Speeches made in the General Synod before the passing of the Act.
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury moved the motion
`That the resolution of the General Synod approving the Porvoo Declaration be solemnly affirmed and proclaimed an act of Synod’
Fr Geoffrey Kirk (Southwark):
Your Grace I am sensible of your generosity in permitting me to speak, and if, in so doing I bring to this moment of celebration and affirmation a sombre note I hope that you and the Synod will bear with me.
For some years now I and others have worked closely with colleagues in the Free Synods of Norway and Sweden – the opposite numbers in those churches of Forward in Faith in our own. We have studied and prayed together and heard each other’s stories. And as we have done so we have found ourselves the more rooted and grounded in a catholic and apostolic faith which, though it is expressed in and through our respective traditions, overarches, fulfils and confirms them.
I need no persuading, then, that there exists a real communion and fellowship between our churches, a fellowship which history has established, the Holy Spirit has nurtured and which, to adapt the words of Sir Thomas Browne, ‘… required only the careful and charitable hands of these times to bring it to completion’. Despite the urgent warnings given by the Jesuit Edward Yarnold in tomorrow’s Tablet in an article entitled `Flawed route to unity’. I am grateful to the `charitable hands’ of those in the Council for Christian Unity who have brought us to this moment. But I cannot vote for this Act of Synod. Why?
Though there have been other occasions in this House when they have been used, the words Act of Synod cannot fail to bring to mind one particular Act, and the circumstances which required it.* That Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, as I understand it, was but one part of this Synod’s wrestling with the notions of justice and of conscience as they apply in a church and a world sadly divided. The very sentiments which, on Tuesday last, led the Synod to reject the notion that matters of doctrine should be decided by judicial process, persuaded it in 1993 to doubt even its own competence in a similar area.
By overwhelming majorities (majorities which the ordination of women to the priesthood had failed to achieve) the Synod then asserted `that discernment of the rightness or otherwise of the decision to ordain women to the priesthood should be as open a process as possible’ and that `the integrity of differing beliefs and positions concerning it should be mutually recognised and respected’.
The Act went on, as Your Grace reminded the House at question time on Monday, to declare that there should be `no discrimination against candidates for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood’. It then made provision, by three kinds of arrangements, for extended episcopal care.
These declarations and provisions are surely matters of principle, defending fundamental rights of conscience within the Church of England and inevitably extending to our relations with other churches. `It has always been recognised’, said the Eames Commission `that councils not only may, but have, erred. Conciliar 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’.
The Lambeth Conference of 1948 spoke of `a consensus of the whole people of God which 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’.
Your Grace, it is a cause of great sadness that the freedoms of conscience which the Act of Synod enshrined and the Lambeth Fathers claimed to be in every way necessary to the legitimate development of doctrine, are not available to many of our sisters and brothers in the Churches of Norway and Sweden. In Sweden the ordination of those opposed to women priests is now impossible and in Norway, in the diocese of Hamar, where the bishop is a woman, clergy and congregations have been denied any alternative episcopal care.
The late Bishop Jan Helstrom, whom I had the privilege of meeting not long before his tragic death in a motor car accident, was a lone voice among the Swedish bishops. Though a supporter of women’s ordination, he was prepared to ordain opponents – he was, you might say, an Act of Synod man – and indeed there remained at the time of his death young men to whom he had given such an undertaking. No other Swedish bishop shares his views and no one has come forward to ordain those men.
I have from Norway a letter which puts succinctly that church’s position on women bishops. It is from the Royal Norwegian Department of Ecclesiastical Affairs – though that perhaps sounds a strange title in this House – from the administrative manager to a parish priest in the diocese of Hamar. I read: `According to the order of our church a priest is subject to official supervision by the bishop in the diocese in which the person concerned serves. The bishop has a right and a duty to exercise the responsibility for supervision with regard to priests and parishioners and a priest and a parishioner has a right and a duty to accept the bishop’s supervision. The Bishop of Hamar has been appointed and consecrated in the same way and for the same responsibilities as any other bishop in the Church of Norway. There is no right for a priest to be able to serve in Hamar diocese if the person concerned is not found to be able to function in practical co-operation with her.’
I put it to the Synod that these are not merely local difficulties in far off countries of which we know little, but are matters of serious concern in churches with whom we now share a communion which is as unimpaired as the Church of England can presently manage.
