Thursday, 14 October 2010

Why Resolution C is still the issue for REFORM

Over the last few days and weeks, I have listened to leaders of the Conservative Evangelical constituency demanding (and there are good reasons for their demand) that ‘proper provision’ (that is the usual phrase) must be made for their constituency in the event of the introduction of women bishops in a few years time.
Indeed, as part of this, the Church of England Evangelical Council has been asked to sponsor a ‘following motion’ to be put to diocesan synods on their behalf, as this is one of the few legal ways in which the legislation which will come before the General Synod can be radically amended at this late stage.
The question is, ‘proper provision of what’?
And the answer on the table at the moment is ‘proper provision of a scheme very similar to the present resolutions A, B and C which Conservative Evangelicals have largely ignored as a constituency over the last seventeen years’.
The details of the provisions can be read here in a pdf document of the draft Measure which will go out to dioceses for discussion. Unfortunately, a ‘cut and paste’ copying of this is not possible right now, and time literally prevents me labouriously typing it out, so interested parties will have to read it for themselves. But basically it offers much the same as is presently available.
A Parochial Church Council will still be able to request that only a male priest be appointed as priest-in-charge or incumbent, and it will be able to request that episcopal ministry be provided by a male bishop.
The provision is, indeed, nowhere good enough. The PCC has to apply to the bishop by a ‘Letter of Request’. (Try sending something like that to officialdom anywhere else, and you will begin to get a sense of the problem.) Those responsible for appointments are only required to “take account” of such letters (3:9 — I myself am not above ‘taking account’ of people’s objections, but not changing my position). There is no doubt that the whole thing is a watered down version of what is available now, and is open to further dilution in the future.
There are many other criticisms that could be made of the ‘provision’ now on offer. But that is not the issue for the likes of Reform who are demanding that the provision should be ‘proper’.
As readers of this blog and others will be well aware, I have been arguing for several years now that all Reform parishes ought to have passed ‘Resolution C’ — the petition for episcopal ministry to be exercised under the Act of Synod 1993. I was even there at the Reform conference a few years ago when Phillip Jensen told those assembled that they should all go away and pass Resolution C, if only to make it clear that they did not want women bishops.
Nothing was done.
Various reasons were given for this, but two stood out. The first was that petitioning parishes would have to accept an Anglo-Catholic bishop, which was simply not true. However, on this I must offer my own mea culpa for not seeing it clearly enough at the time and not refuting the falsehood.
The second, however, is more pernicious, which was that PCCs could not be persuaded, either of the urgency or of the need to pass such a resolution. Either they had bigger things on their agenda or they simply were not united enough.
And here is the problem. Let us assume that the present campaign succeeds (it is unlikely, but still possible). Essentially, this would mean that what is currently being proposed would be backed up by stronger legislation than a ‘code of practice’.
The point is, PCCs would still have to pass appropriate motions to petition for a male incumbent or priest in charge and for oversight from a male bishop.
In other words, those clergy who have not urged, or been able to persuade, their PCCs to pass Resolutions A, B or C, will nevertheless have to get those PCCs to pass the new equivalent.
Now at this point, further to my article yesterday, I am very tempted to do some ‘naming and shaming’. Instead, I will content myself for the time being with pointing out to those who have not raised these issues with their PCCs that now would be a good time to begin doing so. Indeed, it is, of course, still possible for a PCC to pass Resolutions A, B and C. Indeed, it would be right in principle, it would be good practice for the future, and who knows what will actually happen when General Synod meets again to discuss this issue?
I wonder, though, whether our Evangelical leadership has actually grasped this point? My impression is that whilst they have rallied to the ‘cause’ of proper provision, they have not grasped the small print of what this would mean in practical terms — basically that they will have to do in a few years time what they have resolutely not done for the last decade and a half.
Meanwhile, watch this space. It is where the equivalent of the Society for St Wilfred and St Hilda will soon emerge. No prizes, but is that Canterbury or Hippo?
John P Richardson
14 October 2010
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  1. The stained glass widow displayed on the site is in a museum in St. Augustine, FL, so most likely Hippo -,_Florida#Founding_of_St._Augustine

    James in Belgium

  2. Please, not another Anglican society. If Reform, FCA, or whoever can't do whatever needs to be done, then why should a new grouping be any different? Or is this an attempt to outnumber the number of societies on the liberal wing? (

    David Keen, Yeovil.

