Tag Archives: Church of England

UNFOLDING ADVENTURE

Christina Rees

This article first appeared in ‘New Directions’ (the monthly magazine for members of  Forward in Faith) at the invitation of its editor, Nicholas Turner. We reprint it here with his permission, as it is relevant to all within the Church of England who seek to engage with the issue of opening the episcopate to women I believe that part of what we are seeing at this time is God breaking down unholy barriers of our own making and causing us to face our fears and prejudices by the cleansing and purifying power of his Holy Spirit. The obedient response is for us to submit ourselves to God’s action and to try to discern the ways in which we are being called to change.

Change is, of course, often painful and difficult, for individuals as well as for institutions. As Christians seeking to remain faithful to our heavenly Father, change can be a real threat: have we heard and discerned correctly, or are we being led astray into error? In his email inviting me to write this article, the editor (of New Directions) referred to the place in which we are now in the Church of England as the ‘end times’. I realise that it must seem like that to many. With all that is in me I fervently believe that it is not. In fact, I see where we are now in the church in regards to opening the episcopate to women as the dawning of a new era in which we will discover more of the kingdom of God among us in greater strength, power, truth and grace.

Part of what we have to acknowledge is that none of us knows precisely where we are being led. The walk of faith is an unfolding adventure, requiring, step by step, trust in the guidance and indwelling of God’s Spirit. We are reliant on God not only as individual disciples but also, corporately, as an institution.

As individuals, we need to take responsibility for our spiritual health and discipline, our attitudes and actions. As the institutional church, to a greater extent, we have to rely on our systems, structures and leaders to keep us attentive, responsive and faithful. All of this requires trust, something that has been in woefully short supply in our church.

Trusting one another and being willing to discuss issues about which we hold very different views does not imply, or necessarily lead to, agreement. What it can do, though, is lead to a greater understanding of each other’s views and concerns and a greater sense of our connectedness in the heart of God.

As part of the subject of this article I was asked to address the issue of how a church that consecrates women as bishops will ‘cope’ with the continued existence of those elsewhere on the churchmanship spectrum as honoured members. First of all, I greatly hope that we will not merely be ‘coping’ with those who, for a variety of reasons, disagree with women’s ordination. What I would like to think is that we can come to the position of living, working and ministering more honestly and openly together.

That will require an ongoing commitment on the part of the mainstream church and those who remain opposed to women’s ordination to mutual respect and mutual acceptance. It will also require on the part of Forward in Faith and Reform an acceptance of the reality of where we are in the Church of England in regards of the position of women.

Back in 1988, the then Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, said, ‘I believe women ought to be ordained to the priesthood … I believe that truths which were there from the beginning in the Christian faith can lie dormant until the social conditions are right for them to be perceived. And I affirm that the time has come to express this truth in the life of the Church.’

A year later, Dr Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, said at General Synod, ‘I remain of the conviction that the ordination of women to the priesthood ought to be construed as an enlargement and extension of the historic Christian ministry.’ Neither of these men could be described as capricious revisionists, and their comments arose from years of rigorous and serious engagement with the issues, something to which the  Church as a whole has been committed for many years.

As a result of this engagement, women were ordained as deacons nearly twenty years ago and as priests twelve years ago. There are over 2000 licensed priests who are women, and now one in every five Church of England clergy is female. Over the next few years we will be drafting legislation that will make it legal for women to be consecrated as bishops.

There cannot be genuinely mutual respect unless this reality is acknowledged and accepted – not necessarily agreed with – but accepted as where we are as a church. Only
then can we go about the business of honouring each other’s presence and position. We have got to where we are by a steady, prayerful and painstaking process that will continue in our synods and in the College and House of Bishops. Our church is imperfect, but it is what we have. We hold in tension the reality of the church as a particular institution and also our understanding of the Church universal as the body of Christ. In that Church there are no synods and working parties, no legislation and arrangements, only Christ as the head, ‘from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.’ [Ephesians 4.16]

Until the eventual reconciliation of all of creation with God, until the ultimate triumph of love, we will have to live with our flawed and imperfect structures and also with our flawed and imperfect selves. Theologians tell us that God has the patience to wait for,and the power to bring about, this ultimate fulfilment and reconciliation. If only our perspective and vision could be so enlarged! It is apparent that, with the issue of women’s ordination, and with other issues where there is difference, we cannot agree on what Scripture says or even on how to interpret it There is, of course, the principle that, when there is a seeming contradiction in Scripture, to go for what is clear and to build on that. One thing that is clear is that we, men and women, together, are made in the image of God: ‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ [Genesis 1.27] There is not more of the image of God in the male and less in the female, or more of God in the female and less in the male. Together, and equally, we are made in God’s image.

