In 1977, at the conclusion of the second National Evangelical Anglican Congress, resolution J6 of the Nottingham Statement declared,
We repent of our failure to give women their rightful place as partners in mission with men. Leadership in the Church should be plural and mixed, ultimate responsibility normally singular and male.
At the time, that represented the majority position of Anglican evangelicals. They recognized that women had not been allowed a proper role in the church in the past — but then neither had the laity in general. These were still the days of the clergy ‘one man band’.
They were also prepared to involve women in local church leadership at every level.
But they reserved ‘ultimate responsibility’ to the male. And although it was not spelt out in the Nottingham Statement, this was undoubtedly because of a general mood amongst Anglican evangelicals at the time that the New Testament in general, and the Apostle Paul in particular, taught that point of view.
Well, of course, things have changed a lot since then. In 1992, the General Synod of the Church of England approved the ordination of women as priests. And although working out the details has proved difficult, there is no doubt that women bishops will soon follow.
Yet there are still evangelical Anglicans today who hold to the position of the majority in 1977. And — officially at least — they are recognized as having an ‘honoured’ position in the Church of England. So provision has been made for them and will probably be made in the future.
The irony is, however, that very few evangelical churches have made us of this provision, which not only creates occasional problems locally, but weakens their argument for continuing provision in the future.
Resolutions A and B
The legislation to introduce women priests took the form of a Measure — a legal document drawn up by General Synod but approved by Parliament. This provided that in any given parish, the Parochial Church Council could pass one or both of two Resolutions.
Resolution A provided that, “this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the minister who presides at or celebrates the Holy Communion or pronounces the Absolution in the Parish.” Resolution B stated, “this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the incumbent or priest-in-charge of the benefice or as a team vicar for the benefice.”
From an evangelical viewpoint, it was Resolution B that more specifically preserved the position of Resolution J6. A leadership team could include women, but the incumbent, priest in charge or team vicar would be male.
Resolution A was more relevant to the Anglo-Catholic position, where it would be unacceptable for a woman to celebrate Holy Communion. Nevertheless, from a ‘political’ point of view, it proved wise to pass both resolutions in any given parish rather than just one, regardless of one’s views about the administration of the Lord’s Supper.
However, the 1993 legislation including an extra provision, presented as an Act of Synod. This did not have the legal force of a Measure, but it laid down the ground rules by which the Church of England has largely operated since then.
The 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod allowed a PCC to petition the diocesan bishop for episcopal duties to be carried out by a bishop opposed to the ordination of women — a petition which popularly became known as ‘Resolution C’.
The Act originally envisaged three possible forms of provision. The first would be a local, diocesan, arrangement. This still prevails in the Diocese of London, where the Bishop of Fulham carries out these functions. The second was a regional arrangement, where several dioceses would nominate someone together. The third was the appointment of Provincial Episcopal Visitors, or so-called ‘flying bishops’, as ‘suffragans’ of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
And in fact it is this scheme of flying bishops which has proved the most popular and enduring. But this has also caused problems for evangelicals.
Anglo-Catholicism and the PEVs
From the outset the Provincial Episcopal Visitors have been exclusively Anglo-Catholics, generally of the ‘highest’ sort in terms of churchmanship. (Indeed it is significant that three of the bishops appointed under the Act of Synod subsequently joined the Anglican Ordinariate, set up by the Pope as a way of entering into communion with Rome.)
One argument for this arrangement has been that almost all the Resolution C parishes are Anglo-Catholic. But — not surprisingly — one of the arguments heard amongst evangelicals against passing ‘Resolution C’ is that it would mean accepting an Anglo-Catholic bishop, and indeed this is generally what has been offered when this has happened.
Why Be C?
Yet despite this limitation, there is still a strong case to be made for evangelical parishes who remain in the tradition of the 1977 Nottingham Statement to pass not only Resolutions B and A, but also ‘Resolution C’.
A priest, or presbyter, in Anglican theology, receives his lawful authority to minister from the bishop (see Article XXIII). Ths is not the same as his ministry being an extension of that of the bishop (as is often mistakenly claimed by bishops). The Chief Shepherd of the shepherds is Christ (1 Pet 5:4). Nevertheless, the one in lawful authority over the presbyter is the bishop.
For this reason, the bishop is also the one who determines the membership of the body of presbyters under his lawful administration. He decides who should belong to that group, has the authority to call them together and can address them as a body who all relate to him as well as to one another.
However, when it comes to the ordination of women, whilst our disagreements can be charitable, those who hold to the position of the Nottingham Statement would disagree with admitting women as incumbents, team vicars and priests-in-charge and therefore would (and do) find themselves sometimes in awkward company (and, to be fair, vice-versa).
Nevertheless, in its wisdom the Church of England has provided a ministry from bishops who do not ordain women for those whose PCCs will pass the necessary Resolutions. This means that whilst, as members of the wider Church of England, the clergy of those parishes must be prepared to rub along with those with whom they disagree, they can be ministered to, and can occasionally gather with, those who share their convictions about the membership of the ministry.
Other things being equal, therefore, it would surely make sense for clergy to avail themselves of this provision, to gather under a bishop whose understanding of ministry they share and to gather with clergy whom they regard as properly occupying the leadership roles they exercise.
Indeed, if there were evangelical ‘flying bishops’ available, my suspicion is that traditionalist evangelical churches would have flocked to do this — which the cynical may suggest is exactly why they have not been provided. But still it remains the case that if you don’t ask you don’t get, and traditionalist evangelicals have not asked! On the contrary, they have treated the role of the bishop as almost an irrelevance, which may be one reason why no bishop of their persuasion has been appointed since 1997 — and he retired in 2012!
A Plea for C
Personally I have been advocating for years that parishes which designate themselves as Conservative Evangelical ought to pass Resolution C. This is not a ‘protest’ against their existing bishop. This is not a rejection of him and his ministry. It is an act consistent with what we claim to be our theology of ministry and with the way in which the Anglican church puts that theology into practice.
There are other reasons as well as those I have outlined above. A ‘C’ parish is in a stronger position when there is a vacancy or interregnum. I am afraid it is not unknown for bishops to use such occasions to push parishes in a more ‘central’ direction. The patrons legal rights of presentation are suspended, the parish representatives lose their veto, merger with a less conservative parish is proposed and a ‘suitable’ candidate is sought. Often the PCC finds itself ill-informed or lacking in resolve. But where it is a ‘C’ parish, the ‘C’ bishop steps in and provides support and a counter-balance to the bishop’s power.
We must also think about the future. Conservative Evangelicals have been pushing hard for ‘proper provision’ when legislation introduces women bishops. But if they won’t make use of the present provision why should anyone take them seriously? And what makes them think they will be able to persuade their PCCs to act some time in the future when they are not willing, or perhaps able, to persuade them to act now?
Yes, there are problems with the Resolution C provision, but they are partly of our making. And above all ‘C’ in this case stands for ‘consistency’.
Contrary to what many people assume, however, there is still time, and therefore reason, to act. A parish needs only a few weeks to complete the legal processes necessary to pass the Resolutions. If enough evangelical parishes did it now, it would send a clear message to those framing the new legislation (which will not come in before the middle of 2015) and it would create a united front amongst traditionalist evangelicals.
By contrast, the longer this is left, the more likely it is that the future will be full of unpleasantness and conflict. Let us act charitably, let us act lawfully, but let us act now.
Why be ‘C’? Because we need to be consistent, determined and effective.
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