Keep calmly faithful

The letter from the 14 bishops to the 1400 clergy contains wise advice lay people may wish to hear, of which this is the central extract:

It is now clear that the majority in this General Synod, and probably in the Church of England at large, believes it is right to admit women to the episcopate. If that is so, it is vital for the most catholic of reasons that there must be no qualifications or restrictions to their ministry. That means however that proper ecclesial provision must be made for those who cannot accept this innovation.

A code of practice in any form cannot deliver such ecclesial provision, and we want the Manchester Group and the House of Bishops to be in no doubt about the seriousness of the situation. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that the General Synod vote was merely an instruction to the Legislative Drafting Group, and it is by no means clear that the House of Laity would support legislation whose inevitable consequence would be the exclusion of substantial numbers of faithful Anglicans from the Church of England.

The patterns of voting in the General Synod, not least on the amendment proposed by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (seeking to keep open the option of 'statutory transfer of specified responsibilities'), may also give the House of Bishops pause for thought, and everyone should remember that the House of Bishops has determined that it wishes to remain 'in the driving seat' in this process.

We shall be encouraging the House of Bishops to recognise that proper ecclesial provision would enable the Church of England both to honour the wish of the majority for women to be admitted to the episcopate and also create a space in which the theological convictions of others are respected in fact as well as in words. In this way both groups would have the opportunity to flourish in as high a degree of fellowship as possible while the 'open process of reception' continues.

This is a complex situation and we acknowledge that people and groups will react differently Different decisions should be respected and supported, including that of those who have come to believe that fidelity to the faith we have received means that they can no longer remain within the communion of the Church of England. As bishops, however, we want to say that this is not a necessary conclusion. We are being encouraged by friends in the other historic churches to continue to struggle for the catholic identity of the Church of England. The legislative and synodical process will be long and we have time to reflect and pray before any final decisions are taken.

Many matters will become clearer during the next few months - critical moments will be the House of Bishops meetings in October and December and the General Synod in February 2009. We are not saying, 'We are bishops, trust us', but we are assuring you that we are doing what we can to ensure that the Church of England at the very least honours the solemn assurances of an honoured and permanent place given by undertakings it made in the early 1990s. We are also determined to remain faithful to the ARCIC vision of full visible unity which has been an Anglican commitment for forty years and is the context in which we have consistently understood our Anglican ecclesiology

At the same time as we are feeling bewilderment and disappointment, others in the Church of England are rejoicing. However hard it is, it is essential that we behave with grace and charity towards everyone. We are faced with apparently irreconcilable differences in matters of faith and order, and it is important to try to conduct all conversations and debates in a spirit of generosity even when church-dividing issues are at stake.

The signatories were the Bishops of Chichester, Blackburn, Gibraltar, Fulham, Ebbsfleet, Plymouth, Burnley, Beverley, Whitby, Richborough, Pontefract, Horsham, Edmonton, and the assistant bishop of Newcastle.

The full text can be found at <www.forwardinfaith. com/artman/publish/article_460.shtml>[

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