GRAS and the Free Province

Is GRAS (the campaigning group for rescinding the 1993 Act of Synod) opposed to a Free Province for those opposed to women in the priesthood and the episcopate? Instinct predicts that they must be and will be. But logically it is hard to see why.

The objections to the status quo on women’s ordination (of which the Act is a contributory but by no means determinative part) are reasonable and straightforward. They are for the most part shared equally by the opponents of women priests. It is clearly intolerable (and in the long run unsustainable) that Canon A4 should be in permanent suspension and that members of the Church of England should be allowed to deny the orders and refuse the ministry of those whom their Church has legally and properly ordained. This is not a ‘period of reception’; it is a sacramental anarchy.

But it is not clear how any Anglican (even more one who favours the ordination of women) could marshal those same arguments against a free province. Modern Anglican ecclesiology, after all, asserts that orders must be mutually acceptable and interchangeable within such an autonomous province, but need not be so between provinces. That is how the women priests and bishops got where they are.

By willing and generous participation in the creation of a free and independent province, GRAS could, at a single stroke, achieve its dearest aims and aspirations. Not only would the Act of Synod be redundant, but the schedules of the 1993 Measure could be repealed and the Sex Discrimination Act could freely operate throughout the Church of England in enforcement of the new orthodoxy.

Of course the price of this outbreak of harmony would be the existence of another province in the British Isles which did not ordain women, did not accept their orders and where the writ of the Sex Discrimination Act did not run.

But GRAS could hardly complain at that. They already accept the right to existence of similar independent provinces which share identical positions and opinions. Unless GRAS were willing to adopt the Gilbertian notion that sacramental theology ought necessarily to be decided by postcode, it is hard to see what objection could be raised.


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