LIVING IN INTERESTING TIMES
Bishop Edwin Barnes
THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND has done something very unusual. I do not refer to the ordination of women to the priesthood, but to the way it has said that it is incompetent to make a judgement. Although it has chosen, by a majority, to ordain women as priests, it has also said that there is a proper place within the church for those who do not accept this decision, and that there must be a opportunity for the whole church to come to a common mind on this matter.1 Curiously, in this it has concurred with the Bishop of Rome, who has also insisted that in the matter of the ordination of women, he is not able to settle the matter, and has suggested that the only proper court to resolve such a thing is a Council of the whole church - and in this regard the Holy Father is not, apparently, presuming a General Council such as Vatican II, but something much more primitive, involving the Eastern as well as the Western church. So both the Church of England and the Roman Communion have decided that the question of the ordination of women is not at present settled, and whereas the Church of England has nevertheless seen fit to proceed despite its doubts, it has only done so by making space for those who cannot accept this procedure.
In short, what the Church of England has done is provisional, a matter of opinion, and reversible.
To say this is capable of causing some consternation. Earlier this year in a radio interview I said something on these lines, and was subjected to enormous press interest, as though this were something novel. In fact, it is no different from views expressed in the debate on the Act of Synod, most effectively by the then Archbishop of York, John Habgood.2 Though himself a supporter of women's ordination, he insisted that if we were in a genuine period of reception then what had been done must be capable of being undone. Indeed, he did not care for the term reception, since to English ears it had about it a notion of inevitability. He preferred the term discernment and he supposed this period of discernment must go on for a very long time, since it would only be concluded with a general concurrence of all the churches, Eastern and Western.
This being the situation, the question for us who call ourselves traditionalists is, What are we to do now?
[Incidentally, the very term traditionalist is resented by many. There are bishops who are warm supporters of women's ordination who still believe they are traditionalists. I have suggested that if this does not suit them, we might be ready to accept the name recalcitrants. These liberals (if they will forgive the term) do not like me to be so harsh; so I speak in a non-committal way of the constituency. Perhaps there should be a prize for the best designation. The PEV tendency sounds a little too like some sort of floor-covering (waterproof and tough? I should not mind that). I did think at one time the simplest solution might be to designate ourselves just The Church of England but for some reason even that does not seem to commend itself to the innovators (if they will forgive this term too). Since we are among friends, perhaps us will have to do ... I assume all of you here today are one of us?]
Forgive the digression - where was I? Oh yes, asking what our practical action should be.
Were we in Canada, we might come to a quite different conclusion. There, at any rate in Nova Scotia where I visited last year, the pressure is such that it might not be possible to hang on. Would-be candidates for ordination in the Canadian Church in that diocese are required not merely to sign a document saying they assent to women as priests; they are required to receive communion (if such it be) from women priests, and not once but several times. Only that, it seems, will satisfy the authorities of their bona fides. That would strain membership of the Anglican Church to breaking point for many of us, though some should find a Jesuitical escape clause, insisting that enforced oaths were not binding, and that even reception of a dubious
sacrament, if forced, could not harm the soul - in other words, some of us would play the game for the greater good of those who still need priests. But that is not, thank heaven, our situation in England at present.
So those of us who disapprove of the ordination of women to the priesthood are still capable of staying within the church of our baptism at present. At all events, while Bonds of Peace3 and the Act of Synod remain in force, many of us feel able to stay. What we need to ensure though, is threefold.
First, there has to be proper space for us. The Act of Synod supposed that this space would be created in a number of ways. First, it was assumed that most dioceses would have within them at least one Bishop who would minister to the traditionalists. If that were not the case, then there might be provision of a bishop acting across diocesan boundaries for a regions. As a last resort, there would be one of three Provincial Episcopal Visitors, appointed by the Archbishops and responsible to him It has to be said that so far, these noble ideals have not been fulfilled. There are still a few dioceses whose diocesan bishops were appointed a very long while ago, and who hold to the tradition.
