Jonathan Redvers Harris on the continuing need to pass all three resolutions

TO RETURN to the need for PCCs to pass the Resolutions may sound wearisome and tedious. But, time and again, parishes are painfully discovering the cost of NOT having passed one, two, or all three of Resolutions A, B and ‘C’.

No one likes passing negative Resolutions which seem to exclude or restrict, but this was part of the gross injustice in the way the legislation for women’s priestly ministry was framed. It ought to have provided for bishops and parishes to opt in to this ‘development’ in Church order – by specifically giving them the option to accept the ministry of women priests. Instead, decent ordinary PCCs unconvinced about the change have been required, by the inbuilt bias of the legislation, to opt out – to make a costly stand.

As a result, thousands of parishes appear to favour the ordination of women, yet in truth they simply have not felt the need to vote. Such is the topsy-turvy Church in which we find ourselves, but we have to use the legislation rather than ignore it.

Of course, some parishes have simply thought, “We’re safe with Father so-and-so here”, or perhaps their lovely and understanding diocesan bishop has assured them he will “respect their tradition” and, really, there is no need for all this wild talk about petitioning for alternative episcopal care. Other parishes simply labour under misunderstandings – or, worse, have been misled. “We can’t pass A or B because our vicar won’t let the PCC vote on it”… “We’re in an interregnum and we’ve been told we can’t pass them”. . “We’re in a group of parishes, where the others want a woman priest”… “The archdeacon has told us he is coming to chair the PCC at our meeting at the beginning of the vacancy”…. “We’d never get the two-thirds needed for Resolution C”… “It’ll split the parish down the middle when we should be working together”… Such responses are all too familiar to us.

This brief article, directed at both people and priests alike, is a plea to pass, not only A or B, but most importantly Resolution ‘C’.

First, just a brief reminder about A and B. These Resolutions are provided for, and their precise wording set out, in the 1993 Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure itself. Resolution A is about not accepting a woman to celebrate Holy Communion or to pronounce Absolution. B is about not accepting her as incumbent, priest-in-charge, or as a team vicar. These Resolutions can be considered by a PCC ‘ at any time (provided the statutory formalities about notice and attendance are complied with). Even if your vicar, as chairman of the PCC, does not want them considered, one third of the members can always arrange to convene a meeting.

At the beginning of an interregnum the PCC is required by law to consider whether or not to pass them. It is not for any diocesan official to insist on chairing a meeting of the PCC Only a simple majority is needed for these Resolutions. There is no time limit – no expiry date – on the Resolutions (a vacancy does not end them), and they never need reviewing. However pastorally difficult, it is also worth noting that Resolution A can be passed even if your parish has a woman curate who is not yet a priest, and Resolution B can be passed even if the incumbent is a woman priest – although it would not affect her security of tenure unless she has contributed substantially to a pastoral breakdown. If you are in a group of parishes you can still pass Resolution B, effectively preventing the appointment of a woman incumbent.

In short, Resolutions A and B are the ONLY way to ensure that your parish does not get a woman priest. Any attempt to exclude or restrict the priestly ministry of women, other than by a Resolution provided for by the Measure, could prove to be a matter of illegal discrimination. And, besides, A or B are the necessary first step before passing the most important Resolution ‘C’ . For A and B are simply ‘no go area’ decisions for the parish; they make no provision for the day to day pastoral care and sacramental life of the church. That is where ‘C’ becomes essential.

Resolution ‘C’ , as it has popularly come to be called, is the decision of the PCC to petition the diocesan bishop for alternative ( ?extended’ is the actual word) episcopal arrangements under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993. Yes, we have all heard the rumours that the Act of Synod may be rescinded, and there does indeed exist, in some quarters, a nasty totalitarianism which will not rest until the very last hint of resistance to women’s priestly ministry has been stamped out. But this was not the mind of the Bishops at the Vote in 1992. In their final Report they spoke of the possibility of this ‘development’ eventually coming to ‘wither and die’ and they stressed the vital importance for a period of discernment (not a five year period of predetermined acceptance – it could well take centuries to discern the rightness or otherwise of the ordination of women).

And, yes, the Act is only a form of subsidiary legislation – albeit of considerable moral weight and authority – but it expresses the assurances given to Parliament without which the main Measure itself would not have reached the statute book. And our present Archbishop of Canterbury is personally committed to the framework of the two ‘integrities’ enshrined in the Act of Synod.

