Friday, 11 July 2008

And From +Richborough

Bishop Keith Newton, PEV of Richborough.

Bishop Keith Newton, Provincial Episcopal Visitor for the Richborough area, writes as follows. This is the next-to-last (presumably) letter from the PEV Bishops for the time being, the only one not released is from the Bishop of Beverley who covers my area. I have to say this conflicts with what I heard last night and seems to be a return, to my mind, to the depressing rhetoric of Tuesday morning. However, it is where many of us are at, Bishop Keith, clearly, included. It would be interesting to hear from anyone around the country who has, like me, constructive, hopeful meetings to report, or are we isolated in the North West?

I have just returned from a depressing time at the York Synod attending the debate on Monday about the ordination of women to the episcopate; thank you to the many people who have sent messages and assurances of prayer. The Catholic Group in Synod made a brave and principled attempt to provide us with a structural solution to our problems but to no avail. Despite the intervention of both Archbishops the Synod was determined not to gives us what was needed. The legislative Group has now been given the task of producing a draft Code of Practice which will be debated during the February 2009 Synod. Let us be clear that this simply will not do. A Code of Practice, as we have said consistently, cannot provide us with the ecclesial structure we need to remain in the Church of England. The best it can do is allow us to pretend that women have not been ordained to the episcopate until we slowly loose heart or simply die off. It would not give us confidence to play our part in evangelising the nation nor could we honestly encourage young men to hear a call to the priesthood in such a Church. In addition many of those who ask us to trust them are the very people who have called for the rescinding of the Act of Synod over the years. How can you trust a Church which has ignored assurances made to us in 1993? I am sure it would not be long before a ‘Group for the Rescinding of the Code of Practice’ was formed. Although it will be denied, the York Synod began a process of forcing many of us out of the Church of England.

There is, of course, a chance that the House of Bishops, having seen the consequences of what has been done could send alternative proposals to the Synod, but I doubt it. It could be that the legislation may be altered during its revision, to provide us with something more but given the mood of the Synod on Monday that seems unlikely. It could be that the legislation will be defeated at the final vote but that would not make the issue go away and would only lead our opponents become even more aggressive in getting their own way. It is my opinion that the die has been cast.

Most of the priests on my mailing list signed the recent open letter to the Archbishops. In it we said:

It is with sadness that we conclude that, should the Church of England indeed go ahead with the ordination of women to the episcopate, without the same time making provision which offers us real ecclesial integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead. We will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue to minister as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home.

I am afraid that time has now come. I do not suggest we take any precipitate action though you may need to consider whether you should continue to play any part in the wider Church of England through chapters, diocesan committees, deaneries etc. Your diocesan bishops need to know that the decision of the Synod has consequences. We will need in the weeks and months ahead to take counsel together to see what might be the next steps. Obviously there will be a number of different options and what is right for one will not be, for a variety of reasons, right for another. We must avoid making judgements about individual’s decisions. We will be calling a number of meetings in the autumn both for clergy and laity so that we can hear from each other about the possible way ahead. We must, if at all possible act together. Do try to be patient and faithful in your parishes for the time being.

The one positive thing to come from the York Synod is that now at least we know where we are. The Synod has given us a very clear signal and we must act accordingly. Despite the sadness and anger you will be feeling we are called to be faithful and that is what we must be.

With prayers and best wishes,

+ Keith