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 Issues | General Synod | February 2006

General Synod

Women Bishops (Guildford Report)

The latest report on Women Bishops has come from a small group chaired by the Bishop of Guildford. Their particular brief was to look at the issues surrounding the shape of legislation should a decision be made to go ahead and consecrate women as Bishops. The report was published as GS1605 in order to be discussed at the February 2006 General Synod.

The Group set out to address four questions:

  1. What is needed for women to be fully accepted as deacons, priests and bishops?
  2. What do opponents need in order to remain in the Church of England?
  3. To what extent is it possible to meet both needs?
  4. Would the various possible options be acceptable as a feature of the church?

The report points out that 16% (1 in 6) of Diocesan clergy are now women although it does not mention that between 1992 and 2002 the number of men has fallen by 24% (1 in 4).

The Group considered three main options.


1) A single line measure with a code of practice.

This would be the simplest approach permitting women Bishops whilst giving some guidance on how opponents are to be treated. In reality there would be no effective provision for opponents. However, it would mean an end to the present mess whereby some do not recognize the validity of the orders of others. It would thereore restore a greater sense of unity to the Church, by driving out those who do not accept the new orthodoxy. There would quite possibly be a financial cost to bear, some £27million was paid out to those who left over the ordination of women priests. Many would also see a single line measure as the General Synod breaking promises given to Parliament in 1992.

2) Most opponents have been pushing for a Third or Free Province. The report (in an Appendix) explains that there are several models for how this might work but they do not accept it as the way forward. They point out that it would require a lot of different pieces of legislation and that there would be considerable costs in restructuring. Many are afraid that a new province will formalize schism and could lead to either a large continuing church or two Anglican denominations in England.

3) The Group therefore opt for a half-way house which they do a good job of explaining and defending. Their suggestion is something called Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA). This would be provided in legislation making it much more secure than just a code of practice. Parishes would be able to pass resolutions requiring the Archbishop of the Province (or a male Bishop so designated in the event that the Archbishop was a woman) to transfer certain Episcopal roles for that parish to a Provincial Regional Bishops. (PRB).

The big difference to the present system of Flying Bishops (Provincial Episcopal Visitors) is that the new Bishops would have genuine jurisdiction. They would not simply exercise pastoral care and teaching but would have a role in appointments, sponsoring for ordination, discipline and so on. However, unlike the Third Province arrangements a parish is not opting out of all the functions of the Diocese (synodical government for example) but simply that their episcopal oversight comes from elsewhere.

On the face of it this is quite a clever proposal being similar to the idea of Peculiars which have been pushed by Professor Gerald Bray in particular. The TEA is a genuine attempt to find a compromise, however, it is unlikely to satisfy many.

Those most eager to see full equality of opportunity for men and women the TEA will be seen as perpetuating a two-tier ministry. Men can go to TEA parishes, but not women. It is still likely that the orders of men ordained by a women will also be suspect in the eyes of some. These problems are raised in the report but they are not going to be overcome easily.

For those opposed to the ordination of women, whether from a classical evangelical, anglo-Catholic or traditional perspective the TEA concept will raise both short-term and long-term concerns. One particular problem, addressed in the report, is whether it means that a woman ought not to be Archbishop of Canterbury. The report says she should, but seems to indicate that it might be best if this didn’t happen too soon. Without a new province the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will still have jurisdiction and authority over churches under TEA and the Provincial Regional Bishops. This will create difficulties of headship for evangelicals and of sacramental fellowship for anglo-Catholics.

Another major problem with TEA is how much safeguard it really provides in the long-term. Legislation could assume that opposition to the innovation of women Priests will die out if we wait long enough. For opponents this is hard to comprehend. All around we see others, whether they be evangelical churches and denominations or the Roman Catholics or Orthodox, who reject the innovation and show no signs of going away. On the other hand many of those who have pushed most for change are very liberal and willing to embrace all manner of destructive teaching which, in many places, is destroying churches. Therefore opponents are looking for long-term provision and TEA does not look likely to deliver this. Whereas a new province will provide a structure able to give proper protection and decision making bodies the TEA proposals will make those opting for it more vulnerable in the future.

What is abundantly plain from this report, as others, is that attempts to push through this change are going to mess up the Church of England even further. This is inevitable. The plain teaching of Scripture is that men should lead congregations and this has been the almost universal practice of the Christian church through the ages.. It can only be expected that many will therefore refuse to accept the innovation. The obvious solution is to turn back from this change and to look afresh at how men and women can best minister today in ways that accord with God’s will revealed in Scripture.

 

David Phillips, February 2006

 

 

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