Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Women Bishops: An open letter to the Archbishops

Following the Southern Synod of the Society of the Sacred Cross, the Provisional Episcopal Visitors (Flying Bishops), the Bishop of Fulham and the Master of SSC are circulating the following letter for signature by clergy. Apart from anything else, it very clearly states where they are on this matter (and where they have been in the last decade and a half):

Most Reverend Fathers in God,

We write as bishops, priests and deacons of the Provinces of Canterbury and York, who have sought, by God’s grace, in our various ministries, to celebrate the Sacraments and preach the Word faithfully; to form, nurture and catechise new Christians; to pastor the people of God entrusted to our care; and, through the work of our dioceses, parishes and institutions, to build up the Kingdom and to further God’s mission to the world in this land.

Our theological convictions, grounded in obedience to Scripture and Tradition, and attentive to the need to discern the mind of the whole Church Catholic in matters touching on Faith and Order, lead us to doubt the sacramental ministry of those women ordained to the priesthood by the Church of England since 1994. Having said that, we have engaged with the life of the Church of England in a myriad of ways, nationally and locally, and have made sincere efforts to work courteously and carefully with those with whom we disagree. In the midst of this disagreement over Holy Order, we have, we believe, borne particular witness to the cause of Christian unity, and to the imperative of Our Lord’s command that ‘all may be one.’

We include those who have given many years service to the Church in the ordained ministry, and others who are very newly ordained. We believe that we demonstrate the vitality of the tradition which we represent and which has formed us in our discipleship and ministry – a tradition which, we believe, constitutes an essential and invaluable part of the life and character of the Church of England, without which it would be deeply impoverished.

Since the ordination of women to the priesthood began in 1994, we have been able to exercise our ministry in the context of the solemn assurances given at that time that our understanding of Holy Order was one entirely consonant with the faith and practice of the Church of England, and secure in the knowledge that those assurances were embodied in the legislation passed in 1993, and in the Act of Synod which followed that legislation.

That legislation, together with the Act, has been the framework which has allowed us to continue to live and work in a church which has taken the decision to allow women to be ordained, but which has also made room for us, and honoured our beliefs and convictions. We have been further encouraged and affirmed by the Resolution of the Lambeth Conference 1998, endorsed by the General Synod in July 2006, that “those who dissent from as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans.”

We believe that, should the Church of England move to the ordination of women to the episcopate, our ability to continue to minister in the church to which we have been called will depend on provision being made to allow us to do so with the same theological integrity which we have been able to hold since 1994. We recognise that, much as we might hope things to be otherwise, the Church of England is set upon the path of ordaining women as bishops. We will strive to honour their calling as ministers of the Gospel, and to respect the offices which they will hold, despite our profound reservations about the Church of England’s decision to ordain and consecrate them. We do not look for ‘protection’ from the ministry of ordained women. Rather, we ask that our theological convictions continue to be accorded that respect which was promised fifteen years ago.

We believe that priests must be able to look to bishops about whose ministry they can be assured; and that bishops in turn must be able to carry out their ministry in a way consonant with the traditional exercise of Episcopal office. Only a structural solution to the new problems which will inevitably be created for the Church by the ordination of women to the episcopate can, we believe, allow us to flourish and to contribute to the life of the whole Church as we believe the Spirit continues to call us to do.

It is with sadness that we conclude that, should the Church of England indeed go ahead with the ordination of women to the episcopate, without at the same time making provision which offers us real ecclesial integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead. We will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue to minister as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home. We do not write this in a spirit of making threats or throwing down gauntlets. Rather, we believe that the time has come to make our concerns plain, so that the possible consequences of a failure to make provision which allows us to flourish and to grow are clear. Your Graces will know that the cost of such a choice would be both spiritual and material.

We know that all members of the Church of England and of the General Synod in particular, will be looking to you for wisdom, guidance and leadership in this matter. We urge you, as our Fathers in God, to lead the whole Church in making generous and coherent provision for us. This will not only allow us to continue to play our part in that mission, under God, to which we are all committed, but also ensure that the Church of England continues to encompass, in her polity, an understanding of Holy Orders consonant with that of the great Churches of East and West with whom we share the historic episcopate.

We assure you of our prayers at this time.

Sign electronically here.

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