Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
You will know the results of the debate and vote on the admission of women to the episcopate which took place at the General Synod meeting in York last Monday. Those who are, for theological reasons, opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops have consistently asked for the creation of a structure in the Church within which we could worship with integrity and our parishes would be able to flourish. Despite strong support from both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York this has been resolutely denied. The Synod voted to move forward with legislation to allow women to be consecrated to the episcopate with a ‘Code of Practice’ to deal with those who cannot accept this break with 2000 years of tradition.
We have always said that such a code would not provide us with what we need. It could not provide a framework for any long term future where congregations could gather round a bishop whose orders were assured nor one within which we could encourage men to hear God’s call to priestly ministry. It would simply allow us to avail ourselves of a male bishop when he was needed for a liturgical celebration and would be little more than a form of pastoral care until our understanding of Holy Orders had died out or been forced out of the Church. The present Act of Synod will be rescinded together with the opportunity of passing resolutions A and B. In short it would no longer be legitimate to hold the view that women cannot be priests and bishops in the Church of England. Strangely it will continue to be a Church where you can dissent from articles of the Creed. I could not serve as a bishop in such a Church with any integrity.
Of course, progress toward the consecration of the first woman bishop will take some time and will probably not happen until 2014. We should, therefore, not do anything rash. The Provincial Episcopal Visitors and others will be meeting with priests and laity over the coming months to explore what options are available to us. No doubt you will want to consult your own parish priest. In the meantime our call is to be faithful Christians, receiving the sacraments, saying our prayers and playing our part in Christ’s mission.
These are difficult times for us but we must face the future with confidence. At the least the Church of England has given us a clear message. It is obvious to me that as far of the Synod is concerned those of us who take a traditional view about Holy Orders no longer have a valued place in the Church of England and assurances made in 1993 have been ignored. Nevertheless we must hold together while we plan for the future.
I want to assure you of my prayers for you and your priests at this unsettling time.