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Monday, July 11, 2005

Church of England at the Crossroads

Church of England Women Bishops Soon Posted by Picasa

Well, the inevitable has happened. The Church of England at its General Synod Meeting in York has removed the legal obstacles to the consecration of women bishops. BBC Report

Of course, from the vantage point of Orthodox Catholic ecclesiology, women should have been consecrated first. This, of course, is because the primary minister in the Orthodox Catholic Church is the bishop, not the priest. The priest "stands in the place of the bishop" in each parish or community.

Be that as it may, what does this mean for the Church of England? Those opposed to the consecration of women bishops are a substantial minority and they will not give in meekly. Here is a link to the Forward in Faith document arguing for a Third Province, a sort of "church within a church." Reform, the evangelical equivalent is widely reported to be seeking alternative international structures to resist both this and homosexual clergy in relationships. The Church of England hierarchy understandably is trying to do everything it can to stop Anglicanism falling apart. What is the Orthodox reaction to all of this?

(Your correspondent himself writes as a former Anglican priest who left the Church of England in 1994 PARTLY over the decision to ordain women to the priesthood. My position, then as now, was that the Church of England lacked the necessary authority to make this change AND then claim to have a ministry shared by both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches).

Speaking as an Orthodox Christian who has enormous respect for the Anglican Church; after all it formed me in the Christian faith, I have to say that I am terribly saddened by this state of affairs in the Church of England. I am saddened not so much by the consecration of women bishops per se, which I have regarded as inevitable since 1992, but by the very real prospect of multiple schisms. The Christian world can really do without such further splits. Inevitably it will place yet further obstacles in ecumenical relationships between Rome, Orthodoxy and Canterbury.

Doubtless, thousands of women priests and their supporters will rejoice at the prospect of this new ministry opened up to women. What is less clear is what will happen to those thousands of Anglicans who will not be able to accept women bishops but who will be unable to do anything about it when women are in diocesan posts as ordainers of both male and female priests. I just don't see the Church of England allowing the existence of a "church within a church." The choice, likely as not will be clear. Accept and stay or reject and go.

Sometimes I am asked what the response of the Orthodox Church might be to such a situation if approached by priests and people leaving this or any other church? My response is the same as that given to me when I was in that position. Like Rome, we are not interested in "single issue" applicants. There is much, much more to being Orthodox (or Roman Catholic) than any particular position on any point of doctrine or practice. It's a whole deal; the whole package. Some will be ready for that; many will not. Whatever we do will be done with utmost respect for ALL parties involved. If someone follows their religious conscience, who could deny? Conversely, if someone wants a "port of convenience" who would not reject? These are going to be very difficult times for the Church of England and we have no desire to make things any worse. We can certainly pray for all our Anglican brothers and sisters and hold them before God in love.


Ian said...

Father, bless.

Wise words as always.

Peter C. said...

In many ways, Orthodoxy is a fulfillment of what I hoped Anglicanism was or at least could be. Now, however, the fatal flaw present in Anglicanism from the beginning, the acceptance of pluriform truths under the same roof, is finally shattering the illusion that was the Anglican Communion. The hymn "One Church, One Faith, One Lord" has never applied to Anglicanism because there has never been one common union in faith shared by all.

Richard said...

What we "Evil Misogynists"* (aka members of Forward in Faith) will do, I'm not sure.

I certainly have no idea what I'll do.

Do pray for us!

* as I've taken to referring to us as - it saves the liberals [sic.] doing so!

Father Gregory said...

I am doing Richard and I shall certainly continue to do so.

The young fogey said...


Merseymike said...

I am delighted by the decision of the CofE to slowly grind its way towards women bishops.

I think it unlikely that the CofE as it now stands, let alone the Anglican Bot-much-of-a-Communion can remain united.

And is that really such a bad thing? I have moved towards an ever more liberal position over the past two years, and I don't really share very much in terms of views and approach with conservative catholics, and none at all with evangelicals!

The CofE is at least three churches in one. I don't think its sustainable. I still hope for a liberal, progressive and accepting church where women and gay people in relationships will be accepted at the core, without condition.

Father Gregory said...

I think that this vision of a sundered Anglican Communion is inevitable now. Evaluating this is difficult (for me at least) since it hangs on that old issue of truth versus unity in a realistic time frame.

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