Thursday, 20 May 2010

Women bishops - nothing new in the innovation?

When the General Synod legislated in 1993 for the ordination of women as priests, it changed the Church of England in more ways than one.
Most obviously, it introduced women into orders in which they could exercise new sacramental and leadership rôles. Just as importantly, however, it allowed for disagreement with what had been done and enshrined this in the enabling legislation.
This provision was effected at two levels. One was in the parliamentary Measure, which contained opt-out clauses for parishes which did not want to receive the sacramental ministry of women or which did not want a woman as an incumbent, priest in charge or team vicar (Resolutions A and B).
The other was the passing of an Act of Synod which allowed those same parishes to request from their Diocesan bishop, if he himself would ordain women, that episcopal ministry be provided by someone who did not accept the ordination of women (the so-called Resolution C).
In the present situation, therefore, two important points must be borne in mind. The first is that these provisions were an integral part of the package, not — despite some people’s opinions to the contrary — an appendage. There were undoubtedly people in Synod who only voted for the Measure because it contained Resolutions A and B, and it is equally undoubted that parliament accepted the Measure because of these provisions and because of the terms and conditions of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.
Secondly, there was no sunset clause on these provisions. On the contrary, as the Manchester Report recently observed, they were offered indefinitely — for as long as people would require them. This was the general understanding at the time, and that has consequences.
On the one hand, it meant that people who had misgivings about the ordination of women as priests nevertheless felt there was a continuing place for them in the Church of England. This is one reason why the take-up on the settlement package for those who felt they had to leave the church was so low. There was sufficient unity amongst evangelicals and sufficient numerical strength amongst Anglo-Catholics to persuade doubters in both groupings that they could continue as loyal (if not entirely contented) Anglicans.
The phrase that described this situation was ‘a period of reception’. This emphatically did not, however, indicate ‘a time during which the Church would get used to what had happened after which dissent would no longer be expected’.
Rather, as Rowan Williams has himself observed, it meant an opportunity to test whether what had been put in place was right or wrong. Moreover, as he pointed out, the Church of England is still in what is formally acknowledged to be “a time of discernment and reception”.
This has very important implications both for opponents and for supporters of the consecration of women as bishops.
First, it means that everyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England since 1993, or has been ordained into its orders, ought to know that they have accepted the existence of ‘two integrities’ and indeed the ongoing provisionality of women’s ordination.
This is vital to recognize, because it is being said that anyone ordained since that date ought to accept both the ordination of women and that there is no place for dissent from this.
That is not (wholly) true — and in any case cuts both ways.
It is true that anyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England during the last eighteen years must accept that it is a church that ordains women. That is a simple fact, and to that extent they must themselves be committed to the ‘two integrities’ approach.
It is also true, however, anyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England since 1993, or entered its orders, did so knowing that the Church of England did not require anyone to accept the ordination of women, and, moreover, that the Church of England had sought to include opponents in its ranks on the understanding that they were full members of that church, entitled to operate at every level of its ministry up to and including diocesan bishop. (That the latter has been observed mostly in the breach does not negate the fact that the principle exists — though it does rather mitigate against the idea that the church can work on the basis of ‘codes of practice’.)
What this means for the present round of legislation, however, is that the status quo established in 1993 still prevails: the Church has deliberately included people who take contrary views on the ordination of women and they themselves have willingly been part of it.
This, then, has consequences for what ought to happen next, for when the Church agreed to ordain women, it recognized that the ministry of some of its clergy would not be acceptable to all of its members. Now that it is about to consecrate women as bishops, it faces the same problem because it has continued to operate on the same principles enshrined in the 1993 legislation.
There are, therefore, only two logical ways forward. The first is to settle the debate about women’s ordination first and to end the ‘period of reception’ either by agreeing that all must accept the ordination of women or (which is, of course, improbable) by agreeing to abandon the project and return to the pre-1993 position. Such a move would be unwelcome for a number of reasons, not least that it would delay the consecration of women bishops and embroil the church in virtually a sectarian battle. No one in their right mind would want this!
The second option, however, which the church seems tacitly to accept, is that as in 1993 provision must be made for both viewpoints. The problem, of course, is that the actual legislation on the table would only do this in a limited way which denies the reality.
One of the arguments put forward by those who insist on this limited provision is that the bishop must be allowed to be a ‘real’ bishop, whose ministry must therefore apply of necessity to all those within the diocese.
The problem with this argument, however, is that in 1993 the Church of England decided that a priest would not henceforth be someone whose ministry would necessarily apply to everyone within the church. This was essential to enabling the ordination of women to take place and it was accepted as part of the provision.
This was, as we have observed, an innovation, but it was one with which the church was formally prepared to live, and it was something which everyone in the church has therefore had to accept since 1993.
Now that we are considering the consecration of women as bishops, it is time to consider also the logical extension not only of women’s ordination but of the innovation that went with it — that the church must allow for those who could not accept the ministry of women bishops, even whilst all parties accept that this is a church which consecrates women.
In other words, just as we have had a new model of priestly ministry, we need a new model of episcopal ministry. And specifically, just as we have had a ‘voluntarist’ model of priestly ministry in this regard, so we must have a ‘voluntarist’ model of episcopal ministry.
This is something which the Anglo-Catholic opponents of women bishops have long recognized and advocated. (The evangelicals have been much slower to realize its importance.) What I am arguing here is that it is something which the supporters of women bishops should also recognize unless they wish to rewrite the history of the past eighteen years.
The Church of England was able to introduce the ordination of women because it was prepared to change its understanding of the acceptablility of its orders — and all those who are now members of the Church of England ought to acknowledge that reality. Whether they are enthusiasts for, or opponents of, women’s ordination and consecration, they have opted into a church which has, out of practical necessity, modified its understanding of ministry.
That it needs to do so again with regard to women bishops may be unwelcome to some, but it ought not to be a surprise.
John Richardson
20 May 2010

