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Monday, 2 August 2010

Letter from 15 bishops to those with concerns about women in the episcopate

Back in July 2008, some 1300 clergy wrote to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to express their concerns about the the consecration of women as bishops. They said that in light of a lack of provision for those who cannot accept this development "We will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue to minister as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home". The text of that 2008 letter is here.

Now two years later proposed legislation to permit women bishops has been forwarded from General Synod to the dioceses for consideration. In a letter dated 27 July 2010, 15 bishops, including our Diocesan Bishop Geoffrey, have written to those clergy who signed the 2008 letter.

The bishops have stated that they want the letter shared with all who may be interested to know of it, which I imagine will be many in our diocese. I post the text of the letter below. Just press the read more link.

To the priests and deacons who signed the Open Letter

July 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
‘God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I will tell you the good and proper way.’ (1 Samuel 12:23)

These are grave times in the Church of England especially for those of us unable in good conscience to accept that any particular church has the authority to admit women to the episcopate. While we certainly accept the good faith of those who wish to make this change believing it to be God’s will, we cannot rejoice with them, not least because of the disastrous cost to Catholic unity.

Our concerns are not only about sacramental assurance though that is of profound importance. If the legislation now proposed passes, it will not provide room for our tradition to grow and flourish. We will be dependent on a Code of Practice yet to be written, and sadly our experience of the last almost twenty years must make us wonder whether even such an inadequate provision will be honoured in the long term.

Neither the Report of the Revision Committee nor the legislation itself shows a proper understanding of our reservations, however carefully these have been presented through the consultation process and in the College and House of bishops. It remains a deep disappointment to us that the Church at large did not engage with the excellent Rochester Report and paid scant attention to the Consecrated Women report sponsored by Forward in Faith.

We must now accept that a majority of members of the Church of England believe it right to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops, and that a significant percentage of those in authority will not encourage or embrace with enthusiasm the traditional integrity or vocations within it. Nor is it their intention or desire to create a structure which genuinely allows the possibility of a flourishing mission beyond this generation.

However, the closeness of the vote on the Archbishops’ amendment for co ordinate jurisdiction, concerns though there are about its adequacy, suggest at least a measure of disquiet in the majority about proceeding without a provision acceptable to traditionalists. The Catholic group fought valiantly on the floor of synod and we are grateful for that, and while many in the Church and press are speaking as if the legislation is now passed, final Synodical approval is still some way off.

Whatever happens in the Synod, there are some Anglo Catholics, including in our own number, who are already looking at, indeed are resolved to join the Ordinariate as the place where they can find a home in which to live and proclaim their Christian faith, in communion with the Holy Father, yet retaining something of the blessings they have known and experienced in the Anglican tradition. Of course the Ordinariate is a new thing, and not all of us are trailblazers or can imagine what it might be like. Some will undoubtedly want to wait and see how that initiative develops before making a decision.

Yet others will make their individual submission and find their future as Roman Catholics.

Were the present proposals not to be substantially amended or defeated, many more of us will need to consider seriously these options.

A number will remain, perhaps even reluctantly because of personal circumstances, family loyalties, even financial necessity, but with a deep sense of unease about the long term future, an unease that is surely well founded. There are faithful Catholic clergy and lay people, though deeply opposed to the likely Synodical decision who cannot currently imagine themselves being anywhere else but within the Church of England. They wonder how they can stay, yet cannot imagine leaving their much loved church and parish. They do not want to be forced out of the Church they love and will persevere where they are, whatever the theological or ecclesiological ambiguities, and seek God’s blessing on all they do.

Those who are not actively seeking a home elsewhere must work to defeat the currently proposed legislation. It is essential that traditionalists engage in the debate and discussion in their diocese and are active in the election process for the next quinquennium of the General Synod when the two thirds majority in each House will be required if the legislation is to pass. Whatever our individual futures, and however disheartened we might feel, the Church of England needs strong catholic hearts and voices.

The text quoted at the beginning of this letter was the one used by John Keble in his famous Assize sermon, often regarded as the starting point of the Oxford Movement. It seems remarkably apposite, and gives a clue to an appropriate attitude of heart for this process: prayerful and gracious, but clear.

We are all bishops united in our belief that the Church of England is mistaken in its actions. However, we must be honest and say we are not united as to how we should respond to these developments.

Nevertheless we are clear that each of the possibilities we have outlined has its own integrity and is to be honoured. We are resolved to respect the decisions made by laity, bishops, priests and deacons of our integrity, and call on you to do the same. It would be a sad and destructive thing indeed if we allowed our unhappiness and wondering to drift into unguarded or uncharitable criticism of those who in good conscience take a different path from our own. We must assume the best motives in one another, and where there are partings let them be with tears and the best wishes of Godspeed.

You will we hope know of the clergy meetings in both provinces to take place in late September when there will be opportunities for discussion and an exchange of views about the future. Be assured of our prayers as you reflect about how best to respond to the challenges which face us, and we ask your prayers for us too as we seek to be faithful to the Lord, and to the Faith once delivered.

Please share the contents of this letter with your people, and indeed with any who might be interested to know of it.

