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Guildford Group sets out proposals for women bishops

A Church of England group is proposing a way forward aimed at both permitting women to become bishops - should General Synod vote in favour of this - and of preserving the maximum amount of unity within the Church.

The group, chaired by the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, was set up by the House of Bishops to assess a range of possible options first put forward in 'Women Bishops in the Church of England?' a report produced by a group chaired by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali in November 2004.

Today's publication of the Guildford Group's report follows a vote in General Synod in July 2005 to set in train the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women bishops.

Having reviewed the options over the past 12 months, the Guildford Group is recommending a way forward known as Transferred Episcopal Arrangements.

Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA) are intended to meet the essential needs of those who could not accept that women should be bishops, while avoiding the creation of any new jurisdiction, diocese or province within the Church, according to Women in the Episcopate: the Guildford Group Report, which will be debated by General Synod in February.

"When we started," says the Rt Rev Christopher Hill, who chaired the group that encompassed a wide range of viewpoints, "we did not know whether we would be able to produce an agreed assessment of the options. But the process of working and praying together has brought us closer to each other.

"It has also enabled us to identify a way forward which, we believe, has the potential both to permit the admission of women to the episcopate and preserve the maximum degree of communion across the Church of England."

In the introduction to the report, Bishop Christopher continues: "We do not minimise the difficulty of the choices now facing the Church. There is no course of action, including the status quo, that is free of pain and risk."

The other members of the Guildford Group are the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Rev Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Rev Dr John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, and the Ven Dr Joy Tetley, Archdeacon of Worcester.

Some proposed options were firmly opposed on both sides of the debate and the Group decided to examine the three main options in depth. It considered a 'single clause' measure with a code of practice; transferred episcopal arrangements; and a third province of the Church.

The report argues that a 'single clause' measure would not address the central issue of conscientious non-recognition of women bishops, and that a third province would go too far in the direction of creating separate structures which could be seen as representing significant schism. This, says the report, leaves the Church with a 'stark choice' of not pursuing the ordination of women bishops for some considerable time or considering some form of transferred episcopal arrangements.

Under Transferred Episcopal Arrangements as illustrated in the report, parishes opposed to women priests and women bishops could opt, by resolution of a Special Parochial Church Meeting, for the Diocesan Bishop to request the Archbishop of the Province to arrange for episcopal ministry to be provided by a Provincial Regional Bishop (PRB).

The PRB would exercise jurisdiction over such a parish in certain matters, while the diocesan bishop continued to exercise jurisdiction in others. This is similar to the way in which area bishops exercise functions on behalf of their diocesan bishop. The PRB would be authorised to act in relation to pastoral care (including ministerial review), sacramental and disciplinary matters and to act on behalf of the diocesan bishop in respect of patronage, appointments and ordinands. In other respects, the parish would be subject to the normal diocesan structures and procedures, including the faculty jurisdiction, and so remain for administrative purposes as part of the geographical diocese.

Jurisdiction, says the report, would be shared in a similar way to a priest sharing the cure of souls with the bishop. At the same time, TEA would incorporate the present provisions for parishes opposed to the ordination of women, allowing abolition of those provisions in their present form. This would remove, in all parishes except those in TEA, all legislative discrimination that potentially exists where a woman priest is not now in post.

The question for now, the report acknowledges, is whether the disadvantages of TEA are outweighed by the potential the Group believes it offers. They conclude that it could be made to work and that it merits serious consideration by the General Synod.

A majority of the House of Bishops has also agreed that the approach merits further exploration.

"In essence," says the report, "TEA recognise that communion in the Church always falls short of that fullness which will come only with the fullness of the Kingdom. It is complicated and untidy. But we believe this is how the Church really is. TEA is an honest acknowledgement of our frailty and division in this hugely significant area of our life. We believe TEA is the most inclusive and realistic way forward. It will allow a continuing inter-relationship between those for and against women bishops: at the same time, in its attempt to hold together as many as possible in the highest possible degree of communion, it does not compound the sin of schism."

The Report will be discussed at next month's sessions of the Church of England's General Synod. Women in the Episcopate: the Guildford Group Report, priced £6.00, is available from Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, tel. 020-7898 1300, e mail bookshop@c-of-e.org.uk, or on the web at: www.chbookshop.co.uk (mail order available). It can also be read on the web .

 

 

Women in the Episcopate - the Guildford Report

Presentation by the Bishop of Guildford

January 16th 2006

 

The Guildford Group all ended up in a different place from where we began.  And though we were a group chosen by the House of Bishops we included from the beginning the Archdeacon of Worcester, Joy Tetley, as it was essential that the Group heard the voice of a woman - herself in a senior ministry of oversight - from the 'inside'.  Our churchmanship (I note the male language!) was, of course, deliberately broadly based with the Bishop of Blackburn, Nicholas Reade, a 'traditional' catholic; the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, a definite evangelical and the Bishop of Lincoln, John Saxbee, articulating a liberal voice.  I shall be asking the General Synod to Take Note of our Report in February.  We shall have earlier discussed the Ecumenical Responses to the Rochester Report.  Then the Archbishop of Canterbury will invite the Synod to give 'further exploration' to the Guildford proposals by means of a further statement for the July Synod on the theological, ecumenical and canonical implications of our suggested way forward.  So nothing is set in stone.  Critics will have the chance to demonstrate where we have gone wrong and the Synod will then have the opportunity to weight both the merits and objections to our proposals.  All this is essential before  a legislative drafting committee begins its work, otherwise years will be wasted in drawing up legislation and Codes of Practice which do not embody what the Church wants.  This would also risk the failure of the final proposals as at that stage, not before, the process requires two-thirds majorities in the three Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity as well as a majority of diocesan synods.  So much for the process properly proposed by the House of Bishops, for this important debate affects the faith and order of the Church, a special responsibility of the episcopate.  What does the Guildford Report propose?