My diocesan bishop, in the debate of November 11 1992, spoke movingly of justice. Unless I misread the mood of the Synod then, and have subsequently misinterpreted it, his intervention was a crucial one in swaying the few votes that were left to be swayed. `I feel’, Bishop Williamson said then – and I’m sorry I can’t do the voice – `that if there is injustice to he removed the only time to do it is now’.
He was right. Justice is eternal and urgent. It knows of no limitations of time and no geographical barriers. It is the same on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, both sides of the Irish Sea, both sides of the North Sea and both sides of the wide Atlantic.
In matters of fundamental justice and of the rights of conscience it is not chauvinism but necessity which obliges us to believe that what is good for the Church of England in these matters is good for her sister churches as well.
I cannot vote for this Act of Synod, Your Grace, because without further assurances from our ecumenical partners (which at the present time the Bishop of Grimsby has undertaken to pursue) it appears to me that to do so is to condone, perhaps even encourage, the inequitable treatment in those churches of minorities which in the Church of England have an honoured and respected place.
More than that. It seems to me, that to vote for the Act in present circumstances is to undermine the fundamental theological and ecclesiological principles which the other Act of Synod exists to underline: that developments of doctrine depend upon processes of reception and upon reaching a true consensus of the whole people of God which is not cribbed, cabined or confined, but open, unrestrained and genuinely free.
And yet I have to say that I cannot vote against this Act of Synod. To do so would be to deny the convergence in catholic truth and apostolic ministry to which it witnesses and which my every experience of the churches involved informs and confirms.
Principled abstention is not, as a colleague said to me yesterday, a position to which I naturally tend. And advocating it would certainly not have been my first choice for a maiden speech in this chamber, but abstain I believe I must, out of respect for those in the Churches of Norway and Sweden who share my convictions and who have become close colleagues and valued friends.
I commend that course, Your Grace, as a sign and a witness, to other members of this Synod who uphold the original integrity in our church. And I do so, I might say, in the happy and certain knowledge that we will not, in so doing, cause Her Majesty to cancel the Rolls for the celebration this evening.
The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe (the Right Revd John Hind):
Your Grace, I want to begin by echoing your own thanks to Geoffrey Kirk for the most gracious tone in which he expressed some deeply held convictions, and expressed some anxieties which are very widely held, not only in this House but also in the Church of England.
I want to start by saying that one of the most valued treasures of the ecumenical movement is its catholic orientation. This does not necessarily mean (although what a tragedy that one has to say this) that the goal of the movement is submission to the full, supreme and universal power of the Bishop of Rome. What it does mean is that in the Church there is an irresistible inner impulse towards unity, and very specifically visible unity. That belongs to the very nature and the heart and the dynamic and the grace of the Church as a body.
It follows that the ecumenical movement is one. There is only one ecumenical movement, and I think many of us will he grateful for the leader in The Times today which tried to knock very firmly on the head any suggestion at all that the Porvoo Declaration indicates a turning of the Church of England’s back on the wider goal of unity to which Your Grace has referred. Within~ this one ecumenical movement Rome itself, no less than any other communion, is a church seeking to be truly catholic, as well of course as holy and apostolic within the visible unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ.
The Porvoo Declaration and the communion which follows from it are to be welcomed precisely because they witness so clearly to this catholic orientation. That is why I am enthusiastic about it, and that is why I hope the Synod will resoundingly endorse this proposed Act of Synod this afternoon.
The ecumenical quest is not to create a super-church, but to collaborate with God’s own work in disclosing the given unity of his Church – a unity which is already complete and entire in heaven and of which there are real albeit imperfect signs on earth. It is to be a credible sign of the unity God wills for the whole of His creation.
It is in that context that I want to comment, though not in too much detail, on the specific point of concern raised by Mr. Kirk – namely the way in which various churches treat those who are opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Much anxiety has been felt by some traditionalist members of the Church of England about reported policies of certain of our Nordic partners. I share those anxieties. But before getting too excited about it, I would like to say that the same question must be raised about certain churches of the Anglican Communion as well. Indeed we must be honest about our own integrity in the Church of England in living out the spirit as well as the letter of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.’
Nevertheless we do have the [Episcopal Ministry] Act of Synod, which – together with the legislation of November 1992, taken as a whole – commits the Church of England to a period of `open reception’ – which must mean, as Geoffrey Kirk has reminded us, being open to the possibility that we might discover that we were wrong (whoever `we’ in that particular context may be!).