It is also clear that the baptism of Christ is not different for males and females, but the same for both. All those who are baptized into Christ share the same inheritance. Hence the famous cry of women, ‘Either ordain us or don’t baptize us!’ Likewise, men and women are to share equally in the ongoing life of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, men and women together received the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire and in the sound of rushing wind.

When Paul wrote his great treatise in his letter to the Romans on the pre-eminence of salvation by faith and of new life in the Spirit, it was not a gendered message. Women and men together were included in the salvation offered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, the traditional Jew, was passionate about the transformed state of those who are in Christ: ‘But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.’ [Romans 7.6] This liberation was not just for men, or just for women, but for both men and women.

In 1 Corinthians, when Paul enumerates the gifts of the Spirit, it is clear that they are not given only to men or only to women, but to all who are in Christ. After his wonderful description of the parts of the body of Christ, Paul writes: ‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.’ [1 Corinthians 12. 27–31].

In 1992, Desmond Tutu, then Archbishop of Capetown, wrote, ‘I am more convinced than ever before that theologically, biblically, socially, ecumenically, it is right to ordain women to the priesthood. The most radical act that can happen to any human being is to become a member of the body of Christ. If gender cannot be a bar to baptism, then gender cannot be a bar to ordination. The Bible is quite clear that the divine image is constitutive of humanity, irrespective of gender.’ In that one comment, Tutu encapsulates the far-reaching ramifications of what it means to be a Christian. Former views of what men and women were, and what they could and could not be, or do, are replaced by a new understanding of our identity in Christ.

In the months to come I pray that we might be able to reflect in new ways on the infinitude of God’s unconditional love and on our own absolute indebtedness for our very existence and for our capacity to relate, to reflect, to love and to be loved. I like to think that we can begin to trust God more as we dwell on the mystery and wonder of the universe we inhabit, and on our own place within that universe.

To what extent are we willing to discern and discover God’s purposes for ourselves, our church and for all of creation? To what extent are we willing to allow ourselves and others the freedom and opportunity to be changed into the likeness of the Lord? Do we dare to accept God’s invitation to join in the Divine Dance? Whatever we choose, however willing or unwilling we might be, we can trust that the Dance will go on.

Christina Rees is a member of The General Synod of the Church of England and of its Appointments Committee, and a founder member of the Archbishops’ Council as well as on the Church of England’s Communications Committee. She is a member of CSCS. Christina is best known as the Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church) but is also a member of GRAS (Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod), as well as a supporter of Inclusive Church. She speaks and preaches widely and is a professional life and business
coach. Her books include ‘The Divine Embrace’ and ‘Voices of this Calling’.

 

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Legal implications of the ordination of women to the episcopate

Will Adam

The decision to permit the ordination of women to the episcopate in the Church of England will be based primarily on theology. Many believe (including Forward in Faith) that the decision to go ahead was made in principle when the General Synod requested that legislation be drawn up and brought before them

However, lurking behind any decision based on theology, principle and justice there lie a number of decisions that need to be made on how that decision can be put into practice. Much depends on the legislation itself. There are different options before the group drafting legislation ranging from a single clause measure simply removing the bar to women priests being ordained as bishops to more complex scenarios allowing their ordination but preventing their appointment as either diocesan bishops or archbishops.  We will not know the shape of the legislation until the report is published.

The first legal issue that will undoubtedly arise is the question of whether or not the General Synod and Parliament has the authority to permit the ordination of women as bishops. A spate of litigation questioning this authority followed the decision to ordain women priests. None of the challenges were successful and it is therefore very unlikely that anyone will be able to mount a successful challenge this time.

The second issue that I would like to point out is about the recognition of ordination. The Church of England consistently states that the orders of all those who are lawfully ordained should be recognised. Yet the legislation bringing in the ordination of women to the priesthood provided a mechanism for the ministry of lawfully ordained female clergy to be refused by PCCs and (at the time) by Diocesan Bishops. The refusal to accept the ministry of a woman bishop has further-reaching consequences as it could mean that some might refuse to recognise the efficacy of confirmation and ordination when conferred by her. Great care will need to be taken that the rights of female bishops and supporters, as well as opponents, of women’s ministry are adequately protected.

