Under an unprecedented threat of ‘inhibition’ , Edwin Barnes explained the implications of the Eames Report in Scotland

ONCE UPON A TIME – and I hardly need remind you of this in Scotland – once upon a time the Church in these lands was thought of as the national expression of the universal church. Yet F.L. Cross states quite baldly that “At the Revolution in 1690 the Church of Scotland became Presbyterian once more and has remained so ever since”. He adds that ‘from those who adhered to Episcopacy at the Revolution arose the Episcopal Church in Scotland’ – so there is an Anglican presuming to say that your church was a new creation of the late seventeenth century. The same sort of attitude dates the creation of the Church of England to the 1530s, or possibly to the excommunication of Elizabeth I. Most members of the Church of England do not accept this version of our history, just as you surely see yourselves as heirs of Ninian and Columba. Yet 1690 was a turning point. Until then it was possible to speak of the Church in our island as the local expression of the universal church, and after that date we began to think in terms of an “Anglican Communion” – a communion that grew with the consecration of Seabury in the USA [1 784], thanks to Scotland, and which has continued to grow, largely in the former British Empire.

Now with the growth of this so-called Anglican Communion has come the problem of definitions; what makes an Anglican? The Lambeth Conference defined an Anglican as one who was in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. and this was endorsed in the third Report of the Eames Commission1. But this raises the question what is the Lambeth Conference, and what the Eames. Commission, and, what authority do they have? And these questions themselves depend on another, more basic: What is the Anglican Communion? Is it possible to leave it? Is it possible to join it? And who gives the authoritative answers to such questions? In all parts of the Church, authority is being questioned, whether by radical RC nuns on a Papal visit to the USA, or Scandinavian Lutherans seeking ordination in the Church of England. These questions of authority and identity are what I hope we can address together today.

It might help by beginning with a historical question. What would Queen Elizabeth I have made of a definition of her church which spoke of “Being in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury” ? Or, since she was not your monarch, how would James VI and I taken such a definition? Elizabeth, you may remember, told an Archbishop “Little man, I made you, and I can unmake you”. The Stuart kings would have understood that perfectly. Kings might be crowned by Archbishops, but Archbishops held their authority from the monarch. The Church was by law established, and its nature was governed by law – the law of the land.

So at very least we can say that a definition of the Anglican Communion which refers to the Archbishop of Canterbury must be a recent invention. As the Anglican Communion spread along with the pink areas on the map of the world, there was a sense of needing some central authority. Initially, the intention was to create a central body to which matters of doctrine might be referred, and this proposal came from the Canadian church in 1865, in the wake of the Colenso controversy. Eventually a conference met in 1867, called by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Longley, and attended by 76 bishops. From this meeting came an “Address to the Faithful”, and subsequent meetings of the Lambeth Conference have also made their own appeals and addresses – but always with the proviso that whatever has been said is advisory, not mandatory. So it is contended that the resolutions of these Conferences, though not binding, are “significant expressions of the opinions of the Anglican episcopate”.2

On many matters, therefore, the Communion has the opinions of the episcopate worldwide. More recently, simply leaving things to the Bishops has been perceived as inadequate, and there has developed an Anglican Consultative Council [ACC]. This was authorised by the `68 Lambeth Conference, and first met at Limuru. Ten years later, Lambeth approved the setting up of regular meetings by the Primates of the various Anglican Provinces, and their first meeting was in `79.

All these bodies, however distinguished, are simply consultative and advisory. So the Anglican Communion is no nearer than it was a century ago to any central authority.

All the time the various Provinces were content to say with Archbishop Fisher, “The Church of England has no Doctrine of its own, but only the doctrine of the universal church”, this presented no problem; or rather, only the sort of problem raised by the Colenso case. Colenso was Bishop of Natal, and in a Commentary on Romans in 1861 he denied eternal punishment, and rejected much traditional sacramental theology. He was declared deposed by his Metropolitan, Archbishop Robert Gray of Cape Town, and he appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which declared in Colenso’s favour. The resultant schism was not resolved until fifty years later. The case is especially relevant in the Church of England, where individuals can still appeal beyond ecclesiastical authority to the Crown in Parliament. Nor is this a dead letter, since Parliament took an active interest in the details of the Measure for Ordaining Women, and the Act of Synod, because the rights of citizens appeared to be threatened. In the rest of the Anglican Communion, however, the Primate, and often the diocesan Bishop, becomes the final authority.

When matters of faith or morals are in question, then the best the Anglican Communion can do is to refer these matters to the Lambeth Conference, to the Anglican Consultative Council, or to the Primates’ Meeting. Concerning the ordination of women, all these steps were taken. The document which brings together the considered views of these separate bodies is the published Official Reports of the Eames Commission3 , and it is this which I propose to consider now.

