One thing was absolutely clear, within the labyrinthine complexities of the Manchester Report, namely that a Code of Practice would, from our point of view, be entirely irrelevant. Since it could not, by its very nature, offer anything of any value to those unable to accept women in the episcopate, it hardly matters what form it might take, nor whether it is written in stone or on the back of an envelope. The Manchester Group, to its credit, made this clear enough.
Fr Jonathan Baker’s dignified and gracious resignation notice is in the public domain, but worth repeating for its simple clarity.
I have submitted my resignation from the Women Bishops Legislative Drafting Group to its Chairman, the Bishop of Manchester.
General Synod has asked the WBLDG to bring forward a Code of Practice in February 2009 as part of draft legislation on the ordination of women to the episcopate for first consideration in that group of sessions. The Code is intended to provide pastoral and sacramental care for those unable to accept this development.
I am unable to commend simple draft legislation which is coupled with a Code of Practice to Synod and the wider Church, and therefore consider it inappropriate that I continue to serve on the committee charged with so doing.
I have argued consistently that a Code of Practice cannot address the fundamental ecclesiological and sacramental concerns of those opposed to the ordination of women to the episcopate. The implementation of simple legislation and a Code of Practice will effectively bring to an end the period of open reception on the disputed question of the ordination of women, which has enabled members of the Church of England with differing views to live together in one Church since 1994. A Code of Practice can, therefore, be only short-term provision, lacking theological integrity as well as legal security.
The vote on the 7th July in York (which anticipates, among other things, the abolition, rather than the development, of the ministry of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors) leaves the Church of England facing a real pastoral, as well as legal and theological, problem, of how to honour its commitment to provide an assured and equal place for those unable to accept the ordination of women to the episcopate. While my contribution to the particular work of the WBLDG is now complete, I remain wholly committed to playing my part, not least with Forward in Faith, in seeking a way forward for the Church.
I am glad to be able to take this opportunity of thanking the Bishop of Manchester, my former colleagues on the WBLDG, and the staff of Church House who served that Group so ably, for the constructive way in which the work of the Group, in its first phase, was carried out, and for the respect and careful attention which they all accorded the views which I set out.
Jonathan Baker \ND\
Sister Ann Williams CA remains a member of the WBLDG only to repeat the word No as often as necessary. A Code was, is and always will be irrelevant.