Going forward

What provision should be made for those who cannot recognize women bishops? The Rt Rev. Christopher Hill, the Bishop of Guildford, bears the responsibility for discerning the possible answer, and here gives a personal view of the issues involved

 

One of the deepest ironies of the current debate about the ordination of women to the episcopate is that both sides – to speak somewhat simplistically – are broadly agreed that there is some ecclesiological nonsense around.

How can a church ordain women to the presbyterate but not to the episcopate; or how can some recognize the orders of women priests while others do not, and how can some recognize women bishops while others cannot, or indeed those ordained by them male or female?

Yet this ecclesiological nonsense is embedded at the heart of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993. Part I first makes it possible for the CofE to ordain women priests. It then promptly declares that nothing in the Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the episcopate. This is explicable in political terms but not in terms of the coherence of the three-fold ministry.

Prescinding for the moment on whether a bishop (male or female) could exercise their special ministry of unity if a significant section of a diocese did not recognize them as a bishop, there has never been a theological bar in terms of the capacity for ordination to the episcopate among those already in the presbyterate of the catholic church in the West.

In the East the requirement of membership of a monastic community before election to the episcopate could, I suppose, be cited. But the question of celibacy, vocation and orders is surely at another level than the one all parties are addressing in the question of the ordination of women to the episcopate. Part I of the 1993 Measure remains therefore to my mind an ecclesiological oddity – to say the least.

Part II then makes it theoretically possible for bishops, parishes and cathedrals to refuse to accept a woman in the ministry of the presidency of the Eucharist, the ministry of reconciliation or as an incumbent, priest-in-charge or team vicar unless there is already a woman priest in post in the parish or cathedral. The theoretical scope of this non-acceptance of ministry is large. What does this say about the meaning of ordination?

Nor have I ever been able to convince myself that this way of taking away by the left hand (Part II) what is given by the right (Part I) is compatible with the primary ecclesiological authority of Canon A4, primary because Section A of the Canons is entitled ‘The Church of England.’ Canon A4 says that the Ordinal ‘is not repugnant to the Word of God’ and those ordained according to it are ‘lawfully, made, ordained or consecrated, and ought to be accounted, both by themselves and others, to be truly bishops, priests or deacons.’

Two points are explicitly made here: they are not only legally ordained but are also ‘truly’ ordained. If they are legally and truly ordained it is extraordinary that the Church (in the 1993 Measure) legally enshrines non-acceptance of their ministry.

I have been and am a defender of the Act of Synod. No one pretends it is an ideal arrangement; it is a justifiable anomaly for pastoral reasons. My problem, frankly, has been with the inherent inconsistency of the 1993 Measure itself. If we have such incoherence in whether or not those duly ordained can exercise their ministry as priest in the primary legislation, the Act of Synod is simply a practical and consequential way of expressing this.

I repeat my beginning. Very many of those both against and in favour of women in the priesthood and episcopate would more or less agree with this analysis. Those whom the church ordains ought to be considered ordained, both sides would rightly say. In the controversy let us at least try to hang onto this paradoxical and ironic agreement for the sake of ecclesiology.

Perhaps the gradualist approach of the Church of England, (dictated in part by the real politik of our quasi-parliamentary procedures) deacons first, then priests and afterwards bishops has not helped. As Archimandrite Ephrem Lash pointed out at the Synod in York last July, if the Orthodox were to ordain women they would start with the episcopate. But we did not go that way and probably could never have done. This is a little like the Irish guide who allegedly tells the enquiring visitor he wouldn’t start from here.

So granted we are where we are, where do we go from here? There is a recognition expressed in Consecrated Women? and which was confirmed at the York Synod that the Church of England is intending to go forward to ordain women to the episcopate. To those who oppose this move I invite you to consider the ecclesiological incoherence expressed above in not doing so.

Ecclesiologically the CofE must either move forward or back. The present position can only be a temporarily bearable anomaly along the way because it is both acceptance and non-acceptance of the same priestly ministry.

If and when we move to the ordination of women to the episcopate what of those who are conscientiously opposed? I am receiving many letters from priests and people of this conviction who really do not believe that a Code of Practice alone will give them a continuing place in the Church of England.

Equally, many of those in favour have written to me urging that a Code of Practice is the most that should be provided lest we continue discrimination. The Guildford Group for the House of Bishops is looking at the options but has not yet reached its conclusions. I am not trailing them here.

