Thursday, 4 April 2013

Moves towards 'women bishops' in Wales

The following press release has been issued by the Church in Wales [here] :
Governing Body of the Church in Wales – April 10-11 2013
The ordination of women as bishops will be discussed by clergy and lay people from all over Wales at a key Church meeting next week.
Theological arguments for and against women bishops will be presented to members of the Church in Wales’ Governing Body during its two-day meeting at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, in Lampeter, on April 10-11.
The 144 members will be put into seven groups, each facilitated by a bishop, to consider two papers – one outlining the case for the ordination of women and one setting out the case against.
The discussions are being held ahead of the introduction of a two-stage Bill to the Governing Body in September to ordain women as bishops. That legislation, however, will not be addressed by the groups next week.
The Bishop of St Asaph, Gregory Cameron, says, “It is now five years since the last time that Governing Body considered the question of the ordination of women to the episcopate, and many of its members will have changed.  The bishops feel it is important that Governing Body has the opportunity to explore the theological questions behind these issues, and understand the conscientious reasons why those opposed to the ordination of women to the episcopate would not be able to accept the sacramental ministry of a woman bishop as well as the theological reasons why those in favour believe that the time is right for such as a step.”
The discussions will take place on Thursday morning from 9.30am.
So the great theological debating society which is contemporary Anglicanism begins another session. If the issues did not have such serious personal implications, it would be difficult to stifle a yawn. The issues have been already thoroughly rehearsed - at nauseam, in fact- and 'explored,' if not exactly understood, both in Wales and in numerous other places and on numerous occasions over recent years. We understand why a formal debate has to take place, given the rejection of the legislation in 2008; it is, however, hard to see how much light will be generated by yet another set-piece debate in which emotionalism and arguments from secular notions of equality will go head to head with theology. On such occasions, theology always seems to be the loser. 
But as for understanding the crucial issue - "the conscientious reasons why those opposed to the ordination of women to the episcopate would not be able to accept the sacramental ministry of a woman bishop," the arguments have also been out there for some considerable time. It will be interesting to see the papers, both for and against, which are to be presented to the groups next Thursday and judge how balanced they are. 
Perhaps we should also send the bishops and others responsible for making the fateful decision a comprehensive reading list, including the stated views of our 'ecumenical partners' worldwide of the implications of a 'yes' vote and the 'internal' implications for the theological direction of the Province... 

Whether the members of the Governing Body will be willing to grasp the arguments in favour of authentic and traditional apostolic order is another matter. Whether they will be prepared to act to ensure its survival in the Church in Wales is open to even more doubt. The only really interesting question in all this is whether  the bishops and the G.B. will be prepared, in the face of the inevitable radical feminist lobbying, to countenance adequate pastoral and sacramental provision for those who, come what may, holding true to the catholic tradition, will remain opposed to female ordination. Any 'adequate provision' must by definition include alternative episcopal oversight by a bishop, himself 'orthodox' both in theology and practice.. That's not where negotiation begins: for traditionalists that's the bare minimum necessary. It was the sticking point last time (and the reason for the failure of the legislation) and could well be again. It is on this subject that the serious talking - and listening - needs to be done before the legislative process kicks off in earnest in September.
Please pray for all those involved.


  1. Joseph Golightly4 April 2013 at 19:13

    So the bishops are going to be facilitators to no doubt ease the pain. But its ahead of the legislation which seems to have been drafted so tell me what is the point of this 2 day meeting. Women bishops are going to be part of the Welsh scene sooner rather than later. Where does that leave any who in conscience do not accept? Not many hiding places left are there!

    1. I've made no secret of my view that, in the end, there will be nowhere to hide. Even so, this is a battle which has to to be fought here to the bitter end - for all kinds of reasons. The sight of any Christian body, however flawed, falling (even deeper?)into error and heresy should fill us all with dismay rather than with a kind of 'we told you so' glee - simply because of the number of souls who will be led astray as a result, believing in the authority of those who advocate those errors. A tragedy is still a tragedy, even if some believe the present 'train wreck' to have been historically or culturally almost inevitable. No?