The initiative for the Eames Commission was originally the 1988 Lambeth Conference. They asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek counsel and advice as the Churches of the Anglican Communion began exploring the opening of the episcopate to women.

A first report of the Commission was delivered after two meetings, in Nov 88 and March 89. Under the Chairmanship of the Archbishop of Armagh, Robert Eames, there met the Archbishops of Nigeria and of Perth, Australia: the Bishop of Bethlehem and Dr. Julia Gatta, both from the USA; the Bishop of London (David Hope), and Dr. James Reed of Canada. At a later meeting (Dec 93) there were four special advisors, Bishop Penelope Jamieson of Dunedin, NZ; the Dean of Cape Town, the Bishop of Nova Scotia, and the Bishop of Aipo Rongo in Papua, New Guinea. The meeting of Primates in 1989 endorsed all but one of the recommendations of the Commission, and in October that year the third meeting of the Commission was held. This took into account responses from several Provinces, made certain clarifications, and made recommendations about further study.

There was a fourth meeting in 1990. The final meeting in 1993 had to take into account more recent developments in the Anglican Communion, and in the Ecumenical context, and issue pastoral guidelines. It was called by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a direct response to the request of the joint meeting of the Primates and of the ACC, and the brief specifically referred to the ordination of women to the priesthood as well as to the episcopate. At every stage of its work, therefore, the Commission has been international, has met in response to the initiative of either the Lambeth Conference or of the joint meetings of the Primates and the ACC, and has at their request been set up directly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and reported to him. Thus although there is no enforced central authority in the Anglican Communion, `Eames’ has the widest possible moral and pastoral authority for Anglicans worldwide.

The Primates and ACC in all this were concerned to sustain the unity of the Anglican Communion, and to maintain (as their joint meeting put it) “the highest level of communion within the Anglican Communion”. This goal was in the context of reaffirming “the continuing, place in the Anglican Communion both of those who oppose and those who accept the ordination of women”.

Now this is something very unusual, indeed perhaps unique in Christian experience, for a Church or group of Churches to make a major change to practice concerning ordination, and not to enforce that change on all its members. So for example the toleration of married priests by the Roman Catholic church when these priests have come, already married, from another church, is simply an exception proving a rule, not a breach in the rule itself. A similar permission was given in the reign of Mary Tudor to priests who had married in her predecessors’ time. Despite all these permissions, the rule remains clerical celibacy. Equally, when the Methodist Church ordained women to the ministry there was no permission given for any Methodist not to accept this ministry. For Anglicans though, throughout the communion, the Primates and ACC have constantly affirmed the continuing place of those who oppose women’s ordination.

A good deal of the Report is devoted to discussion of this matter, and to proposals for ways in which such tolerance might actually operate. Before considering this, though we need discover why it is that the Anglican Communion tries to make space for both those who oppose and those who accept women’s ordination. A cynic might say that this was a typical example of Anglicans being in two minds about any matter; but the Reports stoutly defend the principle involved.

First, they insist that ‘Unity in diversity’ is a virtue4. lndeed, they continue by saying that “when differences of principle and practice result in tension, debate, and pain, such a spirit will create a profound unity and communion beyond that which the world knows”. In the first Report, koinonia or communion is the constant watchword, and it is distinguished from any simple concept of being “in communion” or “out of communion.” with any other Christian.

It is not only because of a desire to preserve koinonia at all costs that the Report underwrites two opposite opinions. It is because of the provisionality of any decisions by any part of the Church that no Synod or Council may be taken to have spoken the last word on a matter. Here the Report introduces two terms which we shall need to return to, “discernment’ and “reception”5.

In the process of reception, synods have an authoritative place, and synodical decisions must be respected as a considered judgement of that particular representative gathering. Then, however (quoting XXI of the 39 Articles) it reminds us that “it has always been recognised that councils not only may, but have, erred…decisions would still have to be received and owned by the whole people of God as consonant with the faith of the Church throughout the ages professed and lived today”. That or something very like it must have been in the mind of Archbishop John Habgood of York when he introduced the Church of England’s Act of Synod in November 1993. There he underlined discernment as the proper term for the eventual reception or non-reception of a synodical decision, and put this action in the context of the entire Christian world, not just the Anglican Communion and still less the Church of England alone.

So ‘Eames’ says that “in the continuing and dynamic process of reception, freedom and space must be available until a consensus of opinion one way or the other has been achieved”. Quoting Lambeth 1948 it adds “the weight of this consensus does not depend on mere numbers or on the extension of a belief at any one time, but on continuance through the ages, and the extent to which the consensus is genuinely free”6. At their Cyprus meeting in May 89 the Primates recognised that some “might have difficulty with the language of `provisionality’ in relation to decisions of Anglican Provinces in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. But they believe the Commission is right to point to the Wider ecumenical context … as indicative of the provisionality of all ministries and all decision-making structures in a divided Christendom”.