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  1. Spot on. And if the choose not to honour promises then a second period of payments should commence for all who have to leave the church with huge implications for family for no other reason than that the church lied to them

  2. I would simply quote what has been termed Neuhaus' Law (after the Evangelical Lutheran American pastor who became a Catholic Priest).

    "Where orthodoxy is optional, it will soon be proscribed."

    Seems to aptly describe what appears about to happen in a span of time something less than 18 years

  3. Sorry, just noticed the and location. I reside in Bothell, Washington, USA (a suburb of Seattle).

  4. Hi K Töpfer. I think what Neuhaus wrote was absolutely spot on. In fact I've referenced him a couple of times on this blog (if you type in Neuhaus in the search window, you'll see where).

  5. I do sometimes wonder how some people in this country reacted when they encountered their first married priest. How many would have whispered their disapproval at the sight of the vicar's wife in a state of pregnancy?

    In the Church of England, surely we, as reformed Christians, can come to accept that from time to time, the earth shakes violently beneath our feet and the landscape is changed forever. Whether it's priests with families or women bishops, it's not necessarily easy to live through one of those earthquakes. But as an Anglican, I truly believe that I am part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church and I trust the apostolic authority of the bishops. If I didn't, could I really call myself a member of the Church of England?

  6. Among the origins of and tenets of the CofE is a distrust of the apostolic authority claimed by the the "Church of Rome". So no; an a priori trust in the apostolic authority of church appointments is actually inappropriate for a member of the CofE.

    (PS: please do NOT hear me say that appointed bishops or others are inherently untrustworthy, merely that being appointed does not inherently verify their trustworthiness before God or man.)

  7. Let me get this straight. You don't like ruels that tell you who can administer Holy Communion in church. Rules are bad. But you don't like it when people change the rules that protect your own world view. Rules are good. Am I getting it? So, rules are good if they're John's rules. That's it, isn't it?

    Frank, Merseyside.

  8. No Frank (as you well know), a dislike of stupid rules does not equate to a 'dislike of rules'. Nor can we say that if someone regards a rule as stupid they want they own way.

    Life is a bit more subtle than that.

  9. J. Coder, Belgium21 May 2010 at 12:00

    One of the consequences of womens' ordination has been the underappreciation of lay ministry.

    The church catholic has a rich tradition of womens' ministry, as does the New Testament. An obvious fact to all observing the ministries of women in the church was: ordination is a very specific calling, with specific expectations regarding leadership, and is not for everyone exercising spiritual leadership in the church. It was very clear that an ordained priest was not necessarily someone more "in touch with God" than the brilliant women serving amongst us or, for that matter, our male laypeople.

    I hear of an increasing trend in the church of "trying to find someone who's ordained" to fulfill various capacities of service for the Church. It's expected that the priest will be more compliant with the vision of the diocese, will be more likely to fill the dioceses' expectations. This of course has its advantages, and it offers its own type of security for mission.

    However, many forms of ministry are prevented, or made more expensive to the church, because of this requirement; and the ministries of many laypeople who do not feel called to the specific task of ordained ministry are frequently prevented from what they otherwise could do.

    Furthermore, many of the women who are less "assertive" in nature or who, for whatever, do not make it through the hoops of the increasingly bureaucratic selection process, are not ordained. I must testify that so far, I have been amply more impressed by the ministries of lay women, than of lay female clergy (and in general, this includes male clergy as well). We end up privileging a subset of women engaged in ministry who, in some cases, are less than generous in their enabling of the ministries of lay women.

    It seems to me that church hierarchy has been stiffened, with the expectation that all significant ministry should take place under the auspices of those belonging to the hierarchy of ordinands - and that once any lay ministry flourishes beyond a certain point, it is likely to be taken over by one belonging to this hierarchy, or one more explicitly sympathetic to its particular vision. It also means that with fewer laypeople exercising acknowledged spiritual authority in the church, there is a greater opportunity for spiritual corruption of the hierarchy of ordinands, without any significant lay voice to offer alternative opinions.

    It also would not surprise me if many whom God has called to lay ministry, not finding the means to do so within the Church of England, look elsewhere for engaging in God's work.

