Comment

September 2001

 

The Australian General Synod, meeting in Brisbane in July, immediately after the Conference of Forward in Faith Australia in the same city, failed by a significant margin to approve a canon allowing the ordination of women to the episcopate. The veteran campaigner for women's ordination, Dr Muriel Porter of Melbourne, followed the event by a bitter and disappointed radio interview at the end of which she indicated that the battle was not over. In another form the legislation would return.

The promise to press the issue until the Synod finally agrees will surprise no one. The feminist lobby in the Anglican Church is not used to defeat. It has been prepared to use any and all means, legal and illegal, to press its case. It will not take no for an answer. It was the Archbishop of Perth (now the Primate) who put the gun to the head of the Synod over ordinations to the priesthood. Will Dr Carnley be up to his antics again? No one can reliably predict. All that is certain is that three years – the time lapse between Synods – is a long time in Australian Anglicanism.

Members of the Rochester Commission on the theology of women bishops will no doubt be assessing the implications of the Australian vote for the English situation. They will be bound to ask if the tide is turning. They may well conclude, with Bishop Robert Forsyth in the Brisbane debate, that 'nothing in this Church is inevitable, and this development is not inevitable'.

But they will, we believe, be bound to conclude that one thing is unavoidable (indeed is already entrenched); and that is the profound change which has overtaken Anglican ecclesiology. Provincial autonomy (exploited and largely invented to facilitate the ordination of women) will continue gnaw its way through the sinews of Catholic order.

Australian Anglicans are well ahead of the game. To all intents and purposes their extraordinary Constitution enshrines Diocesan Autonomy as an ecclesial principle. Even if the women bishops canon had gained its two thirds majorities in Brisbane, it would nevertheless have come into operation in individual dioceses only after a similar vote in their respective Synods. The unlovely tit-for-tat of Australian Church politics – 'if you go for women bishops, we will go for lay celebration' – is the shape of things to come across the Communion.

Pandora, it appears, was a woman priest.

The Pensions crisis in the Church of England develops apace, with the desperate suggestion that some dioceses (as the BBC Radio Today programme not long ago reported) may even have to cut down on the number of Archdeacons. Archdeacons, the BBC confidently added, act as 'mentors' to other clergy. So now you know.

This paper has long recorded the sordid tale of CofE finances – the scandal of bishops' expenses; the disgraceful failure to do the necessary actuarial work on which to ground an adequate pension fund; the shockingly irresponsible expenditure on middle management at the expense of the parochial ministry; the asset stripping of ancient parochial resources to fund diocesan aggrandizement. The finances of the Church of England are those of an institution with a corporate death-wish. Profligacy rules OK. Now, as the day of the grim reaper draws ever closer, it is time to sound a further warning.

The Church of England, quite simply, has run out of assets to strip. It is looking further afield. Growing doctrinal indifferentism has now brought Methodist assets within its sights. Fiscal motives are reinvigorating tired ecumenism. The sale of the real estate involved in a merger of dwindling congregations on four or five hundred sites around the country could, after all, keep CofE diocesan bureaucracies in business until 2050, without significant retrenchment.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that liberal Protestantism (such as establishment Methodism and the CofE have jointly represented for six or seven decades) is close to its sell-by date. The market for 'As You Like It' ethics with an optional God-slot (or, in some cases, god-slot) has all but disappeared. It no longer rakes in the shekels. The future is bleak without the institutional cannibalism which alone can keep liberalism, financially, on the road.

Methodists must now ask themselves if that is what they want.

Specimens of 'episcobabble' – the rarefied language in which bishops speak of themselves and their colleagues – regularly each the editorial desk of New Directions. Few, it has to be admitted, are as flagrant as the recent announcement to the clergy of the Incredible Shrinking Diocese of the appointment of John Pritchard as Bishop of Jarrow.

John's ministry, we are told, is 'renowned for its strong caring focus'. He is 'a well-organized yet warm person' who is ideally suited to 'this important leadership role' 'as the diocese moves into a period of even more focused mission and extension (sic!)'.

'Brenda and I' and 'all members of the Bishop's Staff and their spouses' are thrilled to welcome 'John and Wendy'.

Not altogether surprisingly, 'a thorough review of properties belonging to the diocese' has led to the conclusion that none is suited to be the new bishop's 'work place and centre of hospitality and meeting’. 'All those who have looked into the matter' have concluded 'that the best solution is to build a new house to the correct specification.’

We wish Bishop and Mrs Pritchard, who are no doubt as horrified by this tasteless verbiage as we are, a happy future in their new home.

 

* * * * *

The unfolding events in Accokeek (see NDs passim) have reached a critical stage A hearing in the secular courts took place at the end of August and the judge's ruling is awaited around the beginning of October.

That a case which could not be settled by the mediation of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, or by the direct intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, or in the ecclesiastical courts (where it properly belongs), has come before a civil magistrate in a nation whose enlightenment constitution emphatically asserts the separation of Church and State is a measure of the chaos which now reigns throughout the Communion Bishop Dixon has gone to law to deny Fr Edwards and the people of Christ Church the religious rights of conscience which the Lambeth Conference of 1998 (in the decisions of which, both with regard to the Eames Commission's recommendations and with regard to human sexuality, the vast majority of the bishops of the Episcopal Church concurred) sought to secure for us all.

A decision in favour of Mrs Dixon (though the judge could not be expected to know this, and certainly could not with propriety take it into account) will further contribute to the ecclesial anomie which is rapidly replacing koinonia in Anglican circles.

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Opening Page