  3. John,
    I am a bit confused. If, as in your previous post,you believe "headship, in other words, applies only to the husband-wife relationship, not to the minister-congregation relationship" then why are you arguing for Resolution C?
    I am not trying to make a theological point one way or the other - just confused about what you are saying here.
    Best wishes

  4. David (Keen), the thing is that a 'society' of this kind is an instrument considered by the Revision Committee as a possible way of providing a framework for episcopal oversight.

    I am given to understand that there was therefore some good advice behind taking this approach. It is not just a case of adding yet another grouping.

    However, taking up your point, I would suggest consideration be given to the idea that if the society approach succeeds, then Reform should abolish itself.

  5. I'm probably missing something here but since the PCC who is the body who should pass the resolutions, the fact that they haven't is probably indicative of a divergence between the priorities of the vicar and his (presumably) PCC?

    Can't see what yet another body is going to achieve other than fragmentation.

  6. David (Baker), the question is about the reason behind, and application of, the Pauline injunctions which might affect the ministry of women in the Church.

    As the history of the English Reformation shows, the title 'head' was contentious. Cranmer held, and Henry's Act of Supremacy affirmed, that any indpendent king was 'head' of the Church.

    But neither Cranmer nor Henry, as far as I am aware, applied that title to ministers of congregations or even to bishops. And of course with the accession of Elizabeth I it was replaced by the less contentious 'Supreme Governor'.

    In Scripture, 'Headship' language is, as I have observed, used only of Christ with relation to the Church and husbands with relation to wives.

    However, this does therefore denote something about the latter relationship, and (I would argue) it is this which determines the limitations we might accept on gender roles in the congregation.

    Donald Robinson handled this very well, in my view.

    The net result is a theology of the household which needs to be reflected in our ecclesiology, and in the gathered congregation (which will include the households).

    And it is important that, in an organization like the Church of England, this theology is embodied in its ministry, up to and including episcopal ministry.

    This is much more complicated than people often imagine - and certainly more complicated than just making it a matter of 'male headship'. But such is life.

  7. Pam, as you say, it is the PCC who have to pass the resolutions, but PCCs generally take their cue from incumbents, especially in such matters. And the point is that Reform incumbents have had 17 years to get their PCCs up to speed on this, and have generally done nothing.

    As to the forming of another body, as I said to David Keen, this is really a necessary legality as it is only through such an 'instrument' that the kind of arrangements already considered could be offered.

  8. John, I think the idea that PCCs generally take their cue from incumbents might be a little optimistic. Not all of us are in evangelical churches, or have been here 17 years. I raised the subject on all three of my PCCs, and it was clear that they would be unwilling to pass A&B, let alone C.

    Stephen Walton, Marbury

  9. Stephen, my point was not so much that PCCs will do what they were told, but that they would be unlikely to raise the issue unless the incumbent does. In your case, you did the right thing. It might have been easier if others in a stronger position had themselves done this, and had been able to demonstrate the good outcome.

    I have spoken to the PCCs to such churches, where this could have been done, and yet they have not taken action. It is now all but too late.

  10. Paul Plymouth

    As someone who led a PCC to pass A and B 18 months ago, encountering much resistance from those outisde of our own church membership, C was not able to be included due to the nature of our benefice set up, ie. not my decision to make as not incumbent.

    However I would have welcomed passing C and would also agree that having exploring the situation in a number of CE churches in my diocese it was frankly pathetic how few had ever done anything about the resolutions. I think the 'never come to me' CE mentality had left it off, coupled with the incumbents not wanting the fall out from the congregations.

    Having already heard the St Augustine was coming I just hope I can find some nice letters to put after my name like Anglos do, what about SSA?

    Blessings on your work
    Paul Plymouth

  11. "The first was that petitioning parishes would have to accept an Anglo-Catholic bishop, which was simply not true."

    I understand the business about women bishops, since, from a certain point of view, that is impossible. But the idea that an evangelical church should not ever be asked to have an anglo-catholic bishop just underlines why I wonder whether something called a "church" is even possible any more. Everybody has to have a church that is precisely in agreement with them, or they'll find (or, if needs be, start) another one. The faithfulness that has seen the church through dark times in the past (the Avignon papacy, say, or the Borgia popes) isn't even held up as a good thing. How about just disliking your bishop, as christians have done for millenia?

  12. Seems to me that many of the bishops during the evangelical revival in the eighteenth century were deists, weren't they?