As New Directions went to press the House of Bishops issued a statement regarding their deliberations on the legislation to allow women to become bishops. There has been one helpful change to the legislation and there will need to be serious consideration given to this. We are glad that, at last, the majority of the House of Bishops has recognised that ours is a position based on legitimate theological convictions. There are three salient points worth making:
In the new revision bishops ministering to petitioning parishes cannot just be male, they must be appointed on their theological convictions. This might mean a bishop of The Society or of another body. Parishes will, however still only be able to petition for this with the agreement of their parish priest and as we have commented before this is unnecessary clericalism and takes away the rights of congregations. The recommendations do say that priests appointed to parishes must share their theological convictions, but this is difficult to enforce. Equally there is no recourse for a priest who might want his parish to petition.
Such Bishops act by virtue of their consecration, they may to be invited to minister in parishes but their acts are episcopal because they are bishops, whoever may, in law, have had to ask them to minister in the parish. They act therefore in their own “potestas”. That is to say their authority as Bishops is derived from their consecration. No authority however will be taken away from the Diocesan Bishop. The alternative bishop’s legal authority would be “delegated” from the Diocesan Bishop rather than independent from that Bishop. It also seems that this arrangement would have legal force. This raises issues about the question of headship for evangelicals: who is the head of the community and who has authority?
The Bishops and Archbishops renew their commitment to the provision of such bishops, and re-assert that if the legislation were to pass, the Sees of Richborough, Ebbsfleet and Beverley continue to exist in law, although this is not in the draft measure. This is important as it would secure the succession of bishops for us, however there is still the question of who will consecrate these bishops, will there be an Archbishop who does not ordain women for example? The bishops have also affirmed that no one will be disadvantaged when it comes to selection for the ordained ministry. We are glad the Bishops acknowledge that for the Church to grow and thrive there must be vocations and it is good to know that there is some concern that they should continue. However without full and proper provision such vocations would only be short lived. It will take very brave people to offer themselves for ministry in a church where they are simply tolerated.
This will be all of course be subject to a Code of Practice which hasn’t been authorised yet although several drafts have been seen. Of most disappointment to readers of this magazine is that the bishops have declined to put all of these ideals into statute. Time and time again we have repeated that a Code of Practice will not do, and it will not. We need more assurances than the ones on offer. We are often told that we are being made a generous offer and that other people need to make concessions. Yes the offer might be more generous, but it is difficult to see how the legislation could be sufficient for us to live and thrive in the Church of England.
A summer of uncertainty faces us. As a constituency we must gather in prayer and to consult as this phase of our history unfolds. There will be many opportunities to gather in prayer before the Synod, not least at Vigils organised for
the 1st July. We will need to gather together after the Synod has met and take guidance from our bishops and those who lead in our constituency. The summer is also a time of celebration and is a good time for us all to try to attend patronal festivals, inductions and celebrations of our faith; joining in fellowship with each other and marking our dedication to our faith. We
do this not as a hardened insular remnant but as a group of people dedicated to the Gospel. If you have not already done so, why not consider organising your parish youth group and getting them booked into the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage? Let us show the House the Bishops we are here and we want to thrive and get on with work of spreading the Gospel. ND