The Rt Revd John Hind, Bishop of Chichester
The Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Europe
The Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn
The Rt Revd Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough
The Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley
The Rt Revd John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham
The Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Edmonton
The Rt Revd John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley
The Rt Revd Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
The Rt Revd Tony Robinson , Bishop of Pontefract
The Rt Revd John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth
The Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham
The Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Whitby
The Rt Revd Robert Ladds
The Rt Revd Lindsay Urwin OGS
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  1. Interesting letter, and certainly food for debate. Would it be possible to receive the resolutions and reports that are referred to in the letter so that the parishes can have an informed debate? Perhaps they could be posted on the Eurobishop's blog.

  2. Can I be alone in being surprised and disappointed that this post has attracted no comments from any of the priests in the diocese Bishop Geoffrey is under canonical obedinece to serve? Are we really so fearful?

    I for one wish to react. There is much I might say, but I shall confine myself to the following.

    I am a Catholic Anglican, and have been all my life. I am weary of the protestations of those who would likewise claim the label. Many of us remain firmly committed to the apostolicity and catholicity of the Church of England, but are no less firm in our support for the ordination of women, and no amount of snide comments behind our backs about us not being 'real' Catholics will undermine our identity. It is a sad truth that the group that is behaving in the most protestant way - and has been for years - is the group who claim to be 'traditionalists' - another misappropriated term.

    Secondly, our bishop must ask himself how he can with integrity serve us when he has so clearly declared a position that raises fundamental questions about his commitment to us. I am deeply offended that he should append his signature to a pastoral letter to a clerical faction before he might think about addressing the clergy of his own diocese.

    I have no qualms about stating this. If others are fearful, what does it say about our diocese? If anyone remains fearful but wishes to discuss this, please feel free to email me:

  3. "The faith once delivered"? In the "Ordinariate? Who do you think you are kidding dear Sirs? We, with our women, are completely part of the One Holy Catholic Church whether the Roman papacy can cope with women or not. I am surprised that men, avowed to the Church, would append signatures to such an extremist position, not to mention their questionable application of a text from Holy Scripture. Canon Ian Sherwood

  4. It puzzles me that so many in our church are so enthusiastic about the prospect of women bishops.

    What of the thought that, affirming our women priests, we do better to remain without women bishops so as to remain closer to Rome and the Eastern Orthodox? In consecrating female bishops, we go much further in burning our bridges with them than by simply ordaining female priests. Without such bridges, the churches of Rome and of the East will be in even more diminished fellowship with ourselves than is now the case; and we will have less opportunity to share in ministry, and in our separate understandings of womens' ministry. The prospect of female bishops in the (universal) Church Catholic becomes further removed by our overstepping the boundaries of propriety, and isolating ourselves too profoundly, when we ordain them too soon - before these other churches have understood the same message as we about God's will for women priests.

    I would think that even staunch supporters of the notion of women bishops in the church Catholic would see this logic, and affirm that for ourselves, the time for women bishops has not yet come; as we wish also to share with our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters with the hope that they may also, some day, enjoy fully ordained womens' ministry.

    I fear that we frequently come across as picturing all those who do not yet embrace fully ordained womens' ministry as bigots and offenders of civil rights. With the current animosity toward Anglo-Catholics (i.e., those with some basic respect for Rome), Catholics, and others who do not agree with womens' ordination - as well as the many misunderstandings regarding such persons, and of the issue of womens' ordination (confusing it as a civil right, and evoking the business / managerial world metaphor of the "glass ceiling"), have we not all the more reason to refrain from ordaining female bishops for the time being, as counter-cultural and liberally minded persons insisting on justice and proper understanding for all? Otherwise, we risk affirming the consecrations of women for the wrong reasons, and without truly understanding bishops, and women bishops. And we will look upon our women bishops more as evidence of civil rights progress rather than as those upon whom the duties of the apostolate have been bestowed.

    James Coder, layperson

  5. Regarding opposition to this letter -

    I find it quite ridiculous that anyone would claim a "Catholic identity" (it seems to me an oxymoron in itself, as Catholicism should not be a part of "identity politics") and wish for the Anglo-Catholics to be removed from our church. We Anglicans, however, are prone to the ridiculous and the traitorous - as we have such a weak notion of fidelity.

    We should be trying to convince Anglo-Catholics with reason and with the faithful ministry of our women in ministry, rather than forcing them out of the Church and denying them new ordinations, as we have been doing. They are still in the church, and this means something; and we have the tendency to sling mud upon them, ignore their words, and paint them with nasty motives which they clearly don't have.

    With WATCH quoting Spong, I wonder about the sanity and education level of our whole Church. If we haven't convinced the Anglo-Catholics yet, perhaps it's because, in general, we Anglicans are a rather backward, bigoted and theologically uninformed lot who mostly create our "identity" by spitting on Catholics and people of other churches? Perhaps if we brought our general education level up to a fraction of that of our Catholic or Baptist bretheren we would be able to achieve our goals without tearing ourselves apart?

    So I am quite happy that Bishop Rowell signed it.

