Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
The decision of the General Synod on July 14th to ordain Women Bishops in the Church of England is an occasion of deep rejoicing for many, and especially for the women clergy of the diocese, who will find this to be a real affirmation of their place and ministry in the life of the Church. For others the decision may be a source of dismay and worry.
I was present during the debate as Commissary during the interregnum, a status which does not permit me to vote. As the Synod moved towards the decision I was struck by the palpable spirit in the debate of genuine commitment to hold us all together in one Church, despite deeply held differences on the issue of the ordination of women to the episcopate. There was much joy expressed by the majority of members, but not in a triumphalist way, and there was care and expressions of love for the minority who were troubled by the outcome.
The legal provisions which were passed are quite simple in their drafting. But this step which the Church is taking cannot only be guided by law; it must be undergirded in mutual love and trust. It is up to the bishops to build this trust across the Church. The five principles which are outlined in the bishops' declaration which are part of the package which was approved, now need to be lived in fullness in the Church's life, so that all may flourish.
I cite these principles here:
Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds 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;
Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
Since it continues 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 acknowledges 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;
Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
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.
As a bishop who serves this diocese, I am fully committed to living these principles in my own ministry among you. I wanted to write to you immediately after the vote to assure you, both those who rejoice in this step and those who find it difficult, of my prayers and of my commitment to supporting and enabling your priestly ministry. I give thanks to God for all that each of you brings that enlivens and enriches our diocesan life. You are a remarkable body of clergy and it is truly a privilege to minister among you.
The Diocese in Europe has a special ecumenical role within the Church of England. We are a diocese which has at its heart a constant striving to make visible our unity, with those with whom we are in communion, and with those with whom we are not yet in communion. Our Sister Churches of the Old Catholic and Porvoo Communions will share the joy of so many in the Church of England and will welcome this development. Other ecumenical partners including the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches may find this a further difficulty on the journey towards full communion. I was therefore encouraged by honest and gracious words which came last night from Fr Anthony Currer, the staff person for relations with Anglicans at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Catholic Co-Secretary of ARCIC and IARCCUM. Fr Currer said that the vote "is not creating a new reality for our dialogue since other provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the United States and Canada, already have women bishops". He added, nevertheless, that the Church of England's decision is significant as it is "the mother church of the communion, which is a point of reference for Anglicans worldwide". Fr Currer went on to say, "with the Anglicans we have communion, which we describe as impaired or partial. An area we have to explore with our dialogue partners is what is sufficient for the full communion we are seeking".
We in the Diocese in Europe have a profound commitment to unity which is embedded in our constitution, in our very DNA. We now are called to be even more intentional in this commitment, within our own internal life as a diocese. The five principles will help to guide us.
Even in this time of change and for some, uncertainty, we can remain confident in who we are, a loving and serving community of disciples, a vital diocese of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. In the joy that many are feeling, as a family we must also support one another, especially those who are less joyful at this development. Let us continue to love one another and trust in God's Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us as we move together into the future.
Your brother in Christ