One day, of course, it might be rescinded. It would only require a simple majority in the General Synod but the principles it contains, anomalous and contradictory though they may be, would need expression in some other, and better, form (perhaps the formation of a totally new diocese, a ‘peculiar’ jurisdiction or Order, for us – who knows?). And the starting point for any future arrangements may well be those parishes which have passed ‘Resolution C’. So, passing C, in an uncertain climate, becomes even more necessary.

Before you pass C you need to make sure you have Resolutions A or B already in place, whether years or only seconds before. Either A or B is all you need; you do not need to have both. The Bishops’ Code of Practice on the ordination of women encourages wide consultation within the parish before passing Resolution C. After that, it is simply a matter of fulfilling the formalities of the Act: the meeting to vote on ‘C’ must take place on four weeks’ notice, attended by at least half of those entitled to attend, and two-thirds of the members present and voting must be in favour and ‘the minister’ himself must be in favour (even if he is not present). There is no specified wording for the Resolution but the following is recommended:

“This parochial church council hereby resolves to petition the diocesan bishop requesting that appropriate episcopal duties in the parish should be carried out in accordance with the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993.”

The PCC then ‘petitions’ the diocesan bishop by way of letter. He is not, under the Act, obliged to provide a ‘flying bishop’ (a Provincial Episcopal Visitor), but he is obliged to make some sort of ‘appropriate episcopal arrangements’ under the Act – and after consulting with the minister and PCC (not before, as has been known to happen). If the vote is not quite two-thirds in favour, the bishop can still go ahead and make the episcopal arrangements, says the Act, and this has happened in at least one instance – followed, two years later, by a resounding near-unanimous vote in favour of ‘C’.

If the arrangements made by the diocesan bishop prove unacceptable then parishes and their priests need to remember that under the Act, each PEV is to act as a spokesman and adviser for those who are opposed, and this extends to anyone: minorities on PCCs and simply to groups of people in any given parish. And even if a diocesan bishop, upon receiving a Resolution C petition, does not ask a PEV. to provide extended pastoral care and sacramental ministry, the parish priest himself is still quite at liberty, under canon law, to invite a PEV to minister in his church for up to seven days in a three month period without reference to the diocesan bishop.

Whatever anyone may tell you, a PCC during an interregnum, even though there is of course no ‘minister’, can still pass Resolution C, and the Legal Adviser to the General Synod is advising diocesan bishops that this is quite possible. Again, there should be no ‘offer’ from a diocesan official to chair the meeting; the PCC’s vice-chairman should be quite capable.

Resolution C, once passed, does not strictly itself need reviewing. But under the Act what does need reviewing is “the working of any arrangements in force” (resulting from the petition) -at least once in every five year period. Technically no resolution is needed; inclusion on the agenda and being duly minuted should suffice. But for the avoidance of doubt, a resolution is better, and the following is suggested:

“This parochial church council, having reviewed the working of the arrangements for episcopal oversight, resolves to continue the arrangements for a further five years.”

But review presupposes having passed C in the first place.

Resolutions A and B are not enough on their own; they leave the parish in a highly unsatisfactory position. On their own, Resolutions A or B leave the parish and priest seriously compromised. It is C alone which concerns the day-to-day realities of pastoral care and sacramental ministry. Without C, where and by whom will your parish’s confirmation candidates be confirmed? Without C, with which bishop will your parish consult upon a vacancy? Without C, around whom will your priest gather with fellow priests for the Maundy Eucharist of Oils to reaffirm his ordination promises? Without C, on what basis may a PEV come and minister in the parish – except by relying on the exception already mentioned? On their own, Resolutions A and B could never be enough; they only reflect half of the story, for there is more to parish life than statutory declarations of non-acceptance of women’s priestly ministry. It is Resolution C which, building on the foundation of A or B, recognises the fuller picture of the ongoing pastoral and sacramental life in the parish, and the fact that at the heart of the Church’s life lies ‘communion.

We all owe it to our apostolic forebears and to their present day faithful successors, to past patrons and parish benefactors, to the countless multitudes of Christian faithful who have in their several generations contended for the faith delivered to the saints) to do the very best: pass Resolution C!

Jonathan Redvers Harris is Vicar of Houghton Regis in the Diocese of St. Albans.