Diocese of ChichesterDiocese of Chichester

Dr Martin Warner comments on General Synod

Dr Martin Warner comments on General Synod

The meeting of the General Synod in York was conducted in a remarkably positive atmosphere, encouraged partly by sunshine and tennis.

The key point that I would like to share, however, is the progress made towards the ordination of women to the episcopate.
First, as members of our Diocesan Synod will be aware, the whole of the General Synod broke into small discussion groups, each with an external facilitator.  This process took up most of Saturday and proved to be remarkably fruitful in creating a very different environment for our discussion of a painful subject.

The group work nurtured a greater awareness of what our differences are, why we hold to them, and what it has felt like to live through the past few months when, for different reasons, we have all felt intensely scrutinised and challenged.

Second, in Monday's debate on women bishops there was a strong consensus, articulated by speakers as different as the Rev’d Rod Thomas and Canon Jane Charman, that we must proceed with ordaining women to the episcopate as a matter of urgency.  

Third, there was persistent reference to the five principles articulated by the House of Bishops’ Working Group.  It was felt by many that these needed to be owned as a foundation to our future provision and practice.  They are:

  1. Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;

  2. Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must then be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;

  3. Since it will continue to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;

  4. Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England will remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and

  5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

The full text of the document these are taken from is GS1886, available on the Church of England Website.

Finally, following a proposal from the Bishop of Willesden it has been agreed that a larger than normal steering group should be appointed to take forward the drafting of the legislative proposals. This group would include representatives of all viewpoints and would be served by one of the facilitators who have been working with the group that produces the 5 principles above.

At the same time a similar grouping would be convened and would work independently on broader issues of the spectrum of Anglican belief and it boundaries, and the nature of the Church's relation to wider contemporary society.

Please pray for the grace, wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to sustain those who are called to engage in this task.  The building of trust is slow and demanding work.  It requires patience, like God's patience with each one of us.  

May such work and its fruits be evident in our Church, our diocese, our parishes and all our relationships with each other?

One additional and final point.  In the debate about safeguarding there was recognition by those from outside the diocese of Chichester of the huge amount of work done here, and the strides made towards becoming known as a centre of good practice.  

We as a diocese must thank Angela Sibson for the unfailing support and encouragement she has given Colin Perkins, Gemma Wordsworth and Kim Nash in their remarkable and demanding work.  But gratitude to them must also commit us to recognition of the scars still borne by survivors, some of whom we do not yet know.  

An apology from the Church of England has indeed been given formally at the General Synod. This marks some progress in our response to survivors.  It is part of a good beginning, not the indication of a sad conclusion.