The ordination of women to the episcopate raises many problems, none more important than those relating to the doctrine of ‘reception’. It is said that in 1992 we entered an ‘open period of reception’ of women presbyters.
The truth or falsity of that claim, of course, logically depends upon the ability of the claimants to indicate the criteria by which it could be determined that the period had ended. A number of tests suggest themselves:
has the presbyteral ministry of women been blessed by increased and significant success in evangelization?
has the perception of the Church in the secular world markedly improved?
has the life of the Church been enriched in ways which would have been impossible given the exercise of other ministries by women?
have those originally opposed to the innovation found themselves persuaded?
There seems as yet little hard evidence for a positive answer to any of these questions, and not a little evidence to the contrary. But in any case, the proposed ‘period of reception’ is usually taken to be operative not only in the CofE, but across the Communion and indeed, the Church Universal. From all this we can reliably conclude that the process continues, and that the ‘period of reception’ is still with us.
What, then, is the logic of imposing upon one ‘period of reception’ (of women presbyters – as yet unconcluded) another (of women bishops). Surely the imposition of the second casts doubts on the sincerity of those who proposed the first.
If, nevertheless, they have the temerity now to propose a second ‘period of reception’, running concurrently with the first, the proponents are obviously obliged to supply the answers to two quite simple questions.
What would or should count as failure for a specifically female episcopate?
How, supposing such a failure, would the consecration of women to the episcopate be undone?
Anyone who has the answers to those two questions should submit them (no more than 1,250 words please) for publication in New Directions.