The courts are notoriously unwilling to pronounce on questions of the recognition of holy orders, most recently in the case of Blake v Associated Newspapers.1 The recognition or otherwise of the ministry of female bishops also has knock-on effects in such areas as canonical obedience, submission to lawful authority and acceptance of the direction of the bishop in matters such as liturgy. There are already calls for the setting up of a third province free of women bishops and priests. Detailed proposals have been published by Forward in Faith.2 Such a move would have huge legal implications in terms of the synodical structure of the church, the parish system, the training and discipline of clergy and, possibly, such areas as ecclesiastical courts.

The Church is entering a minefield first of legislation and then, assuming the change is brought about, of dealing with the consequences of that change. These consequences include practical, legal matters and great care will need to be taken to ensure that the Church gets it right.

1 [2003] EWHC 1600 QB.
2 www.forwardinfaith.com

Will Adam is Priest in Charge of Girton, Ely Diocesan Ecumenical Officer, and a
Research Student at Cardiff Law School

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CSCS NEWS 27 Autumn 2005: Editorial

By far the most important development since our last issue was put to bed is the death of a Pope and the appointment of his successor. What changes that may betoken in the Roman Catholic Church, and more specifically its attitudes to issues of gender and sexuality, we cannot be sure after just a few months of the new Pontificate. But perhaps, under the surface, tectonic shifts are taking place.

John Paul II was a militant – and in some ways, it must be admitted, magnificent – exponent of a particular kind of theology and spirituality, which magnifies the potential conflicts between our Christian calling and the rich complexities of our sexualities, and concludes that the solution must lie in firm discipline if not repression. That approach has done a massive amount of harm – obviously to AIDS victims, to gay people and to women, but not only to them. David Brown’s article, later in this issue, illustrates that harm, though in the case he quotes it appears to be evangelicals who are at fault. But what do we put in its place? An unbounded anything-goes liberalism? Has that never done any harm?

For me, the dilemma was poignantly illustrated by a French film broadcast on BBC2 just a day or so before the Pope’s death. It was billed as a comedy, and so, for the most part, it was. But its theme was a serious one: the access of disabled people to sexual fulfilment. And this was given added piquancy by being set in a Roman Catholic care home, most of whose staff needed a lot of persuading to look at the obvious solution to the dilemma. Inevitably, a “tart with a heart of gold” figured in that solution. The audience were clearly invited to support the idea that disabled people, who for whatever reason do not find normal sexual relationships available to them, should be given access to prostitutes, and that this could be thoroughly life-enhancing. But were they also being invited thereby to condone the web of exploitation which lies behind the sex industry, or the squalid impersonality which characterises most transactions within it? That’s a difficult one.

Maybe the divorcee on the care-home staff who ended up bedding the most difficult and needy resident was offering a better solution; but, then again, what issues are raised when professional carers with legal responsibilities enter into relationships with disabled people?

There are no easy answers. It is one thing to oppose the fundamentalist (Catholic or evangelical) attitude towards sexual fulfilment because of the deep wounds it has caused, and David Brown is right to call us to a more active role in that. But the issue of human sexuality, particularly when considered in the wider context of human nature and destiny as Christian faith seeks to address them, is never simple. What do we mean by “sexual fulfilment” anyway? (If we are anything more than mere animals, it must mean something more than getting our rocks off on whatever turns us on; though we do well to remember that we are animals in part.) Can sexual fulfilment ever be a drug, blinding us to other dimensions of the spiritual (I choose my words carefully)? What about when one person’s sexual fulfilment causes suffering to another – a quite frequent phenomenon? What about the ambiguities of power in sexual relationships, which may be acutely present in situations such as paedophilia but are actually pretty universal in some measure? And how in any case do you reconcile fulfilment-language with other and seemingly very different forms of Christian discourse? David is right to remind us that these are all far, far bigger questions than specific issues such as homosexuality and the priesthood. If we could find “answers” to the big questions, the more specific ones would be solved far more easily. But are there “answers” in that sense? The fundamentalists say Yes. We may question their answers, but if we put other pat answers in their place we may simply be falling into the same simplistic trap. On the other hand, if we are not constantly seeking some sort of approach to answers, we have nothing to offer those who look for guidance and wisdom, and the two extreme approaches, of fundamentalism and anything goes, will flood in to fill the vacuum.

