Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Women Bishops: An open letter to the Archbishops

Following the Southern Synod of the Society of the Sacred Cross, the Provisional Episcopal Visitors (Flying Bishops), the Bishop of Fulham and the Master of SSC are circulating the following letter for signature by clergy. Apart from anything else, it very clearly states where they are on this matter (and where they have been in the last decade and a half):

Most Reverend Fathers in God,

We write as bishops, priests and deacons of the Provinces of Canterbury and York, who have sought, by God’s grace, in our various ministries, to celebrate the Sacraments and preach the Word faithfully; to form, nurture and catechise new Christians; to pastor the people of God entrusted to our care; and, through the work of our dioceses, parishes and institutions, to build up the Kingdom and to further God’s mission to the world in this land.

Our theological convictions, grounded in obedience to Scripture and Tradition, and attentive to the need to discern the mind of the whole Church Catholic in matters touching on Faith and Order, lead us to doubt the sacramental ministry of those women ordained to the priesthood by the Church of England since 1994. Having said that, we have engaged with the life of the Church of England in a myriad of ways, nationally and locally, and have made sincere efforts to work courteously and carefully with those with whom we disagree. In the midst of this disagreement over Holy Order, we have, we believe, borne particular witness to the cause of Christian unity, and to the imperative of Our Lord’s command that ‘all may be one.’

We include those who have given many years service to the Church in the ordained ministry, and others who are very newly ordained. We believe that we demonstrate the vitality of the tradition which we represent and which has formed us in our discipleship and ministry – a tradition which, we believe, constitutes an essential and invaluable part of the life and character of the Church of England, without which it would be deeply impoverished.

Since the ordination of women to the priesthood began in 1994, we have been able to exercise our ministry in the context of the solemn assurances given at that time that our understanding of Holy Order was one entirely consonant with the faith and practice of the Church of England, and secure in the knowledge that those assurances were embodied in the legislation passed in 1993, and in the Act of Synod which followed that legislation.

That legislation, together with the Act, has been the framework which has allowed us to continue to live and work in a church which has taken the decision to allow women to be ordained, but which has also made room for us, and honoured our beliefs and convictions. We have been further encouraged and affirmed by the Resolution of the Lambeth Conference 1998, endorsed by the General Synod in July 2006, that “those who dissent from as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans.”

We believe that, should the Church of England move to the ordination of women to the episcopate, our ability to continue to minister in the church to which we have been called will depend on provision being made to allow us to do so with the same theological integrity which we have been able to hold since 1994. We recognise that, much as we might hope things to be otherwise, the Church of England is set upon the path of ordaining women as bishops. We will strive to honour their calling as ministers of the Gospel, and to respect the offices which they will hold, despite our profound reservations about the Church of England’s decision to ordain and consecrate them. We do not look for ‘protection’ from the ministry of ordained women. Rather, we ask that our theological convictions continue to be accorded that respect which was promised fifteen years ago.

We believe that priests must be able to look to bishops about whose ministry they can be assured; and that bishops in turn must be able to carry out their ministry in a way consonant with the traditional exercise of Episcopal office. Only a structural solution to the new problems which will inevitably be created for the Church by the ordination of women to the episcopate can, we believe, allow us to flourish and to contribute to the life of the whole Church as we believe the Spirit continues to call us to do.

It is with sadness that we conclude that, should the Church of England indeed go ahead with the ordination of women to the episcopate, without at the same time making provision which offers us real ecclesial integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead. We will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue to minister as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home. We do not write this in a spirit of making threats or throwing down gauntlets. Rather, we believe that the time has come to make our concerns plain, so that the possible consequences of a failure to make provision which allows us to flourish and to grow are clear. Your Graces will know that the cost of such a choice would be both spiritual and material.

We know that all members of the Church of England and of the General Synod in particular, will be looking to you for wisdom, guidance and leadership in this matter. We urge you, as our Fathers in God, to lead the whole Church in making generous and coherent provision for us. This will not only allow us to continue to play our part in that mission, under God, to which we are all committed, but also ensure that the Church of England continues to encompass, in her polity, an understanding of Holy Orders consonant with that of the great Churches of East and West with whom we share the historic episcopate.

We assure you of our prayers at this time.

Sign electronically here.

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  1. jody stowell, maidenhead

    hi john

    what I find interesting is that this letter says that it is only the structural provision, or lack of, that they have an issue with - they could still stay with us if this happens, even with women in the episcopate.

    is there not a place for appeal to them to stay with us on the basis of integrity and trust?

