No one wants a new province. And yet as David Nicholl explains, it will be the proponents of women bishops who will vote in favour of it, as the best available option for them to get what they want

Let us get this straight right away. No one wants a free province.

Saying that we want a free province only antagonizes our opponents. The idea that the bad guys (that’s us) should be rewarded for their badness is a principle of church government that most on General Synod and elsewhere would do anything to squash. And you cannot but sympathize with them.

Rule one: never say, ‘We want a new province.’ Rule two: realize that we do not want a free province anyway. We (traditional, orthodox members of the CofE) would much prefer our church to be faithful to the tradition, and orthodox in its faith and practice. Sadly, after the 1992 vote, that is no longer on offer. We want a renewed Church of England. As a poor second best, we look to a free province; but it was, is and will remain the second best option.

Only a poor second best

You may think I am quibbling, but never underestimate the power of words. In some parts of the CofE, if you talk to a proponent you may be the only traditionalist they have spoken to in five years or more; you may be the only person who has ever talked to them about ‘this new province thing’; how you describe it will have a quite disproportionate influence. So it is important to make clear that, at its simplest, no, we do not want a free province. On that level at least, we are at one with the women priests.

For us, a new province is second-best. Might it not also be for our opponents? If there is one area of propaganda that our constituency needs to concentrate on, I suspect it is this: persuading the great majority that a new province is the best compromise on offer, indeed the only compromise that will give them what-they-want.

Women-bishops-in-waiting and their supporters must be made to realize that, in the end, it is they who want a new province. For a start it is the only way of maintaining the unity of the Church of England – it is the only way of keeping within the CofE, not merely the faithful clergy (who are of little importance) but also their faithful laity (who are of immense value).

Secondly, it is the only way in which the legislation can be passed within a reasonable time scale. Much as they might relish the idea of wicked male priests being thrown out of their vicarages, proponents of the new order must recognize that only what is seen as decent and fair treatment, of those who in conscience disagree, will get through the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament.

Carefully count the cost

Thirdly, and most importantly, a new province will be the cheapest option. Recent employment law, and the move towards common tenure for CofE clergy, will require considerable sums in compensation for those who will now become the victims of constructive dismissal. The simple truth is that the CofE could not afford the single clause legislation so many General Synod members are calling for.

Unless they make proper provision for us (that is to say, pass a Measure to create a new province) their own plans will remain mired in controversy and disagreement for years to come and when finally brought to fruition would cost the church more money than it could possibly afford. Now can you see why they might want this thing they so despise at present?

Do not misunderstand me. It will not be easy to persuade the majority that they want a new province. All we must do for the present is insist, over and over again and without qualification, that yes, there will be a new province because it is the only way of maintaining the unity of the Church of England, the only way of satisfying Parliament and the only solution that is affordable. ‘It will happen because you will want it.’