Yet I spoke earlier about tectonic movements under the surface of the Churches. The Roman Catholic ban on contraception is almost universally ignored, and that, surely, represents a large – scale recognition of the positive value of sexual expression over and above its role in procreation The Church of England now officially accepts divorce, admittedly under very limited circumstances; and, despite the hard line which the Anglican Communion generally appears to be taking on homosexuality and “family values”, there must be few congregations which do not include some gay people, some cohabiting people, and a variety of other “deviants”. Even US evangelicals, I am told, now encourage sexual experimentation and a search for fulfilment, albeit strictly within monogamous heterosexual marriage. A few decades ago, none of this would have been the case. In truth, I suspect, the majority of people are finding their own answers to the big questions.

Often – too often – that process will lead them out of our churches. But sometimes it will not, and those who remain are amongst our most precious resources. They, after all, have done and are doing the theology. They are living it. They have discovered answers of a sort, however provisional, which work for them here and now.

It is, above all, to share this experience that CSCS exists. We began life as the “intellectually respectable” (and hence charitable) arm of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, which is why issues around homosexuality may sometimes seem to dominate our deliberations even though we have long since dropped our formal LGCM links. We remain in some measure, in intent if less so in actuality, a “learned society”, which is why we must sometimes seem all too like a talking-shop responding to the latest fads and fancies of academics interested in our area. But our ultimate aim is to lubricate the tectonic movements to which I have referred. If the quest of the intelligent Christian can be defined as “faith seeking understanding”, then our task is to help in that search particularly for those very people for whom David Brown acts as advocate. To do so will involve serious theological work, and far too few theologians are effectively and accessibly addressing the big issues of Christianity and sexuality. But it should also involve much more mutual care, sharing of experience and education of people in the pew.

These reflections on CSCS’ role lead me to some domestic matters. First of all, I am sorry that it has been necessary to print the announcement at the beginning of this Newsletter – but needs must. Perhaps next year, if the AGM agrees a new structure of subscriptions (with or without Theology and Sexuality), the problem of arrears will ease – for it should then be possible to be a member of CSCS for somewhere around £15 per year for those who do not want the learned journal. Our survey of members during the Summer suggested that about two-thirds wanted to continue to take the journal; but this was on a response rate of only about one-third of the membership, so it may be that the journal becomes a minority interest. We are in discussion with Sage Publications, the publishers of the journal, about the implications of all this, and we will keep members posted.

After the (possibly) not so good news, some that is very good indeed. With this Newsletter you will receive a flyer for the major joint residential conference with the Modern Churchpeople’s Union (and the Student Christian Movement) next summer. We have some truly outstanding speakers. As one who attends MCU conferences every year, I can assure readers that this is tremendous value for money (and any full-time students who are SCM members can receive bursaries). THIS CONFERENCE WILL BE A SELL-OUT – there is an absolute maximum of 200 places – SO BOOK NOW!

Don’t forget also that we will also be having our own usual annual conference and AGM on
February 2006 – this time, we hope, with a distinctly ecumenical flavour. Details to follow. Many other organisations are now interested in those great questions with which I began this Editorial and on which CSCS focuses. One of them of course is LGCM, from whose loins in a sense we sprang, and I hope you will find interest in both the book review and the flyer in this issue.

MCU is another, and our links with them are proving of increasing value. There are more, including such relative latecomers as Inclusive Church. Is there still a role for CSCS? We remain the only organisation with a truly broad and multi-issue interest strictly focused on questions of faith and sexuality. In theory we are surely needed as never before. But is there a role for us in practice? Only you, the membership, can decide that. If you feel that our conferences and newsletters (let alone Theology and Sexuality for those who continue to take it) make no contribution to your part in the vital dialogue about sexuality and faith, then it is your right to answer No. But if you continue to be involved with us, at this challenging time, then the Committee feel confident that many will continue to say Yes. Yes to faith. Yes to sexuality as a glorious gift of God, rather than the embarrassment which some people of faith appear to find it.

And therefore, hopefully, Yes also to CSCS.

Anthony Woollard

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