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 RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
14 October 2010
14 October 2010