Let me offer Mr. Kirk, through you, Your Grace, a word of reassurance . Through the Porvoo Declaration the Nordic and Baltic churches have entered a new relationship with the Church of England, with a Church of England which was already committed to this process of living with diversity and tolerance when the Porvoo Declaration was completed and signed. Our Nordic and Baltic partners knew perfectly well that this was the kind of church we are when they were prepared to enter that agreement with us.
Nor, may I add (and though here I am cross both with Geoffrey Kirk and with the Archbishop for stealing my lines!) is this a theoretical matter of faraway or overseas relations. The very fellowship which is itself developing among traditionalist groupings on both sides of the North Sea is itself evidence of that. That, if nothing else, is one of the fruits of the Porvoo process. And let me say that in many places Nordic Lutheran and Anglican churches do exist side by side. I have not yet so far in this Group of Sessions of the Genera Synod declared my interest in the Diocese in Europe. Let me wave my flag for the first time! The Diocese in Europe is part of the Church of England, and among the fruits of the Porvoo Agreement is that I am beginning to share my oversight of our chaplaincies in the Nordic countries with local bishops, and one of the fruits is that our priests and congregations are growing into new and closer fellowship with the host churches. That means that even if policies such as trouble Mr. Kirk have been made in certain countries, there are now congregations of this new Porvoo Communion living by the [Episcopal Ministry] Act of Synod in those very countries, in intimate communion with the host churches but retaining precisely the openness to one another which is so valued in our own church. Porvoo ensures pluralism.
Above all, I am sure that it is in communion that we can learn best practice. In all churches there are a number of practices which fall short of what we believe to be appropriate in a church fully faithful to the gospel. Much hinges, however, on the question of direction – where we are going, the catholic orientation of the movement. Many things, many anomalies, many unfortunatenesses, can be lived with by the principle of economy, provided we are travelling, like the Archbishop of York and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, in the same direction.
Being in communion, with a commitment to the working out of the implications of being in communion, provides the only context in which such difficulties can be resolved, as we learn better what it means to consult and correct one another in a relationship of mutual accountability – and of course your Grace has already referred to this – and I think we have in Mr. Kirk’s speech already had an example of it. In the meantime we must think the best of one another and take some things on trust. At the same time we must always be willing to urge hard truths and difficulties on one another so that our unity may be surely established in truth.
I therefore urge this Synod, Your Grace, not to lose its nerve, but to regard today’s motion as a rare opportunity to celebrate a new disclosure by God of the unity of His Church.
When Your Grace visits Pope John Paul II next week, I hope you will be able to assure His Holiness that Anglicans and Lutherans in northern Europe are doing their best to respond to his appeal for visible unity. I hope further, Your Grace, that this Synod will, by giving a positive response to the motion for the Act of Synod, encourage you to assure His Holiness that our response includes amongst other elements a stress on the Church’s need for a single apostolic ministry in historic succession for the sake of common witness and service to all.
Canon Trevor Park (Carlisle) moved `That the question be now put’. The motion was carried.
The Archbishop of Canterbury:
My personal grateful thanks to the Bishop and Fr Kirk for those generous comments and for the listening that must be part of our church and indeed go on being part of our new Communion too. It is not my intention to prolong this debate, but I do just want to say to our new colleagues and to say particularly to the Bishop of Oslo and the Archbishop of Uppsala that they must not see what has happened as in any way a discourtesy to them. It is part of our tradition in this Communion of working and struggling towards the openness and generosity which we believe God has entrusted to us, and it in no way diminishes our commitment to one another as churches in the Porvoo Agreement.
The Archbishop then put to the Synod the motion `That the resolution of the General Synod approving the Porvoo Declaration he solemnly affirmed and proclaimed an act of Synod’. It was carried overwhelmingly on a show of hands.
The Archbishop of Canterbury:
On behalf of the Archbishop of York and myself, we hereby ratify and confirm the Act of Synod in respect of the Provinces of Canterbury and York.
The Registrar read the form of proclamation
The Archbishop of Canterbury:
I declare to Synod that the Act of Synod will now he transmitted to diocesan synods for proclamation. This is such a magnificent moment. Let’s greet this with acclaim. [Applause]
The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the Archbishop of Uppsala, who addressed the Synod. The Archbishop was accorded a standing ovation. The Archbishop of York thanked the Archbishop of Uppsala for his speech
[* The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 was passed by the General Synod `to make provision for the continuing diversity of opinion in the Church of England as to the ordination and ministry of women as priests, and for related matters’. It provides that ‘… no person or body shall discriminate against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views or positions about the ordination of women to the priesthood’.]