Geoffrey Kirk raises the unavoidable issue of money and wonders whether the Church of England will repeat the mistakes of the past

The time has come in the protracted debate about the inclusion of women in the apostolic ministry to raise once again the ‘M’ word. Both sides in the lead-up to legislation for women bishops have been curiously silent on the subject. But both sides will have to get round to talking money in the end.

The 1992 legislation famously included a ‘Financial Provisions Measure’ which has been a bone of contention with supporters of women priests ever since. The Manchester proposals did not. Why? Perhaps because it was concluded that the finances of the Church of England are no longer sufficiently robust. Perhaps because, after more than ten years of women priests, it was thought that the need was not so great.

But neither argument would be a sufficient reason. If justice demands such provision (and it does), the Church of England, whatever its financial predicament, will need to make it. It has been argued (and indeed was argued in the February Synod, in the most offensive way) that opponents should have seen women bishops coming. But how could they, when they were assured repeatedly of an equal and honoured place, and when the matter, in any case, depends upon a two-thirds majority in all three houses, which it is not certain even at this stage it will achieve? The 1992 Measure specifically excluded the ordination of women to the episcopate; promises of equal treatment might, at the very least, be thought to involve adequate statutory provision.

No. Financial Provision is as much a moral requirement now as it was in the Nineties. And if it means scrapping a few suffragan sees to pay for it, so much the better.

But Financial Provision for those in conscience unable to accept women bishops is not the only financial implication of the new ministry. There is also the matter of a just and equitable division of assets. If adequate provision for their future life and well-being is not to be made – and people (laity as well as clergy) are going to be forced out of the Church by this innovation – they are entitled to a share of the property and treasure which Parliament has held in trust on their behalf.

Let me cite an illuminating parallel. In September 1817, King Frederick William III of Prussia announced his intention to merge the two main Protestant sects of his varied dominions into one State Church, to be called the Church of the Prussian Union. In a post-Napoleonic world, still infused with Enlightenment rationalism but with a renewed enthusiasm for autocracy, the scheme seemed reasonable and achievable. As a nominal Calvinist of no very firm convictions, Frederick William could not imagine why anyone could object to a tidy arrangement whose state-sponsored liturgy was confected of vocal gems from the rites of the two constituent bodies.

Klemzig, the South Australian settlement
founded by Old Lutherans in 1838

But the new Church did not get off to a good start. It was traditional Lutherans who led the reaction. By 1822 the government had a list of over 10,000 Old Lutheran separatists who would have nothing to do with the Union arrangements. Convinced that the Old Lutheran movement would subside once its ringleaders had been neutralized, the Prussian authorities bore down heavily on separatist preachers. The measures were predictably futile.

By the 1840s, Prussians living on the banks of the river Oder were treated to the spectacle of hymn-singing Lutherans in heavily laden barges making their way to Hamburg, where they took ship for London and finally for South Australia – fleeing the persecution of their fellow Protestants. Only in 1845 did Frederick William IV admit the failure of the experiment, award the Old Lutherans a general amnesty and give them the right to organize as an autonomous church, with a share of the assets which the state had purloined for the Prussian Union thirty years before.

How much more edifying for all concerned (and how much better for the reputation of Prussia in Europe at large) if the State had taken out the metaphorical chequebook and settled the matter amicably from the start!

How much better, instead of suing for every last piece of ecclesiastical real estate and establishing parallel dioceses of doubtful legality wherever traditional Anglicans have challenged the new religion, if Katharine Jefferts Schori had graciously conceded to those who disagree with her what is rightfully theirs! How unedifying, in this age of ecumenism, that her greatest theological and emotional difficulty is in relating to those who are closest to home!

Will the Church of England repeat these mistakes? It seems so. English revisionists (as the July Synod showed) are intent on gaining their end without any adequate provision (ecclesial or financial) for their opponents. It is an ultimately suicidal policy.

Traditionalists have thus far colluded with the synodical process and abided by its decisions; but they cannot be expected to do so indefinitely. As John Sentamu told the Synod in February, a Church is a voluntary association: it depends on the goodwill of its members. In the absence of both ecclesiological provision and financial compensation, that goodwill may soon run out.

The revisionists mendaciously point to the ‘success’ of informal codes of practice in The Episcopal Church. They would be less sanguine, I am sure, if the legal battles over property and the control of parishes and whole dioceses which are now endemic in the United States crossed the Atlantic and appeared in their own backyards. Traditionalists were hurt and offended in July. That hurt and offence is rapidly turning into anger and recalcitrance.

If separate dioceses and discrete jurisdictions are really out of the question, the time has come to deploy the ‘M’ word. As Clauswitz (another Prussian!) might have said: the chequebook is merely ecclesiology carried on by other means.