  2. Hi Jody

    The short answer is no, there cannot be an appeal based on "integrity and trust", because trust has broken down through a lack of integrity on this issue.

    In 1993, those opposed to the ordination of women (which, it must be remembered,was a break with 2,000 years of tradition and, for some, was contrary to Scripture) were offered guaranteed provisions without time limit. Indeed, as the Manchester Report itself takes great pains to point out, the language at the time used expressions like "in perpetuity".

    There was also the explicit statement in the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod (which the then Archbishop of Canterbury said would not be rescinded) that no one would be discriminated against where senior appointments were concerned on the basis of their views for or against women's ordination.

    In fact, and perhaps inevitably, such discrimination has occurred. Moreover, a couple of years after the legislation was passed, the House of Bishops introduced a 'Code of Practice' for passing Resolution C which 'tightened up' on the requirements in the legislation, and parishes which pass Resolution C are put under scrutiny and pressure in a way clearly against the spirit of what was intended in 1993. I know this from experience, because we have passed this Resolution here, and been 'through the mill'.

    Now, against the advice of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the House of Bishops has voted to bring forward legislation which the Manchester Report warns will risk driving people out of the Church of England, rescinding the guarantees made in 1993 and replacing them with a 'Code of Practice' they will draw up and which may, or may not, have legislative force.

    From the point of view of Forward in Faith, and those like myself who share their views in this matter, it is hard to know how you can trust a group, and a process, which has palpably been shown to be untrustworthy.

  3. I guess I would want to say that there is room for mistakes to be made - as in this case the mistake was, in my opinion, agreeing that women are equally called to ordination as men and yet enshrine in law something which undermines this belief - and there is room for that to be rectified.

    it is that which is the problem, not the idea that you/they would except gentleness from us in this respect.

    are there not places, such as NZ, where the code of practice has worked out well?

  4. I was just curious on what grounds do those who are opposed to women in ministry base their beliefs. Which passages from the Bible are used to uphold their views? Blessings Rachel at

  5. Sorry about the delay in replying, Rachel. I have been at a conference in London all week, as well as doing my tax return.

    As with homosexuality, though one might point to a number of Bible passages to uphold a viewpoint, it would be important also to grasp the bigger picture which connects those passages (and others which are less obvious).

    I'm not saying the two issues are directly linked, but we might ask why does Romans 1 link the knowledge of God in what has been created, to substituting created things for God, to sexual immorality, to same sex relationships, to social wickedness and moral anarchy? If we understood this, we might understand better why Leviticus speaks against same-sex relationships in the Old Testament and 1 Corinthians 6:9 does in the new.

    So, with regard to men and women in the Church (and incidentally I am certainly not "opposed to women in ministry"), we must ask why and how marriage and sexuality model the Church and how they are related to Christology.

    The Church is Christ's body, but his relationship with his body is that of husband to wife (see also Rev 19:7-8; 21:2). This removes marriage between a husband and wife from the realm of a 'social construct' onto which we project a theological significance. Rather it is the other way round.

    The question then comes down not to 'What offices may men and women occupy in the Church?' but 'How ought men and women to minister to one another in the light of their relationships?'

    It is these issues which hold together passages like Genesis 1:26-27, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2.

  6. Hi John
    Thanks for getting back to me. I feel secure in my holding of a theological position which is conservative and yet I am unable to understand precisely why women should not be able to serve congregations and lead people in their spiritual journeys. I find the Bible fascinating and beautiful, stimulating and essential. Is there really a God-given reason why I should never preach and teach the Bible to congregations containing men?

    I am about to start theological college in September. Would Conservative Evangelicals adhere to the idea that my lecturers should not be female if they are teaching me the bible? Is it the case then that women shouldn't be in any positions where they might teach men, if we follow the logic to its ultimate conclusion? Surely, we have a God who is interested in all of our lives, he doesn't dwell in the church but everywhere, if we shouldn't separate God from the secular can you see how it's very difficult to conceive of a God who limits giftings because of gender. For example, I do understand that in an ideal world, women would be perfect mothers to their children, I've sacrificed my career for the last five years because I wanted to bring-up my preschool children but what about women who never marry or have children, should they not minister and preach and teach God's word either? What about women whose children are grown-up, who have husbands who are really very good at cooking and washing etc?

    Sorry - to ask again, it's just I can't get my 'head around' the idea that the homosexuality issue speaks into the women in ministry issue,even though you say they aren't linked, you have grouped them together in your response. I respect your views; you are a learned and experienced man as I can tell from your blog. Do you mind if I ask you again? Which Biblical passages do you use to support your views that God really doesn't want women preaching and teaching from his beautiful book to his church?