At the crossroads
The Rt Revd John Hind, Bishop of Chichester, shares his own reflections on the Synod motion and exhorts us to an amicable parting of the ways
Following last July's vote, fourteen bishops, including a number of members of the House of Bishops, urged patience on those disappointed by the outcome. We also made it clear that (in our view) 'a code of practice in any form cannot deliver [proper] ecclesial provision, and we want the Manchester group and the House of Bishops to be in no doubt about the seriousness of the situation.'
We suggested that although the legislative process would be long (hence our plea for patience), 'critical moments [would] be the House of Bishops meetings in October and December and the General Synod in February 2009.'
The final form of the recommendations of the Manchester Group and the outcome of the House of Bishops meetings now leave little room for doubt about the destination desired by the Group as a whole and by a majority of the Bishops.
This is, of course, not only about women bishops but about how the Church decides such issues, and the significance of this for ecumenical relations, and of where the Church of England sees itself within the Catholic Church: above all, whether we are primarily one with the Church of the first millennium or above all a church of the Reformation.
We have lived with this tension for a long time but probably cannot do so much longer. To my mind it would be better now for the Church of England to recognize that we are faced with irreconcilable positions.
You simply cannot be a church which at one and the same time both has and does not have female bishops, or, to put it another way, you cannot be a church if the bishops are not in full sacramental communion with each other.
Hence the depth of the difficulty facing us. Hard though it is for many of us, there is a real consistency in the Synod's unwillingness to make provision acceptable to the majority of those with theological objections.
I cannot think it would be good for the Church of England for us to have to engage in protracted arguments and endless nitpicking negotiations, with inevitable loss of morale.
I did, of course, vote against the February Synod motion on principle. Despite that, I expected it to be passed and I hope that, if this is to be the future path for the majority of the Church of England, the passage of the legislation may be as peaceful and unconten-tious as possible.
As a cradle Anglican who loves the Church of my baptism, I certainly do not wish to make things difficult, nor to continue to undermine such residual capacity the Church of England has for the evangelization of our nation. In recent years, bold statements have been made about 'loyal Anglicans'. It clearly will not do for either 'side' of this debate simply to expect the others to go away'. Recognizing that irreconcilable differences of theology, understanding of Scripture and tradition, and of ecumenical aspiration, mean a division within the Church of England, it will be necessary, presumably now by separate measure, to make a just allocation of resources, including finance, to enable loyal Anglicans of both persuasions to flourish. This will enable us all to continue our Christian, indeed our Anglican, life with joy and integrity, freeing us all from the burden and distasteful spectacle of endless wrangling - above all, as to who is the more loyal Anglican.
Although this is a matter of justice for all, I am of course speaking very particularly for those who cannot accept the new direction of travel. The heaviest burden may appear to fall on the clergy, especially younger stipendiary clergy and full time lay workers with families, but I am no less concerned (perhaps even more concerned) about the large number of faithful lay people who will feel that the Church of England is no longer the body to which they thought they belonged. In many cases they have lovingly sustained the lives, including the fabric, of their parish churches over the years. They should not now be forced to abandon them.
I write this with great sadness, but also a sense of liberation. Please let us agree to part amicably and remain friends. Don't let us argue over the family silver or, at this late stage, turn our back on the fragile but noble notion of 'loyal Anglicans!
Rather let the Church of England accept the fact that this is a church-dividing situation and begin to discuss the implications of this as calmly and charitably as we can.
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