That is the case, for instance, in Chichester, Sodor and Man, Newcastle and a few others. Then, very unusually, there are two diocesan bishops recently appointed from the tradition; they are the Archbishop of York (translated from London) and the Bishop of London (formerly Stepney). Next, there are dioceses where there is a suffragan from the tradition. But in no case have these been appointed by a liberal. Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, of Basingstoke, is a legacy from the time when Colin James was the traditionalist Bishop of Winchester. There is also a suffragan of Horsham, appointed by the Bishop of Chichester. Where, though, are there appointments of traditionalist suffragans made by liberal diocesans? There is not one. That is very worrying; for the recent practice is that Diocesan Bishops have generally served an apprenticeship as a suffragan somewhere. Traditionalist diocesans have all, without exception, appointed at least one suffragan prepared to ordain women. David Hope had his Willesden, Eric Kemp his Lewes. There has as yet been no reciprocal appointment by a liberal diocesan. Oxford, with its three suffragans, is unanimous throughout its hierarchy on the ordination of women, and this is repeated with every other liberal diocesan. So though we are staying, we are watching anxiously to see if the Bishops deliver what they promised in Bonds of Peace. Then they foresaw a traditionalist in every deanery;4 yet curiously they are making no provision for care within the diocesan staff.
If dioceses did not appoint their own suffragan from our integrity, then they might make local arrangements across boundaries. That has happened in London, where the Bishop of Fulham has oversight of some parishes in Southwark and Rochester. This is a unique arrangement, though, and has not commended itself to other dioceses. For most, the last resort of the Act of Synod has become the norm.
The Provincial Episcopal Visitors were meant to be the pluggers of gaps. Because of the failure of diocesan bishops to deliver on the appointment of traditionalist suffragans, the flying bishops (and I have to confess I like that term despite, or perhaps because, it seems to irritate other bishops) have a far larger workload than the Act of Synod foresaw. The Bishop of Beverley operates throughout the greater part of the Northern Province, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet in the west side of the Canterbury Province, and I take the eastern side of England from the Humber to the Channel. In this way, provision is meant to be made to care for those of our constituency, individual priests and lay people as well as parishes which have actually managed to raise a two-thirds majority in their PCC. It has to be said that three PEVs are not enough; the traditionalist evangelicals have special cause for complaint, but when a place like Plymouth has a dozen or so PEV parishes, yet the diocesan chooses to appoint yet
another consenting suffragan to that city, small wonder that some of our people become cynical about the genuineness of the Bishops in what they asserted in their Bonds of Peace.
So, we have space. Rather a cramped space, but space. What about a future? Many at the time of the Vote wanted to know if there was to be a future for their children and grandchildren in the church of their baptism. The question is, will there be parishes, and parish priests, to care for those of the tradition? I believe the jury is still out on this. The Act of Synod specifically referred to ordinands, and tried to ensure there would be no discrimination against candidates from our part of the church. I believe the Advisory Board of Ministry (ABM) has, for the most part, tried to honour this. Most bishops, too, have nominated men and women to be selectors from our constituency. What needs watching is the Directors of Ordinands (DDOs), for these clerics have the power of life and death over would-be ordination candidates. When women were thought to be disadvantaged, care was taken to appoint assistant DDOs in dioceses to look after their needs. The reverse has not happened. There are very few dioceses which have appointed assistant directors of ordinands to care for, encourage and nurture vocations from our part of the church. What is more, the colleges and courses to which candidates are sent seem often blissfully unaware that there is any need to make provision for our people. I hope to publish the results of a letter which I sent to Principals this year. It makes dismal reading to discover just how ignorant so many seem to be about the Act of Synod, and the fact that our people are meant to have an honoured place in the church, in selection and training as well as once they are ordained.
This brings me to the third question, whether there is indeed an honoured place at every level in the church's life.5 I have already spoken of concerns about appointments of suffragan bishops. In these, diocesan bishops have absolute authority, yet appear not to have honoured the spirit of the Act of Synod which they invented. With other appointments, to Deaneries and Provost-ships, Regius chairs of Theology and a number of other posts) it is the Crown (or the Prime Minister and his appointments secretary) who is in the driving seat. Here, as with the making of suffragans and archdeacons by diocesan bishops, there is no evidence at all of the open-handedness and generosity of spirit found in the Act of Synod. If our people become disillusioned, and press for some sort of independence from the liberal establishment, it is that establishment which will have itself to blame.