We ask the Church to explore a form of Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (the jokes about Tetley Tea - and others - are unending!).  It has some similarities with the present arrangements by Act of Synod as well as important differences.  People may well judge our proposals by their own experience of the system of Provincial Episcopal Visitors.  There are pluses and minuses here.  As the Church offered that system when women were ordained priests it is at least arguable that in faithfulness to the minority something similar ought to be provided at the ordination of women to the episcopate.

In TEA a parish would be able to petition their diocesan bishop - if they are not able to recognise and accept women's priestly and episcopal ministry and authority - for episcopal ministry from what we have called for the time being a Provincial Regional Bishop.  The Diocesan Bishop would request the Archbishop of the Province to provide a Provincial Regional Bishop for the parish concerned.  The PRB would be the bishop for that parish much as an Area Bishop is in the larger dioceses which have Area Schemes.  The Provincial Regional Bishop would exercise pastoral care, sacramental and disciplinary functions, including appointments, ministerial review, sponsorship of ordinands and ordinations.  The oath of canonical obedience would be taken to the Archbishop, through the PRB.  Nevertheless for more administrative matters such as churchyards, faculty jurisdiction, clergy housing, church schools and stipend the usual diocesan arrangements would be administered by the Diocese.  We do not propose separate 'provincial' structures for such matters, though the Province, through the Archbishop and the PRB would provide all the ministry such priests and people are unable to accept either from a woman bishop or where acceptance of women bishops makes this impossible.

But, and this is important, the rest of the Church of England would be entirely clear of all that can be called discriminatory against women's ministry at all levels.  So Resolutions A and B, potentially against acceptance of a woman priest in any parish of the Church of England at the moment, would be abolished.  We have also spent some time pondering on the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury and this will need to continue.  There are also important questions about communion in the Church of England and the collegiality of the bishops which are raised whichever way we go forward.  These questions are wider than the TEA proposals but do need further urgent attention.

The Guildford proposals fall short of what some opponents of women in the episcopate have asked for; for example, Forward in Faith in Consecrated Women?, where a separate Third or Free Province is articulated in some detail.  Equally, those strongly in favour of moving forward without any restriction, such as WATCH, may argue that we have gone too far.  Within the House of Bishops there are those who have doubts as to whether we put at risk the territorial integrity of the diocese as they see it.

We say that we want the Church to test our proposals.  The Report is 'illustrative' rather than definitive.  Detail is important but can be argued and changed - it will be in the legislative process where matters are always open to revision and amendment.

We believe that some 'structural' provision ought to be made for those who cannot assent.  Almost everyone believes that some provision ought to be made - though many have argued that this ought not to be in legislation.  We understand their argument.  But we have been realistic: unless something providing for those opposed is in a Measure opening up the episcopate to women a Code of Practice by itself cannot have teeth.  We have explored this with the Church's Legal Advisor, who has been a consultant to our Group.  There is a continuing question as to how much is provided for in a Measure and how much in an associated Code.  The balance here is still a matter for debate.

What we have tried to do, with necessarily sophisticated proposals, is itself very simple.

We have identified a way forward which, we believe, has the potential both to permit the admission of women to the episcopate and preserve the maximum degree of communion across the Church of England.

We have tried to make a space, to make a room, for those who cannot accept women in the episcopate.  Even if some want wholly open-plan arrangements, while others want a semi-detached, or even a separate house, we believe the Church of England should have enough rooms - with interconnecting doors - in our traditionally inclusive household of faith.

 

Notes

 

Since the General Synod voted in November 1992 to ordain women as priests in the Church of England, it has twice debated motions on the issue of women bishops. In July 2000, Synod debated a private members motion moved by the Ven Judith Rose, Archdeacon of Tonbridge, and called for further theological study on the episcopate in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate. That study resulted in the Rochester Report, which informed the Synod's debate in July 2005, which itself prompted the Guildford Report (see full motions below).

The motion before General Synod in July 2000, which called for the Rochester Report was passed in the following form:

"That this Synod ask the House of Bishops to initiate further theological study on the episcopate, focusing on the issues that need to be addressed in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate in the Church of England, and to make a progress report on this study to Synod within the next two years."

Women Bishops in the Church of England?,the report of the House of Bishops' Working Party on Women in the Episcopate, is a survey of the theological issues the Church needs to consider as it decides whether or not to ordain women bishops. It was published in November 2004 by Church House Publishing, priced £12.99, and is available as above. It can be read on the web .

The motion before General Synod in July 2005, which called for the Guildford Report was passed in the following form:

'That this Synod

(a)        consider that the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate should now be set in train;

(b)        invite the House of Bishops, in consultation with the Archbishops' Council, to complete by January 2006, and report to the Synod, the assessment which it is making of the various options for achieving the removal of the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate and ask that it give specific attention to the issues of canonical obedience and the universal validity of orders throughout the Church of England as it would affect clergy and laity who cannot accept the ordination of women to the episcopate on theological grounds; and

(c)        instruct the Business Committee to make sufficient time available in the February 2006 group of sessions for the Synod to debate the report, and in the light of the outcome to determine on what basis it wants the necessary legislation prepared and establish the necessary drafting group'.