November 2000

A national newspaper which majors on a sermon preached by Dr George Carey in the Isle of Man is a newspaper desperate for copy [The Daily Telegraph, October 28].

And yet… the Carey sermon is worth some attention. For the Archbishop has neatly epitomised the mixture of despair and petulance which characterises for us the culture of the modern liberal Church. ‘Is anyone listening out there?’ asks the ABC; and when he concludes that very few are, he criticises those few for ensuring that it is so!

It is wrong, says Dr Carey, for Christians to maintain ‘what we have cherished in our past’. With Dr Jurgen Moltmann, he claims that we have to change. ‘A church that cannot change becomes a fossil church. It becomes an unimportant sect on the edge of a rapidly changing and progressive society’.

Indeed! Those who looked to Dr Carey on his appointment for a new broom and a clean sweep, after the tired cronyism of his late predecessor, have been disappointed. Carey has nothing to offer but more of the same. Those who have longed for, held on for, prayed for, a return to radical orthodoxy can find no comfort in him. No one could guess, from anything Dr Carey says, what his agenda is; but we can be certain what he will not do.

He did not challenge the rank infidelity of Jack Spong at the last Lambeth Conference; he will not confront revisionism in the Episcopal Church of the United States; and he is powerless (or unwilling) to ensure orthodoxy in the House of Bishops of the Church of England.

In the face of the numerical decline of the Church of England, the Vicar of the Church in the Market Place (who was supposed to have a formula for its reversal – wasn’t that what the book said?) proves to have no solution at all. ‘More of the same’ is the sad tale. And, of course, it will result in more of the same.

How appropriate, say we, that the inaugural meeting of GRAS (unfortunate acronym!) was hosted by Baroness Rendell. For there are many mysteries. What is GRAS for? What does it hope to achieve? And who would pay any attention to the rescinding of the Act of Synod in any case?

It is instructive to consider these mysteries in order of priority.

What is GRAS for?

Clearly it exists to set forward the cause of ordained women; and equally clearly it must be concerned to establish parity between the orders of women and men. At present that parity is denied by the very legislation (the Priests [Ordination of Women] Measure, 1993) by which women were ordained. Under that Measure, now an Act of Parliament, women can be ordained to the priesthood, but not to the episcopate. Various bodies and individuals can refuse to accept or receive their ministry (which, of course, is not permitted in the case of men).

You would think, then, that GRAS would have the 1993 Measure firmly in its sights, as both damaging and discriminatory. But not so. Just as those who spoke against the Blackburn Commission’s report at the York Synod routinely denied wishing to rescind the Act, so GRAS, which does wish to rescind the Act, disclaims any intention to alter the provisions of the Measure. That both denials are disingenuous in the extreme no one will doubt.

What does GRAS hope to achieve?

In a disgraceful piece in The Church Times Canon Dr Martyn Percy claimed that the ultimate aim was dialogue. A week later the Reverend Philip Crowe, a forthright opponent of the Act of Synod from the outset, exposed Percy’s article for the mealy-mouthed cant which it is. ‘Dr Percy’, wrote Crowe tells us that GRAS is an invitation to reach across the barriers that divide and to learn to live together without the benefit of legislation. Launching a campaign is a strange way to issue an invitation and particularly one that is intended to promote reconciliation’.

If dialogue is the sincere and heartfelt aim of GRAS; then let dialogue commence. There is no need for the huffing and puffing. Where dialogue between Christian sisters and brothers is concerned, there can be no possible reason for delay. And there is every reason for the necessity or otherwise of the Act of Synod to be high on the agenda of such discussions. Dr Percy, it is true, has not made a very good start; but in the interests of koinonia even that might be overlooked.

Finally, would anyone pay any attention to the rescinding of the Act of Synod, were it to be achieved?

It cannot be too often emphasised that the Church of England is a voluntary association. Its General Synod can, in the last resort, enact or rescind only what will be obeyed. It is quite unrealistic to suppose that a decision to remove the provisions of the Act of Synod, after so short a time, would have the approval or command the obedience of those who presently benefit from it. Nothing would damage the standing of the Church in the nation more than the attempt by one party to enforce its will on another. Nor would such an attempt stand any hope of success. No sensible, rational person can suppose that the removal of the Act would or should be a prelude to dialogue. The Act of Synod, and the further provisions which will be required by the proposed consecration of women as bishops, are what the dialogue must be about.

Reports in the national press suggest that, as of next year, bishops’ expenses will be subject to full disclosure in the public domain. This will, at long last, put bishops on the same plane as their parish clergy. The campaign, by The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times and this magazine to achieve this result has been tough and, at times, tempestuous. (You will recall the threat of prosecution by the Church establishment in a bid to silence our Editor.)

If the latest press report turns out to be correct, and expenses details are at last to be declared, we welcome the development warmly. Throughout this campaign we have consistently argued that publication of the figures, in most cases, would lead to greater understanding, greater accountability and more sensible debate. The most harmful aspect, as usual, was the culture of secrecy – which is a breeding ground for rumour, gossip, dishonesty and distrust. If the bishops really have decided to put their receipts on the table, it will be good for them and good for the whole Church.

Now we move forward to continue the battle for transparency and honesty in that other murky area of Anglican life – the Crown Appointments Commission – with the widespread lack of confidence in its proceedings and its products.

It is with great sadness that we record the death of Dr Trueman Dicken. A distinguished scholar, whose works influenced a whole generation of students and ordinands, Trueman was active both in the resistance to the Methodist Reunion scheme in the 1960s and in the formation of Cost of Conscience, in the years preceding the vote to ordain women in 1992.

A Memorial Service was held at St. David’s Church, Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday, November 6 at 3.00pm. There will be requiem at a time yet to be arranged.

We offer his family our heartfelt condolences.