    Church ministry amongst the class of ordinands seems to me increasingly "managerial" and bureaucratic, and less "professional" in the sense of professing faith, as well as less "vocational" in the sense of following God's calling. It is more "professional" in a managerial sense: does one show the qualities likely to get one this kind of job? I.e., can the candidate express in compelling prose his or her various qualifications, as one does in a C.V.? It also means that the "marginal" - whom God tends to call to His work - are less likely to make the cut, for all the quirky reasons which make them less clean-cut candidates.

    I don't know of the studies which have been carried out regarding the new situation regarding womens' ministry with womens' ordination, but it does seem to me hasty to end the provisional period unless we have a very clear idea of what the effect of womens' ordination has been on all areas of ministry of our church.

  10. J. Coder, Belgium21 May 2010 at 13:10

    In the New Testament, we don't have any figures who are designated as priests - unless one includes Christ Himself.

    In the Old Testament, a seemingly "arbitrary" characteristic limited the priesthood: they needed to be Levites. Though we read comparatively little about the ministries of the priests, and a great deal about God using others who were not priests.

    There was a recurrent necessity for prophets - who in our construction, would be "lay people" - to call priests and kings back to the will of God.

    One wonders what Scripture would look like if it had been written at the behest of the Church of England today - probably a work written by priests, likely cataloging primarily the activities of priests - how much of the canon would remain for us?

    I would suggest that there is something very healthy about maintaining a priesthood involving an "arbitrary" criterion of selection, making clear to all: these priests serve a limited function in the life of the people of God, and our expectations of them, compared to those outside the priesthood, should be limited, just as scripture gives us a very clear example of the importance of the ministries of persons who are not priests.

    Requiring that priests be descendants of Levi was in no way unjust or discriminatory to those of the other tribes. Rather, it liberated them from the priesthood, and made clear to all God's people that the priests could not be expected to be carrying out God's will at all times. The very initiator of the priesthood, Aaron, makes this imminently clear. This arbitrary selection criterion in fact liberates lay people FROM priests - it means that we look up to priests for some things, but that we must not see them as more than priests. It also liberates priests themselves to let them be what they are - and not cultivate aspirations of being the whole work of the parish they lead, nor the sole voice in leadership.

    A good priest serves and protects the leaders in his congregation for the pursuit of their ministries - he can not afford to exhaustively care for all the parishoners, as he must care for those who doing the caring for the parishoners. If I care for Jane and her ministry, I can not care too much about John, to whom she is ministering - this is Jane's task - because if I care about John too much, I may put Jane in harm's way at moments she is over-committing herself, or fail to counsel her to limit her ministry to him when she is over-extending herself. Jane and John both need me to help them. I see things which neither Jane nor John see, as I am not directly involved in that relationship. But this task is not the same as what Jane does - it has its importance, but it must not become too "controlling" of Jane, nor imagine that it could replace Jane.

    I must care so much for Jane that I also realize that without her, John will not be cared for - and that what she is doing is not readily replaceable - she is not a mere surrogate of me, nor an extension of my hand.

  11. For someone who thinks of himself as a capable analyser of argument you're not doing very well. As far as I can see, we all have to wait for you to tell us which rules are stupid and which are not and then we obey the ones you tell us to keep and disregard the onbes you say we can ignore. John always decides what's right.

    Frank, Merseyside.

  12. Frank, why don't you just read another blog? Life's too short for this sort of thing.

  13. PS Frank I think you've even posted your comment to the wrong article. Surely your comment about 'stupid rules' belongs here?

  14. No, John, my comments belong here, because this thread contradicts this thread to which you direct me and gives me the opportunity to show how you operate. Now, on a much more serious point, let me point out that you have just tried to show me the door, because you don't like what I am saying. This also contrasts with your persistent complaint that many anglicans would like to show you the door. As far as I can see, you stand so completely at variance with the traditional mind and temper of the Church of England that it is only as a result of the great tolerance and forebearance of that church that you are allowed to remain in office at all. 'Everyone is out of step except John' seems to be your call. May I offer you the same solution as that which you have offered to me? Why don't you find another denomination and allow the Church of England to be intself?

    Frank, Merseyside.

  15. Frank, you are welcome to stay. I just don't understand why you do on a blog which obviously winds you up and where you think the opinions are a bit rubbish!

  16. Perhaps Frank is one of those noble internet troubleshooters with a special calling to correct every error everyone else effects?

    Mark, Oxford

  17. I am one of those who have joined the CofE since 1993. In 2008 in fact.

    I accepted the situation as it was and believe the accommodation made for those who dissent from the Ministry of Women was a pragmatic decision made in good faith, and with perhaps with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    I accept the Ministry of Women and would also accept a Women as my Bishop. But I feel sadness and pain for those who now for genuine reasons are presented with the difficulties posed by the draft legislation.

    I feel that perhaps the alternative proposal of a separate province might have worked and would be the only one to satisfy those who dissent.

    Now the Church is between a rock and a hard place and needs to make up its mind which way to jump!

    While I dislike the ABC & ABY proposed amendment I would accept it if that is the general will of the synod.

    Stormy waters ahead I think!