The Bishop of Fulham reflects on a collection of writings by Roger Greenacre

The Ordination of women and Anglican Identity
Roger Greenacre edited by Colin Podmore
Canterbury Press, 256pp, pbk
978 1 84825 627 9, £24.99

This is the second book of essays, articles and other papers by the late Canon of Chichester Cathedral, Roger Greenacre, edited by Dr Colin Podmore. It forms a companion volume to an earlier collection on the theme of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Maiden, Mother and Queen: Mary in the Anglican Tradition. As in the former instance, Colin Podmore is to be congratulated on the excellence of his editorial work, and Canterbury Press on the high quality of their production. This is an attractive and (in the literal sense) easy book to read.

As Podmore notes in his lucid Introduction, the book stands somewhere between memory and history. Some of the texts which make up the collection are, in one sense, ephemeral: letters to the church press, sermons and speeches. Others are more substantial. But the whole collection hangs together beautifully, and, taken as a whole, has the feel of a spiritual autobiography, the biography of a soul. Viewed in that light, the book can do nothing but help all those who read it to understand why a good man – in company with so many other good men and women – struggled with something which to so many seemed so obvious that those who doubted it could only be stupid, or malicious, or both. The strong sense of inner turmoil and even anguish which comes through some of these papers exemplifies (it seems to me) a kind of holiness.

The contours of the book are well set out in the Foreword by Bishop Geoffrey Rowell. Rowell states plainly that Greenacre was not an impossibilist in the matter of the ordination of women, but rather ‘rightly concerned about the authority of the Church of England…to make a change in the historic apostolic ministry of the Church…without greater ecumenical consensus and without a clearly articulated theology of development.’ That call for deeper theological thinking is one which was heard many times throughout the Church of England’s journey towards the admission of women to the priesthood and episcopate, and it was a call which many continue to believe went largely unanswered. The Rochester Report, the work of the committee chaired by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, was dealt with by the General Synod in one debate. Later, an important collection of papers (GS Misc 885) which brought together key texts from Anglican and Roman Catholic sources and which had at its centre Cardinal Kasper’s address to the House of Bishops in June 2006, and which included an undertaking from the then Archbishop of Canterbury for further theological and canonical work, virtually disappeared without trace. Resources (from a range of perspectives) produced by members of the then Faith and Order

Commission (and also distributed as a GS Misc) were never debated. Perhaps the truth is that the theological questions so dear to Greenacre’s heart could never be resolved. But a sense of frustration that they could, in the end, simply be ‘parked’ echoes throughout the book.

Greenacre is by no means uncritical of the Church of England’s major ecumenical partners. Of particular interest is the longest chapter in the book, consisting of an article which Greenacre called his Epistola ad Romanos, or an Open Letter to some Roman Catholic Friends, which was published in the Jesuit periodical The Month in March 1993. The theme of the article is Greenacre’s account of the rise and fall of the ARCIC vision, one which he characterizes as the conviction that ‘our two communions…were now clearly set on a course of convergence and reconciliation which could surmount the remaining obstacle to full visible unity.’ Greenacre goes on to write, pulling no punches, of ‘Anglican Betrayal,’ insisting that it is ‘abundantly clear’ that the decision to ordain women as priests amounted to nothing less than a rejection of the ARCIC I Final Report. But he writes with equal force about ‘Roman Betrayal’: of ‘clear signs’ in Rome of a determination to ‘return to curial centralization’ and curtail the limits of theological pluralism. It would be interesting to know what Roger Greenacre, seasoned observer of the Roman Catholic Church that he was, would make of the present pontificate and the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Interesting, too, are his observations, offered more than once in the collection, that other points of difference between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in matters of discipline, ethics and pastoral practice are not church-dividing in the same way as is the question of who may be ordained.

Colin Podmore concludes his Introduction by quoting one of the ‘Five Guiding Principles’ which provide the interpretative lens through which the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the episcopate is to be read and received. This speaks both of the Church of England’s clear decision to ordain women to all degrees of the ordained ministry, but also of how that clear decision is to be ‘set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God.’ Would that declaration have rejoiced Roger Greenacre’s heart? Perhaps he would say that it could leave Anglican Catholics – as he did – clinging on by their fingertips. It is surely a tribute to his always courteous, always patient, pursuit of unity and truth that the statement is there at all. ND