The problem is not a new one nor is the solution but Brother Steven of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield shares his worries and concerns about supposed priests

Twenty years ago, Barbara Clementine Harris became the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion. How many of us remember the moment when she placed the mitre on her head with ECUSA Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning saying those infamous words, ‘Go for it, Barbara!’

With the decision of The Episcopal Church to go ahead with this innovation the Anglican Communion had changed forever and so after twenty years of women bishops, albeit serving only in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, they have administered the sacraments of Confirmation and Ordination to thousands of people, but if those of us who doubt the validity of their actions, then the people they purport to have laid hands on at Confirmation or Ordination are neither confirmed nor ordained.

Confusion ahead

The ongoing debate and the legislation before us in the Church of England should make us all the more aware of the situation, and with the advent of women bishops (eventually) there will be serious decisions to face up to. For the moment we know that men ordained in the Church of England are deacons or priests.

At the present, no one in the Church of England doubts that Mister X or Father Y is a deacon or priest. However, that will one day change and the question must be asked: who ordained you? At the moment, entries in Crockford’s Directory only list the year of ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. Perhaps it won’t be long before the ordaining bishop will need to be listed as well.

When Forward in Faith was founded after the General Synod voted in favour of the innovation of women priests, identity cards were printed for the laity stating ‘in the case of accident or emergency please call a male priest’. If there are women bishops in the Church of England there is no guarantee that the male priest who responds is actually a priest. How will you know?

Religious Communities

Laity will not be the only ones affected by ‘lay-priests’. Within Religious Communities the problem will surely arise when a ‘priest’ who had been ordained by a woman bishop asks to test his vocation to the Religious Life. How is the Community to respond to such a request? Within my own Community there will be some brethren who would have no problem in receiving this man as a novice.

There are others in the Community (including myself) who in conscience could not. In Religious Communities the Eucharist is at the heart of our life. The minute you have doubts about who presides at the altar, and the community as a whole is not able to receive together, then that unity and communion is broken.

We gasp in horror at the thought of lay presidency, but what about the men ‘ordained’ by women whose orders we do not recognize? If we think about it, lay presidency has been going on for the past twenty years within the Anglican Communion, under the guise of men purporting to be priests who received ordination from a woman bishop.

The need for a Register

So, what are we doing about it? Perhaps we need to publish a Register of those men who have been ordained by women bishops. Such a Register will be needed once the first man is ordained by a woman bishop in the Church of England. It is all the more urgent that proper ecclesial and legal provision is made for those of us who cannot accept women priests and bishops.

Unless some structural solution is forthcoming there will be no guarantee that the priest you call to be your next vicar is actually a priest. There will come a time when there will be a vacancy in your parish and you are calling a priest to be your new vicar; make certain you enquire about his orders and don’t be afraid to ask the question, ‘Who ordained you?’