women to the episcopate — are understood, implemented, and received in the Church.
The report concludes that the settlement has “broadly worked” and that “compared to the debates of the previous ten and more years, both as regards the time taken by them and the bitterness with which they were sometimes conducted or perceived, the Church is in a much better place.”
But it warns that, “perhaps because the tone of discussion has generally improved, the Church has not given this issue enough attention in the last six years. . . The Church needs to do more to build understanding, and to ensure that understanding is sustained in future generations of laity, clergy and Church leaders — and in the society in which we minister.”
Among the Independent Reviewer’s recommendations after events in Sheffield was the need for an “ongoing process of discussion and education” around the settlement, and in 2018 the Faith and Order Commission published The Five Guiding Principles: A Resource for Study. But many dioceses who responded to the Implementation and Dialogue Group’s consultation were candid about how little had been done since the settlement came into being.
The group found evidence from appointments processes that understanding of the Declaration was “at best patchy across the Church”. Some members of diocesan vacancy-in-see committees were “surprised when they are asked whether their diocese would accept a non-ordaining bishop, because they claim not to be aware the Church still has bishops who do not ordain women”.
Diocesan visits carried out by the group demonstrated that “the majority of younger clergy and laity find it hard to understand that there are those within the Church who do not believe in the ordination of women.”
The report explores how the secular media report on the appointment process and concludes that the Church’s failure to explain the settlement to its own constituency has left it “on the back foot when it becomes necessary to explain its position to elements in wider society”.
It also concludes that those from the traditional Catholic or complementarian Evangelical positions are “concerned that their positions are tolerated at best, rather than being encouraged to flourish”. While the report highlights positive diocesan relationships and initiatives, many representatives of both groups felt that support for their mission “seems somewhat limited or grudging”. The Church has “more to do to show that it supports these people”, the report says.
Between the enactment of legislation to consecrate women as bishops and October 2019 (when the report was finalised), 35 suffragan bishops and 12 diocesan bishops were appointed. Of these, 19 suffragans were women, and five diocesans were women. There was one suffragan appointed who identified as traditional Catholic, and one suffragan appointed who identified as complementarian Evangelical. There was one diocesan bishop appointed who identified as traditional Catholic, although he has indicated that he will ordain women.
There were 67 residentiary canons appointed, 25 of these were women and no appointed candidate identified as traditional Catholic or complementarian Evangelical. Eighty archdeacons were appointed, and 26 of these were women, and one of the appointed candidates is a traditional Catholic. There was no complementarian Evangelical appointed. Nineteen deans were appointed, of whom four were women. There were no traditional Catholic or complementarian Evangelical appointees.
During a one-day theological colloquium, the group heard that, given that half of ordinands were now women, and that many male candidates were ordained by women bishops, “those unable to accept the ministry of women in these orders will shortly not be able to receive the orders of a majority of the clergy in the Church of England.”
Among the 21 recommendations in the report is that “serious consideration is given, in all dioceses with more than one suffragan see, to the possible appointment of traditional catholic and/or complementarian evangelical candidates to one of the sees once a vacancy occurs, should qualified candidates from those traditions be available.”
Another is that “some suffragan sees are given a combined diocesan and national (or regional) role; and that some such sees could be identified, at given points, as being suitable for a traditional catholic or complementarian evangelical.”
One member of the group — Canon Emma Percy — was unable to support these two recommendations, and the report notes that “most recommendations will have had varying levels of support within the group itself.” Formally, the House of Bishops has neither accepted nor rejected the recommendations, and the General Synod is not being asked specifically to accept the recommendations.
One recommendation strengthened by the House is that its Standing Committee be charged with monitoring the implementation of the group’s recommendations. The House has instead established a Standing Commission on the House of Bishops Declaration, “focused solely on the good working of the Declaration and related processes now and in years to come”.
Another conclusion of the report is that there is continuing concern that the settlement “bears harshly on female clergy in requiring them to serve alongside clergy who do not fully accept their priesthood or ministry”. This includes concern “about whether someone in a senior position who does not support women’s ordination can genuinely support the vocational discernment of women, and wholeheartedly support the ministry of female members of the clergy”.
A submission from Oxford diocese reported: “In my experience lay members of appointment panels dislike anything that they see as discriminatory and are very reluctant to appoint anyone who they think will be less than fully supportive of women in ordained ministry. In this respect the settlement is, I fear, simply out of touch with the deeply held views of the majority of those who serve as parish representatives.”
More work must be done to examine the theological underpinning of the Declaration and Five Guiding Principles, the report concludes, noting that “mutual flourishing . . . continues to be a slippery and unclear term for many.”
Among the 21 recommendations are the inclusion of matters arising from the settlement in unconscious-bias training, the creation of materials suitable for use with the media, and the establishment of “a more structured and intentional framework for passing on the content and ethos of the Settlement”. Among the views heard by the group was a sense that, “as time passes, there is less and less understanding of how the Declaration was developed and the pain and hurt relating to that.”
A MOTION expressing concern about the implications for mutual flourishing of the withdrawal of Bishop North from his nomination to the see of Sheffield will be debated in the General Synod next month, four years after the event (News, 10 March 2017).
The private member’s motion, proposed in March 2017 by David Lamming, a lay representative of the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, states that the Synod “share the sadness and regret” of Bishop North in his decision, note the “substantial support” that his nomination enjoyed, express its “full support” for his future ministry, and “note, with concern, the implications of Bishop North’s decision, and the public debate that preceded it, for the ‘mutual flourishing’ of the Church of England”.
The motion originally concluded with a request that the House of Bishops urgently review the Five Guiding Principles and “consider whether they need to be amended or amplified in order to ensure that there is an equal place at all levels in the Church for men and women of different theological convictions on the issue of women’s ordination”.
The deadline for this — February 2018 — has long since passed, and an amendment has been proposed welcoming the report of the Implementation and Dialogue Group (see above) and requesting that the annual report of the Standing Commission on the House of Bishops Declaration be sent to all General Synod members, “with an opportunity, if requested, for the report to be debated”.
A background paper from Mr Nye, noting the four-year lag since events in Sheffield, suggests that the Synod “may wish to consider to what extent the specific references to those events remain relevant, given the passage of time, and developments since then, in the diocese of Sheffield and more widely across the Church”.