Preventing the crash

Stuart Seaton made his first visit to General Synod and was more encouraged than he had expected to be

 

It was the first occasion I had ever attended General Synod, and I was happily surprised by what I heard. It was pleasing – moving even – to hear the number of speakers, like the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Willesdon, arguing against a single clause measure. They clearly see that such an approach will hardly give us space to remain within the Church of England. Yet I disagreed with them if they were saying since a single clause will not do, TEA should be adopted.

The problem with this conclusion is that just as a single clause with a code of conduct will fail to go far enough to provide the necessary space for traditionalists, neither will TEA (at least as it stands) provide the necessary space. Even the Guildford Report admits as much, ‘The group believes that the pastoral arrangements envisaged in this report do go a long way to creating the necessary space’ (para.112). Even if the statement were true, even if all we need are pastoral arrangements, this is still an admission that TEA will not do.

Guildford admits it

Supposing all the members of the C parishes were taking a trip to New York on Canterbury Airlines. Supposing Dr Williams, the managing director of the airline waved us off saying ‘Now don’t you worry about a thing, Bishop Hill and I have personally checked that there is the necessary fuel on board to go a long way to New York.’ How confident would you feel? How confident would he feel when after the inevitable crash into the sea, his remarks were repeated at the inquest?

It does not make any difference whether the plane crashes on take-off (single clause) or falls out of the sky just 100 miles short of the destination (TEA). If the plane can only go ‘a long way’ towards what’s needed, we are all dead. Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly: If the surgeon stopped the life-saving operation having ‘gone a long way’ towards saving the patient’s life, the patient would now be dead. If the student only ‘goes a long way’ towards getting the marks necessary to pass, he fails. So no one should be in any doubt: TEA fails. We know it, and anybody who reads Guildford knows it. For in saying TEA ‘goes a long way towards creating the necessary space,’ Guildford admits it fails.

So aside from those who spoke with kindness and generosity of our position, what about the hostile fire? I was surprised to find myself in a strong measure of agreement with people like the Archdeacons of Lewisham and Northampton. They argued that TEA – as it stands – is practically and ecclesiologically unworkable.

Single clause defeated

As it happened all the amendments favouring a single clause were defeated – Synod clearly feels unable to dogmatize on women’s ordination to the extent that traditionalists would be excommunicated (in fact, if not in theory). Therefore, if these archdiaconal interventions in favour of ecclesiological coherence were made with any honesty (as they plainly were) they now count in favour of pushing TEA towards the kind of ecclesiological clarity for which FiF has always campaigned.

Amidst all these positives, the most disappointing thing from the debate was that our position is still clearly misunderstood, even by many of those sympathetic to our predicament. We do not primarily need pastoral ‘safeguards’ because we do not trust liberal bishops (be they male or female). We need a solution which is theologically, ecclesiologically and sacramentally coherent – the very things for which those archdeacons were arguing.

The task now is to reconcile the archdiaconal wish for coherence with the desire of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Willesdon for adequate space for traditionalists. The good news is that if TEA ‘goes along way towards creating [that] necessary space’ then there is now only a little way still to go. And if the speakers I heard follow the logic of their positions, it would appear that everyone is already committed (one way or another) to reaching that goal.

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