In brief, then, where Provinces have made decisions to ordain women as priests or bishops, those who disagree with such decisions are accepted as having a place within Anglicanism, and indeed in the process of discernment they must not simply be tolerated but must be given space to help the whole church come to a consensus which is genuinely free. The Report goes on to underline this last requirement.

“This last point about the consensus being genuinely free has clear implications for the reception process … where there still remains a body of dissent. Sensitively and clearly expressed dissent can be creative to the forming of the mind of the whole Church, as it seems critically to test and refine the truth; dissent should not be marginalised or excluded”7 The question then arises, and is not dealt with in the Report, who is to judge whether there remains a “body of dissent”. Lambeth `48 had said (above) that ‘Consensus’ does not depend on mere numbers yet the fifth meeting of `Eames’, reporting on experiences among the provinces, said: “The U.S., Canada and New Zealand have each been ordaining women to the priesthood for nearly 20 years. There is generally speaking a settled mind about the priestly ministry of women in each of these countries”. I have to say that a recent visit to many parts of the USA and to eastern Canada makes me very dubious indeed about such a bland summary – and I will gladly enlarge on that later if there is time and interest.9 Certainly there remain bodies of dissent in both countries, both within and now outside the episcopal churches of the USA and Canada. The Report does go on to admit though, that “it would seem as time passes, following the ordination of women, that where dissent continues it appears to harden. The threat to communion is apparent”10.

There being at very least minorities everywhere who remain opposed to the ordination of women, Provinces must deal with the consequences. Some will decide, despite a majority in favour, to wait. “Other Provinces will need to make practical provision for the pastoral consequences of a legislative decision … in favour of the ordination.. of women.11

The Lambeth Conference of 1988 is then quoted: “Practical pastoral arrangements will need to be made both at provincial and diocesan levels for those who are conscientiously unable to accept a decision made at the provincial level. (in this respect, we call attention to the provisions for “episcopal visitors’ adopted by the 1988 General Convention, of ECUSA)”

Again, the reason for this is not expediency, or an unwillingness to make hard decisions, but the uncertainty which is inherent in a Communion with dispersed authority when anything new is undertaken. The process of reception should not be foreclosed”12 because of the “freedom and space” needed for a “genuinely free” consensus: and this has special importance in the ecumenical context: “The lack of an agreement on this matter with some of our ecumenical partners should alert us to the provisionality of the decision-making process in Anglican Provinces and even in inter-Anglican organs of consultation”. In other words, Anglican Synods, meetings of ACC, of the Primates, or of Lambeth, cannot give a final definitive word.

Now the Eames Commission has set out quite clearly that there must be space for opponents of women’s ordination because the matter is not settled nor is it likely to be for many years to come [`continuance through the ages’ Lambeth `48 quoted above]. They have stressed the need for pastoral care for the minority, and how it must not be marginalised; and they have quoted with approval proposals for “episcopal visitors”.

In some responses, notably that from the Province of the Southern Cone13 there was doubt expressed about Episcopal Visitors, chiefly because these Visitors would not have sufficient authority – I have to confess some sympathy with this view – but they go on to deplore suggestions of “one-sided promotion of visits by women priests and bishops to provinces which do not ordain women,”.

The Commission took this up and made a `clarification’, saying, “We do not wish to encourage one-sided missions of persuasion … we want to give equal encouragement to those who oppose this development to share their convictions with those who support it. l 4

Now, it seems to me that we have, from the highest Anglican authorities, an appeal to all Anglican Provinces to act coherently over the ordination of women; some may go ahead, some delay, some never accept it; but all should make proper provision for minorities, and their pastoral care, not because they are simply to be tolerated but because they have important insights to contribute as the whole church seeks to discern the mind of God in this matter. Moreover, they suggest that the appropriate way forward is the provision of Episcopal Visitors where Provinces have ordained women and minorities remain opposed.

