There are no prizes for guessing the ultimate outcome of the February Synod. Whatever the proposals of the Manchester Group - and for a number of reasons they may well be hotly contested - it is in everyone's interests that the ordination of women bishops now moves to the legislative and revision stages.
Manchester will, in all probability, issue with a mighty piece of work. Both proponents and opponents of the new ministry may well be surprised at how much can be packed into a Code of Practice and into its accompanying canonical revisions. The faint hearted among the opponents may well be tempted to conclude that it would be a sufficient provision. The proponents, whatever it is, will want to whittle it down to the barest minimum. Speeches in the Synod will no doubt rehearse in miniature all the submissions which will subsequently be made at the revision stage of the legislation.
This much is certain. We need not hold our breath nor sit poised on the edge of our seats. But other things are equally obvious, and should be acknowledged before any spurious debate begins.
The first is that, whatever proposals or concessions are made, if they are not enshrined in primary legislation they will not be acceptable to the principled majority of those opposed. A Code of Practice will not do.
The second is that proposals which change in any significant way the nature of the episcopate will be unacceptable to both parties. Women want to be real bishops and Catholics want to receive the ministry of real bishops. Hybrids by whatever name will be rejected by both.
The third is that inadequate provision for opponents will result, for the Church of England as a whole, in the worst of all possible worlds: a world in which the sexists and misogynists will be enabled to remain in office with impunity, while the theologically principled will be driven out.
The fourth is that failure to come up with legislation which both secures the consecration of women and provides for the Catholic minority will result in a degree of civil disobedience in the Church unparalleled in modern times.
The truth is that, seriously though this magazine and the majority if its readers take it, women bishops is no longer the main issue. Human sexuality, on which the House of Bishops is even more divided, is waiting in the wings. Failure to resolve the problem of women bishops will be a clear signal to the (largely evangelical) constituency which is primarily concerned about the other.
The Synod needs to take account of the fact that to loose one group might be thought to be a misfortune; to loose both would be rank folly. It would at one fell swoop remove from the Church of England all those who have a real commitment to evangelism or a Gospel with which to evangelize.
An 'inclusive' Church of England which could not include either real Catholics nor convinced Evangelicals would be a Church which would rapidly lose everybody, to the detriment of the entire nation.
We welcome the new Anglican Province of North America, and we pray for its bishops and all those who seek to hold firm to the faith received. As Fr Tanghe explains overleaf, these are very early days in its new life, and it is too soon to make a judgement about its viability. It is surely right that Forward in Faith North America takes a full part in the new venture.
But what of the longer term future? Can it truly become a Province and develop the structures that will guarantee its coherence, and above all the assurance of its Orders? Will it be possible to be truly a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Anglican tradition in North America? That is our prayer.
For all the constitutional canons and institutional rules, the Church is a gift. It is part of the gracious provision of the Gospel. The Good News is not merely proclaimed, its promise is contained within the vessel of the Church, so that we, mere sinful mortals, may learn its truth, feed on its sacraments and be sustained by its living presence.
This is why Bishops, Priests and Deacons are part of the Good News, not because they have any merit in themselves, but because they are a key element of the gracious provision. It will take more than hard work and good intentions to turn a common partnership into an assured and coherent part of the Church.
We must pray for godly men to be Christ's shepherds here on earth, but as the liberals point out, salvation is for all, men and women; it is Mother Church as a whole that is the guarantor of the dominical sacraments, not merely her male bishops. The full coherence of the new province is no second order goal.
The reconstruction of Anglicanism in North America is no easy task, but if it can, by humility and faithfulness, restore Christ's gracious provision to his Episcopalian sheep, it will be prove a true work of mission.
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