‘ONCE A PROVINCE has expressed its mind in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood and proceeded so to ordain women it would be anomalous to appoint a bishop who was actively opposed to the mind of the province, and in particular opposed to the common mind of the college of bishops. A common mind on the understanding of the ministry, the bond of communion, is essential within the college of bishops if the unity of the ministry and thus of the Church is to be maintained. ‘ (para 40.(vii) of `The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: First Report by the House of Bishops’ 1990)
‘There will be no discrimination against candidates either 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’(Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, 1993)
Between these two statements we must hope that there had been a change of episcopal minds and hearts. There can be little doubt that the thinking of the majority of bishops prior to the 1992 vote had seen little place for opponents in the brave new church which would result. Notoriously the then Bishop of Salisbury, John Baker, opined that it would
be inconsistent to continue to ordain men who could not accept the orders of women ordained under the Measure. And in an interview with the BBC whilst still Bishop of Bath and Wells, Dr. Carey, who had previously written to his diocesan clergy in a similar vein, put before opponents a stark choice. But if they are going to come out in opposition once the legislation becomes law, then 1 don’t think we have any choice because we must, in a democratic Church, be willing to work with men and women together. And if a group of men declare their opposition it is very sad, but I think the logic of their position must mean that when it comes to law they will be placed in an impossible position’.
Much of this talk was hasty and ill-considered, and like Dr. Carey’s famous `heresy’ statement (the promised explication of which [see Mary Loudon’s interview in her book Revelations’, Hamish Hamilton 1994] we still eagerly await) looked pretty silly in the cold light of November 12, 1992 when it was clear that a good deal of bridge mending would be required. But at a deep level such talk left conscientious opponents of the innovation very uneasy about the new
generosity enshrined in the Act of Synod. It sounded fine – as did the vague and unenforceable sentiments of the Eames Commission but how seriously should it be taken?
Most opponents decided, not unreasonably, that the proof of the pudding would be in the preferment. They needed to see in operation an evenhandedness which had not been evident before the legislation, and which, if it was to be effective, would need to begin from day one.
The figures below, ‘the response to a questionnaire sent out early in 1996 by New Directions, show what in fact has proved the case. Some dioceses, like Lincoln and Canterbury, have distinguished themselves. Others have simply continued business as usual.
As Edwin Barnes points out elsewhere in this edition of New Directions, no bishop in favour of women’s ordination has, since 1992, appointed a suffragan opposed (though bishops opposed have made appointments in favour). One might add that (apart from the diocese of London, where the London Plan could hardly function without a diocesan opposed) no new diocesan bishop opposed has been appointed. All eyes are on unhappy Truro.
The question must now be whether the implied aim of the Act of Synod to contain dissent on this issue within the main-stream structures of English Anglicanism is realisable. Only if those opposed are seen to exercise positions of influence in the normal way, as bishops, archdeacons, canons, rural deans, and the rest can the tendency (and in some quarters the desire) to develop alternative structures and institutions be repressed. Already, by an unwillingness to appoint suitable suffragans, the role of the PEVs has been magnified beyond the expectations of those who drafted the Act.
It is, of course, a misfortune in the Church of England to have a memory longer than the last episcopal change of mood. But no reasonable person opposed to women’s ordination could be expected to take heart from these statistics.
|Bath & Wells||1||1||1||1||1||1||14|
|Sodor & Man||1||1||1||1||1|
|St Ed. & Ips.||15|
Column I Suffragan and Assistant Bishops
Column 2 Archdeacons
Column 3 Residentiary Canons
Column 4 Honorary Canons
Column 5 Rural Deans
Column 6 Diocesan Directors of Ordinands
Column 7 Number of Parishes in the diocese which have passed Resolutions A and/or B under the 1993 Measure
A = total number of appointments made since the priesting of women
B = number of those appointed opposed to women priests.