  6. While I understand very well the anxities of thse who oppose women to be bishps I cannot be silent of making few comments.

    There _are_ already churches with women bishops, which are part of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; some of wich the CofE is in full communion. Ie some Churches of Porvoo Communion finds it difficult that Church of England has "difficulties" with women in episcopate. And these Churches are in good terms with the RC - if this is a worry.
    But it is troubling that in this letter these bishops have stated that some of them have already decided to go. Are we not to be loyal to decisions made in the Church?

  7. Seems like an election campaign!

    Unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, is what I fervently pray for and even voiced this wish to Cardinal Kasper in Rome. That last agonising prayer in Gethsemane "with sweat as drops of blood" "that they all may be ONE" is seared into my heart. Yet we lacerate that Body with ever more division, sometimes "breathing hate" like Saul before his conversion. To my simple mind, Traditionalists were those who refused to accept Jesus´ Message of the need for change in their way of thinking, plotted to destroy Him, to guard their laws and dogmas. The Spirit/Heart of the Law takes precedence above the Letter of the Law; and it is Compassion, Forgiveness and Love that will bring peace. There must be a willingness for ALL to bend for genuine meeting. Reason, intellectual discourse, will not bring change. Any words left unsaid after 30 years´ dialogue? Do these Anglo-Catholics really believe that they can sway the Magisterium to grant their wishes as they are used to with Canterbury? I believe however that change will come, suddenly, without warning!

    It is difficult to understand that the Theotokos, Our Holy Mother, venerated as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix, was born a woman yet women cannot be ordained or consecrated and must remain forever excluded from earthly altars!

    Perhaps the dialogue should be kept open since only 5 votes carried this particular section in the General Synod debates? But if with all good will, discussions and negotiations prove futile,then those whose conscience (compromised by family or other restraints) dictates that their path lies in a move to Rome, then to Rome they should go. If the Church is built on sure Foundations, She will survive!

    I continue to pray for strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit for our Archbishops Rowan and John.

    Hyacinth (Vienna)
    Written on the Feast of the Assumption

  8. What if we need women in the episcopate, but God's answer, as we so often hear in sermons on prayer, is: "yes, but not yet"? Let us look at how we have comported ourselves since the advent of womens' ordination. How about the state of faith amongst our women clergy? In 2002, only 53% of female clergy polled believed in the resurrection. In some way, we are failing in our care for women clergy. Some dynamic is present which makes it difficult for them to believe in the resurrection, and other essential matters of faith. I would rather wish of any woman that she were confident in her faith, and serving in a lay capacity, than ordained and impoverished in faith. What of our laywomen in dedicated, active ministry? I have heard complaints, that since womens' ordination, they have more difficulty in being heard. I believe we are * all * implicated in a petty careerism amongst both sexes, and a general lack of faith amongst our women clergy (and also our male clergy, but to a lesser extent - I had hoped, upon introduction of womens' ordination, that this would build our faith, based on the women I knew in lay ministry). If consecrating women is a gift, is it not more than likely that this is a gift which is not for our time, at the moment? Would it not be better to study why we are bringing up our women in ministry with such a diminished faith? Are we not blindly making civil rights arguments and forgetting other essential aspects of faith? Would we not do better to begin consecrating women once we have figured out better how to treat our women priests in a manner which fosters faith rather than inhibiting it, and which also helps laywomens' ministry rather than curbing it? Is it possible that something is missing in our general theology, and our methods of training in faith?

    I write as one who has been helped by laywomens' ministry much more than the ministry of any ordained person, male or female.

    Note also: those clergy with a different notion of ordination from ourselves have a much more robust faith in the resurrection than the rest of us - Reform clergy post at 93%, Forward in Faith at 83%. Women And The Church (WATCH), Affirming Catholics, Modern Church People's Union, and Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement all post beneath 37% (36%, 35%, 25%, and 12% respectively). Should we not see those who we wish to expel as having a vital and vibrant faith, which hopefully could help the rest of our church learn to turn to our Risen Christ in faith and worship? Might they not have vital life resources which we need to better understand, though we disagree with them about ordination? Could it be that sticking together a while longer will be better off for us?

    Finally: would not our women be better off with these people of faith in our midst, rather than away from us?

    I have no doubt that the clergy associated with WATCH, Affirming Catholicism, MPCU, and LGCM are vigilant in their promotion of civil rights, which I believe is a natural consequence of our faith in the gospel. But I would hope that they would wish for themselves that it is possible to be liberally minded, and yet believe in a Risen Christ. My own hope is that the Anglican Communion will, one day, be a bright beacon of people who are liberally minded, yet also people of faith in Christ; and show a way for exercising the gifts of the mind which God gave all of us, to those churches that are in need of our example. But we are very far from this goal indeed. We are, instead, largely civil rights activists whose impoverished notion of "Christ" is little more than our political commitments. In an era when other churches are coming together in profound ecumenical understanding, we have let our own theological divisions so undermine our unity that we tend neglect the most simple basics of theology which are at the base of all Trinitarian churches.

  9. ...while the world looks on and decides we are all mad....