This is an edited version of the submission of RooT to the Bishop of Manchester’s Group – rather technical perhaps but giving the rest of us an insight into present difficulties
Religious Communities find themselves in three differing situations. There are first of all some Religious Communities in the Church of England for whom there was no difficulty envisaged in women being ordained to the episcopate.
For a number of other Communities, there are real and conscientious objections to accepting any such ordinations, for the reasons outlined in the Rochester Report and Consecrated Women?
And thirdly there are those Communities where the numbers of those in support and those conscientiously opposed are more or less evenly divided. For these Communities the matter is more complex. It is the experience of these (divided) communities, who have had to live with the demands of being ‘two integrities’ and to carry on living side by side in a common life together, that RooT would wish to bring to the Groups attention.
Decisions so far
The following decisions of particular Communities reflect the seriousness with which Religious Communities have taken the spirit of the Act of Synod, and the whole matter of ‘two integrities’. They help inform the following section which reflects on the results of their experience:
The Society of St Francis (SSF) decided at an early stage that they had to get together and listen together, airing the difficulties. Emphasis was placed on dialoguing with each other. This is understood to be vital to avoid the common stereotypes of liberal/feminist v. Forward in Faith/traditionalist.
The Community of the Resurrection (CR) at Mirfield, another men’s Community, made a decision to live and seek to manage the matter together, whilst according one another the mutual respect charity requires.
The Order of the Holy Paraclete (OHP), another (women’s) Community, decided as a Community before the vote that they would do whatever the Synod decided.
The Community of the Holy Name (CHN), the Sisters of the Love of God (SLG), the Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV), the Order of St Benedict (OSB) at Alton and Elmore, and the Society of St Margaret (SSM) have come in
differing ways to live and work with the situation, and in making arrangements for those opposed. In the last-named only (SSM), each house is independent and so chose its own position. Most but not all of those sisters who were opposed to women’s ordination relocated to the house at Walsingham, which became a traditionalist house.
Experience of division
Each of these (divided) Communities has had to look hard at and live daily with the matter ever since 1992 and the Act of Synod which followed it. In a direct and immediate way, they have had to learn the meaning of living together as ‘two integrities’.
the question of priestly ministry strikes at the very heart of our consecrated life
For those conscientiously objecting, many would want to express their wish to remain both in their Communities and in the Church of England, the church of their baptism and nurturing in the Christian faith. This is of course provided they are allowed to do this without having to compromise their faith.
The daily Eucharist
For those Communities that are divided rather than completely in support or opposed, the principal difficulty centres around the celebration of the daily Eucharist, the norm in most if not all Religious Communities. The question of priestly ministry therefore strikes at the very heart of our consecrated life.
The problem is not so acute in men’s communities, which usually have their own priests, but is much more so in women’s Communities, who often depend on priests from outside. The difficulties arise for those conscientiously opposed either because a member of the Community herself has become a priest, and so regularly celebrates, or a women priest is invited in to celebrate.
These difficulties are not insignificant, and it has not been unknown for there to be a failure in some Communities to pro-
vide proper alternative arrangements for those with objections. To balance that, it has also to be said that a number of women’s Communities have been diligent in providing for such a need.
The irony of this is that some Religious Communities, whose whole purpose is to express the unity of a common life, experience division at the altar. The Eucharist for many Religious thus sadly turns from being ‘a gathering of the Church to be the Church’, into mere ‘holy communion, a private individual sacramental communion with the Lord, yet hardly what the Church has always understood to be the true character of Eucharist.
What many Religious Communities would wish to underline from their experience is the importance of listening to the concerns of’the other’, which is a hearing in the Spirit, and not merely a listening to words. It may be that such communities from their experience of living and working together through these issues have a real contribution to make towards any structural solution. They have been sustained through their common life and the exercise of charity to safeguard the integrity of conscience of each member.
This is important since it has been and continues to be under threat when proper legal and canonical provision is not made, or not faithfully observed. As members of Religious Communities, we are very conscious of being part of the whole Church, and the fact that what the Church of England is doing is, in relation to the whole Church, only a minority act. It may be that the whole Church one day decides for this but until that day, it is important that the position of those who are unable in conscience to accept such an unilateral act needs to be safeguarded. They ought not to be driven out of the Church of their baptism by being presented with an impossible position.
We would want the Group to take note of the effect ordaining women to the episcopate will have on many Communities, particularly those Communities that are evenly divided on the matter, so that proper provision is made. It would be our hope that any structural solution would enable members of both sides to continue to live together in the same Community. \ND\