Thursday, 13 November 2008

An Open Letter to the House of Bishops

I have reproduced in full below an open letter to the House of Bishops from the members of massinformation. We at Women's Guild would like to add our support and prayers to this letter and ask all our readers to pray for the House of Bishops, the massinformation team and all seminarians affected by this situation over the next few days:

Most Reverend and Right Reverend Fathers in God,

You will soon meet as a House of Bishops to discuss the current state of the Church of England and, particularly, the decision made at General Synod over the summer. As young people training for the ministerial priesthood in the Church of England we have attempted to put into words our concerns and anxieties about the future, and to offer you, in some small way, an insight into our hopes and fears for, potentially, forty years of ordained ministry.

The decision by General Synod in July to consider a Code of Practice, rather than structural alternatives, presents a significant problem for those who are opposed to the ordination of women. Many of this integrity have suggested that it is “too soon to give up” and that something effective can come from the next Group of Sessions. We fear this is unlikely. If the Church of England chooses not to provide appropriate structural solutions, as this resolution by General Synod would seem to indicate, it would be foolhardy - and even disingenuous - to continue to prepare for a life of ordained ministry in the Church of England.

General Synod is the “synodically governed” part of the Church of England’s systems of authority, but there is another: the recognition that it is “episcopally led” is as vital to this discussion, and it is this element that we wish to address. At the July Group of Sessions, Synod decided to disregard the interventions of the two Archbishops and a number of our most senior bishops. This would seem to undermine the authority of the Archbishops, and appears to reflect a distressing disunity within the House of Bishops itself.

If the House of Bishops is to lead us from the brink of irreparable damage to the systems of government within the Church of England, then this is the time to do it. Whether you, as the bishops of the Church of England, wish to follow this route is your decision. We will continue to pray for an increased unity in the House of Bishops in order that the same unity might spread throughout the Church of England.

There has been much discussion of a Code of Practice but, as we have stated above, this is unworkable. Fr Jonathan Baker’s resignation from the Manchester Group indicates the strength with which the constituency resents being, seemingly, ‘dealt with’ in this way. A Code of Practice may seem attractive on paper, but it is hard to see how it could sustain a body of Christians shaped for mission and evangelism and who are not merely tolerated, but respected.

Many have pointed to other Provinces within the Anglican Communion as examples of places where women are ordained to the episcopate, using this as a reason for us to consider it within the Church of England. If this is taken seriously as legitimising the quest for episcopal ordination for women, it follows that other related examples within the Communion should also be taken seriously. The House of Bishops need not be reminded of the current situation in the United States, where it is possible to see instances in which such a Code of Practice has failed to provide for those it intends to. A similar situation has developed in the decision by the Governing Body of the Church in Wales not to replace the Provincial Assistant Bishop following his recent retirement.

The House of Bishops has the opportunity to bring this situation under control. Nobody would suggest that this issue is going to go away; nobody would suggest that the House of Bishops can, over the course of a weekend, solve all the problems that currently exist. However, it is possible for the House of Bishops to provide the leadership and unity that is so urgently needed on this matter.

The House of Bishops represents as broad a range of opinions as the Church of England encompasses—and well it should. On this issue a matter of Christian Unity is at stake. Not only within the Church of England, but in the church at large, there is genuine concern that the future could bring further dissonance and disunity to Christ’s Church, bringing realistic hopes for Christian Unity to an end.

A Code of Practice cannot sustain the Church of England as it is today. The House of Bishops has the potential to do something about that, and to come together as a model of Christian living, affirming and including all within our number.

With our good wishes and prayers,

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