Thursday, 24 March 2011

Deanery Synod - the Debate on the Women Bishops Measure

Below is the actual speech I used last night at our Deanery Synod debate on the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure. The vote at the end was by houses: clergy for 8, against 4, laity for 17, against 10.

I have been asked by the Rural Dean to speak tonight against the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure.
I would much rather be talking about church growth. However, I do believe this concerns the health of the church and I actually hope you will vote against the Measure.
There are three reasons why you might chose to do this. First, you think the move is theologically wrong in principle — which I do, but I recognize I belong to a Church where others take a different view.
Secondly, you are in favour of women bishops and think the Measure goes too far in making provision for those who cannot accept their ministry.
Thirdly, whether or not you personally are in favour of women priests and bishops, you do not think the current Measure goes far enough in the provisions it makes for those who would find this unacceptable.
It is the third point on which I want to focus.
The Official Position
The official position of the Church of England was expressed in a report by the House of Bishops back in 1993 and has been reiterated ever since:
“those who for a variety of reasons cannot conscientiously accept that women may be ordained as priests will continue to hold a legitimate and recognised place in the Church of England.” (‘Bonds of Peace’, Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: Pastoral Arrangements — Report by the House of Bishops [GS 1074], June 1993)
Since 1993, therefore, anyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England of England, or who got ordained, did so on that understanding.
And outwardly, the proposed Measure continues to endorse that view. Most of it is actually taken up with clauses setting out provisions for those conscientiously opposed.
Unfortunately, on closer examination we find that although the new Measure is operating on a biblical principle, it is the principle of Luke 19:26,
... as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.
In 1993, the Church of England made three provisions, two by statute and one by an Act of Synod, for those opposed to the ordination of women.
By statute, Resolution A allowed PCCs not to “accept a woman as the minister who presides at or celebrates the Holy Communion or pronounces the Absolution in the parish.”
Resolution B allowed them not to: “accept a woman as the incumbent or priest-in-charge of the benefice or as a team vicar for the benefice.”
The third provision, under the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, allowed parishes to petition for episcopal ministry to be provided by a bishop sympathetic to their position on women priests (4:1; 5:4).
What has happened since then, and what lessons does that have for us today?
The 1993 Act of Synod specifically declared that:
“There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.” (Section 1)
Actually, between 1993 and 2000, of the 31 diocesan bishops appointed, 27 ordained women and only two new bishops did not — both of whom were actually appointed before 1995 (The Perry Report, 2:28).
Since 1997, no Traditionalist Evangelical has been made a bishop in the Church of England.
Episcopal Provision
Under the new Measure, the Act of Synod will be abolished. In its place, diocesan bishops will draw up a scheme in consultation with their diocesan synods, having regard to a Code of Practice yet to be published, to be interpreted and operated at their discretion (2:1).
This scheme will be different for each diocese. Indeed, it can actually be different in the same diocese for different persons, groups of persons or parishes (5:2). It will have to be reviewed every five years — but it can be changed or revoked at any time and it must also be reviewed within 1 month of the arrival of a new diocesan bishop (2:6; 2:7).
Parishes may request that they receive oversight under the scheme and the bishop shall consider that request, but it is for the bishop to decide what arrangements will in the words of the Measure, “give effect to the Letter of Request” (3:8).
The most that will be given is an existing male bishop in that or a neighbouring diocese — not necessarily one who agrees with the petitioning PCC — who will take some services and provide some pastoral care (2:1a, b).
And the PCC resolution is only effective for five years, after which the whole process has to be done again.
Resolutions under the existing Measure
Meanwhile, Resolution A under the existing Measure will disappear and Resolution B will be watered down.
Parishes will be able to send a ‘Letter of Request’ “that only a male priest shall be appointed as the incumbent of or priest in charge for the benefice” — though there is no longer any mention of Team Vicars (3:3; 3:6).
However, this will only be possible in an interregnum or where a priest in charge has left or is about to leave — and in the latter case, the priest in charge will not be able to attend the meeting (nor will the spouse of civil partner of the priest in charge, 3:7).
