With the General Synod of the Church of England about to vote on how to introduce women bishops, over a thousand people have signed an online petition supporting the traditional view on church leadership and rejecting the ‘Single Clause’ approach which will be presented by the House of Bishops.
If adopted by Synod, this would abolish the present legal provisions for those who cannot accept the ministry of women priests and bishops. Parishes would not be able to opt out of having women priests appointed or visit to conduct services of Holy Communion and preach. Furthermore, the Provincial Episcopal Visitors (Flying Bishops) would be stood down, and parishes and clergy would revert to the direct oversight of diocesan bishops, including any women bishops who might be appointed in the future. In place of the legislation, there would be a ‘Code of Practice’, without legal support but to which the bishops would ‘have regard’.
The petition opposing the ‘Single Clause’ approach was set up deliberately to counter the letter circulated to numerous women clergy and two online petitions, one for male clergy and the other for laity, in support of that letter. It was initially reported that the letter had gathered ‘over 700’ signatures from women currently serving in the Church of England. Newspaper reports now say that number has risen to 1,276.
Meanwhile, the ‘pro-Single Clause’ petition for male clergy stands at 1,205 and that for the laity of both sexes at 1,998. Taken together, this would make 4,479 signatures — more than four times the 1,061 signatures on the petition opposing the ‘Single Clause’ approach.
Nevertheless, the figures indicate that a substantial proportion of the membership of the Church of England opposes the ‘Single Clause’ option, when compared with those in favour.
The Manchester Report, which forms the basis for the Bishops proposal, set out several ways in which provision might be made for those who could not accept the ministry of women bishops, up to and including the introduction of separate dioceses. It is known that a number of bishops favour that, but that the ‘Single Clause’ approach won approval in the House of Bishops by a bare majority.
Furthermore, the Manchester Report warned of the serious consequences that would accompany the introduction of a ‘Single Clause’ approach:
There is no doubt, therefore, that proceeding with legislation that removed the earlier safeguards would trigger a period of uncertainty and turbulence within the Church of England. Many priests and congregations would undoubtedly leave. The Church of England that emerged at the end of the process might possibly be more cohesive. It would undoubtedly be less theologically diverse.
Comparing the figures of the various petitions suggests that a very substantial percentage of the Church’s present membership would be alienated in the way that the Manchester Report warns.
John P Richardson
1 July 2008
The wording of the online petition is as below:
We, the undersigned, being members of the Church of England in England, agree with clause J6 of the Nottingham Statement, passed by the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 1977.
With respect to the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England, we regard the ‘Single Clause, Code of Practice’ option proposed in Annexe B of the Manchester Report as making insufficient provision for those who share this view.
We respectfully ask the House of Bishops and the General Synod to take this into account when considering legislation to consecrate women as bishops, and commend their consideration of the other options in the Manchester Report.
Clause J6 reads, “We repent of our failure to give women their rightful place as partners in mission with men. Leadership in the Church should be plural and mixed, ultimate responsibility normally singular and male.”
The petition may be found here at http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/reject-single-clause-option-manchester-report.html
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