Let me paint for you a mythical scenario. Suppose there were a Province in which a majority was persuaded of the rightness of ordaining women; and was so sure of its position that it sought to marginalise or extinguish all opposition. I find it hard to envisage such a thing, but just suppose it for a moment. Then suppose that the Primates’ Meeting, the ACC, the Lambeth Conference, came to hear of this. Suppose indeed that the Archbishop of Canterbury were to hear of it. How could they respond to the needs of the minority? They could wash their hands of them and say, “They are not our responsibility”. But where is koinonia, real fellowship, in that? They could hide behind the doctrine of Diocesan or Provincial Autonomy: but that doctrine is wearing a little thin, indeed the Eames Commission’s final report buries it. In the report of the fourth meeting, Eames’ faces problems arising when a woman is a diocesan bishop.15

“Congregations and clergy who cannot accept the sacramental and teaching ministry of their woman diocesan bishop may .. continue to regard themselves as being in communion with the rest of the province … The province, particularly its House of Bishops, might then have the responsibility of providing episcopal ministry to such congregations and clergy, possibly under the jurisdiction of the Primate.”

So it is perfectly possible, despite the insistence of `Eames’ concerning the inviolability of dioceses, for other bishops to enter a diocese where there is a woman bishop and minister to some of her flock. If that is the case with a woman diocesan, surely it must be even more possible where a diocesan bishop, or the bishops of a province, fail to provide the pastoral care for the minority which `Eames’ requires?

Back to my hypothetical scenario. This Province, this hypothetical Province, ignores all that has been urged by the Eames Commission, endorsed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the ACC, even the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. Surely the Archbishop will not stand idly by? First he will plead with the Primate. Then he may send a deputation; but he will do it without drawing attention to it or making it difficult for the Primate to climb down and save face. If still the powers that be in that Province are adamant, surely an Archbishop of Canterbury will have to act on his own authority; after all, the definition of an Anglican is one who is in communion with the Archbishop. Either he will declare the Province contumacious, and so no longer part of the Anglican Communion, or he will send in some episcopal representative to provide pastoral and sacramental care for that Province. Of course, all this is very far fetched. Could anyone here envisage such a Province, choosing to ignore every authority within the Anglican Communion except itself? Were such a thing to happen, though, this would be one further development of the doctrine of the Church which has followed in the wake of the ordination of women. The only alternative I can imagine would be the creation of an extra-diocesan Province of Anglicanism, what some have called (in a very Church of England way) a third Province; what I prefer to think of as a free province. Besides those two options I see no other for the future of the Anglican Communion in these extreme conditions.

For the original questions abide: what defines the Anglican communion? How may one join it? And how leave it? There is another far-fetched scenario to put alongside my earlier one. Imagine a national church which declares some of its dioceses to be acting rebelliously because they refuse to ordain women. The Province excommunicates such dioceses. Do they then have the right to approach the Archbishop of Canterbury and seek his protection? Could they be in communion with him but not with other dioceses in their former Province? And if not, why not? And if so, what becomes of that Province? That situation is not far removed from recent developments in the United States. Some have already been driven into schism, into so-called “continuing” churches. What if those continuing churches also sought communion with the Archbishop? In an Anglican Communion which recognises the absolute right to continue as Anglicans of those who dissent from a majority view over women’s ordination, how could they be refused? But in this case, like it or not (and `Eames’ does not) there would be “parallel jurisdictions” in the one church.

These are complicated questions, permitting no simplistic answers. That is the problem, and the joy, of a church which has no centralised authority, and an ecclesiology which describes itself by reference only to communion with the See of Canterbury: effectively, with one man, the Archbishop’16. What if that one man were to behave heretically’? Would the Anglican Communion cease to exist? What checks are there upon the Archbishop of Canterbury? But these fantasies must stop, and I must make room for your responses, and questions, to try to take us further in understanding that great mystery, the Anglican Communion.

[The spirit of respect and courtesy is enjoined by Eames 17: if I have transgressed this in any degree I ask forgiveness, for my aim has been and is the furthering of unity within our loved and battered Communion Personal note by: +Edwin Richborough.]

Edwin Barnes, is Bishop of Richborough, Provincial Episcopal Visitor in the Province of Canterbury, and Suffragan to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This paper was delivered to members of Affirming Apostolic Order in Glasgow on Feb 1, 1997.


1.Eames page 89 IV 56, 57, 58 2 Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F L Cross 1958, article on “Lambeth Conferences’. 3 The Eames Commission. The Official Reports. Published for the Anglican Consultative Council by the Anglican Book Centre, Toronto, Canada 1994 (cited simply as “Eames”). 4. Eames p 13. I.11 5. 0p cit p23f III. 42-44 6. Eames p 24 III 43 7. Eames p 24 III.44 8. Op cit p 70 2 b.i 9. Nov/Dec 98 visits to dioceses of Texas, Fort Worth, Lexington, Washington, Philadelphia and Nova Scotia. 10. Op cit p 71 I 3 b.viii 11. Op cit p 25 III 45 12. Eames p 25 III.46 13. p cit p 49 III .21 14. Eames p 55 VI.35 15. 0p cit p 601 II 48.a 16. Eames p 41 V 86.a 17 p 13 I 12