The Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Chairman of the Council of Bishops of The Society, explains the new arrangements for registering priests as Priests of The Society
Over the last two years we have gradually been developing The Society, under the patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, as the ecclesial structure that will give shape to our life within the Church of England following the ordination of women to the episcopate.
Developments thus far
In 2013 the Council of Bishops of The Society began to meet residentially three times a year. There have also been meetings with leading members of the Catholic Group in General Synod and of the Catholic Societies, and meetings with the Retired Bishops of The Society
A redesigned website was launched in November 2013 and a letter was sent to all those who had registered their interest in The Society, informing them of developments and encouraging them to support The Society by becoming members of Forward in Faith, which is the registered charity and membership organization that supports the work of The Society.
Earlier this year, with the agreement of the Council of Forward in Faith, we appointed Bishop’s Representatives for each diocese, replacing the former structure of Forward in Faith Regional Deans.
Registration of priests
The latest development, beginning in September 2014, is the registration of priests as Priests of The Society.
One of the purposes of The Society is `to guarantee a ministry in the historic apostolic succession’ in which our churches and people can have confidence. Another is to provide episcopal oversight to which churches, institutions and individuals will freely submit themselves’. The registration of priests as Priests of The Society, under the oversight of a member of the Council of Bishops, is an important means of fulfilling these purposes.
The Bishops are writing to those priests who minister in parishes that are under their oversight and other priests with whom they are in contact, inviting them to register as a Priest of The Society. Priests are invited to register on an individual basis, whether or not their parishes are in the care of a bishop of The Society.
Registration as Priest of The Society is about sacramental assurance and episcopal oversight. It does not involve acceptance of a Rule of Life. The possibility of registration as a Priest of The Society therefore does not in any way diminish the important role of priestly societies such as the Society of the Holy Cross in offering priests a spiritual framework for their priestly life, as well as support, mutual prayer and encouragement.
It is intended that a similar process should be adopted in due course for the registration of Deacons and Ordinands of The Society.
The Declaration and the Register
The priests complete and sign a Declaration and send it, with copies of their Letters of Orders and (if they are not incumbents) their Licence or Permission to Officiate, to the relevant bishop. The statements to be made in the Declaration are minimal. Most are factual, concerning the validity of the priest’s Orders, his entitlement to minister in the Church of England, and his relationship to the bishop to whom the Declaration is made as a member of the Council of Bishops. There is also an undertaking not to concelebrate with priests whose orders are not free from doubt or to receive communion when such priests preside.
In response to receiving the Declaration, the bishop sends the priest a letter welcoming him as a Priest of The Society. This letter can be shown to those responsible for ministry in, and appointments to, parishes, to confirm priests’ status as a Priest of The Society. It will effectively serve as a `celebret:
The details contained in the Declaration will be entered in a database maintained on behalf the Council of Bishops. For data protection reasons, the data contained in the database will be available only to the bishops, their staff, and the bishop’s representative in the relevant diocese.
I hope that over the next couple of months we can encourage all those we know who share our views to make this declaration. It is another important step in our new way of working together as we create a new future for us under the patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda in The Society.