But the question I believe the Church of England will need to ask itself is something like this. Granted we have taken the initial step towards ordaining women to the episcopate (in the amended York Resolution), how do we move forward in as inclusive a way as possible? What concessions are we prepared to make in matters non-essential to our faith? Compromise sounds political, and it is.

If you prefer we could use the Orthodox doctrine of ‘economy’, a technical term for good household management representing an administrative action to meet a temporary situation (for the Orthodox temporary can be a long time!) without ultimate prejudice to ecclesial principle or order. The idea was endorsed by the Lambeth Conference of 1930.

For me – I speak personally not as Chair of the Guildford Group – I have my doubts about an independent, autonomous or autocephalous church or province, though I am well aware many readers of New Directions want such. But I fear the fate of ‘continuing’ Anglican churches as I have seen them in the USA.

Hard as it is we need ‘permeable’ borders. At the same time I believe jurisdiction and the oath of canonical obedience is at the heart of this question. It is the technical touchstone of the recognition or non-recognition of bishops. This is the canonical, legal tip of the bigger iceberg. This is why I understand the argument of those who plead for a structural solution.

For the moment the Church needs to look hard at three options – a code, a structural solution, a province – and try to discern where clarity and charity come together. I know readers of New Directions will be praying for the House of Bishops as we ponder these things in the autumn – as will also those of other integrities. Please pray on.

 

The Manchester Statement

The House of Bishops of the Church if England issued a statement following its meeting in Manchester, 11-14 January 1993, which outlined its response to the passing of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure. The following are extracts from that statement:

We believe that the Anglican ethos and tradition, which has been developed under God through our experience and history, gives us particular resources for living through our present disagreements and uncertainties, and doing so together. This ethos, tradition and communion include commitment to biblical authority, Trinitarian worship, respect for traditional doctrinal formulations, agreement about the need for an ordered and ordering ministry, and the practice of mutual responsibility and fellowship of a particularly open kind. Although we have differing interpretations, views and practices we maintain a shared commitment to belong together and to serve God together.

It is this developed practice and experience which gives us the basis for facing the reality of living with our differing convictions and with the necessary difficulties of carrying out any particular arrangements which we work out together in order to stay together. It is no shame to agree both to differ and to live, sometimes fearfully, together in the service of God. Rather it is a way of responding to God’s leading into truth, in ways which ore not yet clearly perceived by any of us.

It is with these convictions that we remain determined that:

• the process for ordination should remain fair, open and welcoming to different shades of opinion on this question. And should not discriminate between candidates on the ground of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood;

• there should not be any such discrimination in preferment of priests to the episcopate or other senior positions in the church. We believe that the pastoral arrangements, which we go on to outline, can help to ensure the continued presence within posts of this nature of those with objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood, as well as of those who welcome the decision of the Synod.

In what follows we press our firm intention to maintain the ecclesial integrity of the Church, including the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, while acknowledging the need to accommodate a diversity of convictions, particularly in matters relating to the Church’s sacramental life. We are committed to maintaining the overall unity of the Church, including the unity of each diocese under the jurisdiction of the bishop. We believe that such unity is essential to the overall effectiveness of the Church’s mission to bring the Gospel of Christ to all people.

We intend to ensure that provision continues to be made by the diocesan bishop for the care and oversight of everyone in his diocese. We commit ourselves to uphold resolution 72 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference on episcopal responsibilities and diocesan boundaries. Our proposals also reflect the shared intention we stated at our meeting in June 1992 to seek:

• to remain in communion with one another as Bishops of one Church;

• to maintain the unity and integrity of the Church of England;

• to uphold lawful authority in the Church of England;

• to continue to provide episcopal oversight and pastoral care for all members of the Church

Those of us who have objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood acknowledge that once the General Synod has promulged Canon C4B and amended Canon No.13 it will be possible for women lawfully to be ordained as priests in the Church of England. Those of us who favour the ordination of women to the priesthood acknowledge that in spite of this, there remain those who have theological and/or ecc1esiologicaI objections to such a step. Whatever his view on the ordination of women to the priesthood, each bishop will continue to accept full responsibility for the episcopal oversight and pastoral care of all in his charge, whatever their view on this issue. Where necessary he will extend this care in appropriate ways.

In making such provision we do not and we cannot accept the theological reasoning behind the view that in some way those bishops and priests who participate in the ordination of women to the priesthood thereby invalidate their sacramental ministry. Further we envisage that any bishop appointed to assist us in making any extended sacramental provision will remain in full communion with all members of the House of Bishops irrespective of whether or not such members have ordained women priests.

 

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