The PCC must make the decision in isolation under the pressure of beginning a vacancy and seeking a new incumbent — and we all know how difficult a time that can be, especially if you have just had a visit from the bishop or archdeacon to remind you how few replacement clergy there are to go round these days.
What, though, of parishes that have already passed Resolution A or B? The Schedule to the Measure provides that these Resolutions remain in place, but only for three years or until the incumbent or priest in charge leaves — whichever happens sooner.
However, in the meantime if another parish in the same Benefice wishes to do so, it can pass a resolution actually rescinding the Resolution A or B passed by the first PCC (Schedule 1:2).
So one PCC could actually force another to accept a woman as the minister who presides at or celebrates the Holy Communion or pronounces the Absolution in the parish, despite this being against the express wishes of the relevant PCC.
Incidentally, I have no idea what is supposed to happen if, under the proposed Measure, one PCC in a multi-parish benefice either does or does not want a male-only list of prospective new clergy. That was covered in an earlier ‘illustrative draft Code of Practice’, but there is nothing about it in the Measure.
Vanishing provision
I hope you can see why traditionalists are worried. And I hope you will actually agree that the provisions proposed in the Measure are entirely inadequate and that you will vote against the Measure. But there is something else you can do.
The Church of England Evangelical Council, with the support of Forward in Faith, is sponsoring a Following Motion, which is an instrument which allows amendments to the Measure when it goes back to General Synod. This following motion,
“calls upon the House of Bishops to bring forward amendments to the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure to ensure that those unable on theological grounds to accept the ministry of women bishops are able to receive oversight from a bishop with authority (i.e. ordinary jurisdiction) conferred by the Measure rather than by delegation from a Diocesan Bishop.”
The precedent
The sticking point is the phrase ‘ordinary jurisdiction’, which may seem to be allowing too much. However, this is effectively what the Act of Synod allowed in 1993 for those in favour of women’s ordination.
Clause 2 of the 1993 Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure could have allowed bishops effectively to make their dioceses ‘no go areas’ for women priests.
Under the Act of Synod, however, provided the bishop did not object, women could be ordained, licensed and instituted in his diocese by the Archbishop or by another bishop acting on his behalf.
What traditionalists are now requesting is basically this same provision today, with the difference that it will be granted through the Measure itself.
I close with words from Lady Saltoun of Abernethy in the House of Lords debate on the Measure and the Act of Synod in 1993:
“I myself asked the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury whether it was envisaged that the Act of Synod would operate in perpetuity or whether it would be in the nature of a temporary measure which would cease to operate at some future date. He replied that it was the intention that it should be permanent and that they were not thinking of rescinding it or anything like that. Then he added the caveat, ‘with the goodwill of the House of Bishops’. He went on to say that of course anything could happen in the future.”
I hope you will agree that what is now happening is quite wrong, that you will vote against the Measure and that where possible you will support the CEEC Following Motion.
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  1. John,
    You didn't say what the vote was for - was it the original motion, or was it for the following motion?
    In our deanery debate, I had the distinct impression that minds had already been made up - it wouldn't have mattered who had said what, the vote would have been the same.

  2. Richard - if that's the case in your deanery, the implications are grim indeed. Just think: that means that if someone previously thought the provisions are adequate, and was determined to be deaf as an adder to any number of protestations that they're not, that's tantamount to saying that that person couldn't care less if others are forced out by the measure as it stands.

    In other words, Anglican unity and comprehensiveness are already dead.


    Dan Baynes
    Barton Seagrave

  3. The vote was for the original motion. We didn't take a 'before and after' so I don't know who persuaded whom, but I was surprised by the 4 clergy vote as I was only certain of 3 of them.

  4. Dan,
    My comments about minds being already made up reflect the lack of debate we have at deanery synods. This issue is the only thing that has been referred for a very long time, so debates don't happen any more.
    We never got as far as voting on the original motion, but we did vote on the following motion, and passed it by about 17 to 14, with a number of abstentions.