  2. And when there is 'nowhere to hide' - or rather, stand one's ground openly - what then? What are the options for those who wish to remain Anglicans while remaining faithful to tradition?

    1. There are well-advertised options, if simply staying put and witnessing to the truth is made impossible - the Ordinariate, Western Rite Orthodoxy, some kind of 'continuing' future and, of course, the recent news (thanks to Professor William Tighe for reminding me about this) of the possible expansion of the 'Union of Scranton' linked to the PNCC.
      How 'Anglican' a future any of these may turn out to be is a matter of debate. The curse of living in 'interesting times' brings its fair share of dilemmas.

    2. And you Fr. Michael which option will you choose?

  3. Mr Golightly – just a few factual matters. The discussion groups take place on Thursday morning ahead of a full day’s business and are meant to be a ‘starter’ to assess the temperature before a full debate on the proposed legislation in September. I can see why this would offer an opportunity to appreciate the honesty of views on both sides, and to develop the sort of empathy that might possibly allow us to move forward together.

    Michael – the papers are written by Revd Dr Rhiannon Johnson and Revd Canon Tudor Hughes, and they are accompanied by an offprint of the Church Times supplement on the subject from 13th January this year. (Since its publication, I have thought that ‘Women Bishops in the Church of England?’ (2004) is the clearest and fullest guide to the arguments on both sides.)

    I shall be interested to see how many people are really supportive of the ‘two-stage’ approach which involves holding any approved legislation in favour of women bishops until an agreed constitutional solution is arrived at for those who will not accept the legislation.

    I do have a ‘glass half full’ approach to these matters, and as you know I hope we will be able to move forward together: being able to disagree with generosity and a common faith in Jesus is in large part what I continue to find attractive about being an Anglican. I hope this – the first meeting of the GB I will have attended – will not change that!

    1. Patrick, many thanks for the information about the authorship of the papers: I'm relieved.
      As you know I'm less sanguine about this process than you are, possibly because I cannot see the willingness on the part of the 'majority'(including the bishops and virtually all the Church in Wales' establishment)to give the traditionalist minority sufficient ecclesiological space to survive.
      It's not so much that I'm a glass half empty sort of person, I just fear the glass is in imminent danger of shattering due to the explosive mixture it contains...
      But I pray you and those like you on the G.B. may be successful in the attempt to bring both 'sides' to some kind of understanding and a way forward that does not lead to (in effect) the expulsion of traditionally believing catholics and evangelicals.

  4. On the face of it this is an encouraging step given that the case will be made from both sides, albeit with facilitators in the same camp, but given that Abp Morgan is adamant that there will be no replacement Provincial Assistant Bishop it is difficult to see what progress can be made in safeguarding the traditionalist position:
    The reaction in the CofE to the lost vote suggests that if agreement cannot be reached on the second stage there will be moves to work around it.

    1. Thank you. Yes, precisely - those are my worries, too.

  5. Having read this posting with interest, I felt I would comment. I am new to the GB myself. It was useful to read the both papers, although I am quite sure of my own convictions. It will however, be interesting to hear what is said at the groups. What concerns me greatly is that the Bench are pursuing this matter to make a point. I hear people saying things such as 'what a positive message and reinforcement of womens' ministry it would be to pass the first Bill.' It also worries me that they Bench will not keep to the agreement of a two stage process, what if there is no support for the second BIll? What happens then? The failure to reappoint a PAB hardly goes in their favour. The Bench is denying those of us who cannot accept women Bishops an opportunity to ensure that there is adequate and continuing provision. The Archbishop continues an agenda that seeks to divide the Church further. As for where to go, well the Ordinariate seems not be lacking in Wales thus far.


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