So, again, I would say that at present, while we have the breathing space, we stay. Not just to enter into a decline and allow ourselves to fade away, however. Our forefathers in the Oxford Movement, from a far weaker basis than ours, managed to convert the Church of England.
That should be our goal. In the end, we shall not be judged on whether or not we succeeded in this, but in whether we were faithful. I believe there are four principal areas where we have a task to do.
1) We are to convert our brethren. Newman and many of the Tractarians came from evangelical roots. There are many, evangelicals and liberals too, who have become disillusioned at the simplistic or worldly gospel they are preaching. The fullness of the catholic faith is the only thing which responds to the worlds deepest needs, and we must continue to preach it, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear. Prayer for the dead, the sacramental life, the release offered through the confessional, these are not commonly understood; but they are all needed by the world, not least by our fellow Anglicans. It is for young clergy to influence their peers in Post Ordination Training, for catholic congregations to use every opportunity to influence their neighbours in Deaneries and Dioceses. We should have a great zeal for the gospel.
2) We should support the weak. In many dioceses, more especially the scattered rural ones, catholic Anglicans are few and far between,
brow-beaten by bishops and others in authority. The PEVs have a special responsibility to them, of course, but all of us must pray for and support and encourage them, whether by turning up at diocesan rallies of Forward in Faith, or offering hospitality when others want to come to our Chrism Mass. One of the great gains of recent years has been the readiness of our people to forget the old shibboleths (They use the English Missal, we use the Roman Missal, we have nothing in common) and support our brothers and sisters.
3) We should be models of faithfulness; the parish where worship is prayerful and holy, where the laity live sacrificial lives, where the priests say the offices daily, visit their people, focus themselves on the holy sacrifice of the Mass, where they and their people care for the poor and the afflicted. These become beacons of hope when deaneries and dioceses have become distorted through thinking solely of parish share and management models of ministry.
4) We should be building up the fellowship, using every opportunity, whether through Walsingham pilgrimages, Chrism masses, regional rallies, celebrations such as those at Aylesford or St. Paul's (or, later this year, Rochester Cathedral). Membership of organisations may not come easily to us; there are things about SSC, FinF, CU, FCP6 which we might wish were different. We would wish that one or other were more flexible, or more dogmatic. But we have a responsibility to support one another, and these frail earthen vessels may be the best things to hand at present to enable us to do this.
We live in difficult times, and it is not yet apparent what will be the way forward for us in the long term. We have stumbled on something very like what our Roman brethren call personal prelatures, and this new system might make new approaches to Unity feasible at some future date. For that to happen, the prelacy must be seen to be coherent and authentic. Ours is not the only church which is going through trying times; and at least we are trying, hard though it is, to live with our diversity, and not to unchurch one another. There are other Christians who find that an enviable position to be in.7 But, dear friends, all things work together for good for them that love God. Love him, and all the rest will be well.
1 Bonds of Peace para 3: We now enter a process in which it is desirable that both those in favour and those opposed should be recognised as holding legitimate positions while the whole Church comes to a common mind. This is then further explained as the discernment of truth within the wider fellowship of the Christian Church.
2 Proceedings of the General Synod, November 1993.
3 Bonds of Peace was the document, agreed by the House of Bishops, which prepared the way for the Act of Synod. That Act was passed with the unanimous support of every member of the House of Bishops and the overwhelming approval of all other members of the General Synod in November 1993 .
4 Para 15 ff will be helpful if deaneries make plans which will allow those with different opinions to be accommodated in other parishes.
5 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod para 1: There will be no discrimination against candidates . . . for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.
6 The Society of the Holy Cross, Forward in Faith, the Church Union, the Federation of Catholic Priests
7 See, for instance, Mary Dunn in the Tablet 27 vii 96 on The Church's Shadow Side: The current climate of division shows how urgently we are
called to do things collaboratively. Part of that call, maybe, is to have the spiritual maturity to stay with shadow issues rather than avoiding them, denying them, or resorting to name-calling.
Edwin Barnes is Bishop of Richborough. This is the resume of a paper delivered to the Fourth John Keble Conference organized by the Cost of Conscience which took place at Pusey House, Oxford.
For details of the forthcoming series of John Keble Conferences please send a stamped addressed envelope to The Secretary, CoC, 79, Maze Hill, London
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