The Church of England has a problem. Well, the Church of England has many problems, but the one that it is waking up to at the moment is that women bishops are getting closer and closer to it and it hasn’t quite worked out what to do.
Why does it have to do anything?
Ah, well there exists a settlement in the Church of England whereby the Church of England does not fully recognise as bishops those bishops in the Anglican communion who have been consecrated in other parts of the Anglican world who happen to be women.
Now this means that priests who have been ordained by such bishops cannot serve in the Church of England. All those claims that churches which allow the consecration of women as bishops make about being in full communion with the Church of England are deeply compromised by this.
The election of a female candidate to the episcopacy in Ireland is a joyful thing. It is right, I think, that all positions in the church should be open to both men and women equally. I long for this to have become normal so that we can then get on with talking about what kind of episcopacy we think the church needs. We’ve got so hung up on gender that we’ve not really been able to talk much about episcopacy itself. I’m one of those pesky people who is a passionate advocate of equality in this area who also thinks that it will make very little difference to the leadership that the church receives. My belief that women and men can lead the church equally is founded in a belief that women and men have the same capacity for both glory and despair as one another. My training convinced me precisely that women and men in the church need equal opportunities because I saw that women in leadership positions in the church are capable of exactly the same cruelty as men.
However I digress.
I find today an excellent post has been published from Will Adam, editor of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal and Vicar of St Paul’s, Winchmore Hill in the Diocese of London on the recognition of orders. I was unaware that the Scottish Episcopal Church had a different legal position with regards to the Church of England to the churches in Ireland and Wales, but it is so. A Church of England bishop can apparently refuse to receive the orders of someone ordained in Scotland for any reason but not those from Ireland and Wales.
However there also appears to be an argument in the same post (which I have to admit I don’t understand with respect to Scotland) saying that there is be no way that a Church of England bishop could automatically refuse to receive the orders of someone ordained by a bishop who happens to be a women provided they come from within the British Isles, though they could be refused from elsewhere. (If I read that right).
All of which must make Church of England legal types sit up and take notice.
I’m interested in this not simply from a legal point of view though. Some people in Anglicanism believe that women cannot be ordained and refuse to receive their ministry. I don’t think I very often encounter such people and in Scotland, our legislation on ordaining bishops is a done deal. If a diocese chooses a female candidate for the episcopate then that is that. If she has any problem ministering to anyone in her diocese then she can, if she thinks it will help, ask a colleague from the college of bishops to help her out. However, that is her choice and not anyone else’s. We don’t have legal “protection” for those who can’t accept women as bishops and we are not going to. And we thank God we don’t.
Amongst those who can’t accept women there has developed this peculiar mentality which people refer to as a theology of taint. It is sometimes denied to be such, but the fact remains that there are some who won’t recognise the ministry of those who have been ordained by women, never mind the women themselves. It looks like a theology of taint and it sounds like a theology of taint and frankly to me it is precisely a theology of taint.
What I’m interested in is that with respect of our current bishops in Scotland, all of them have either had a female co-consecrator present at their consecration, joined in consecrating someone with a female co-consecrator present or have been consecrated by someone who has had a female co-consecrator present at their own consecration.
What I wonder is whether those who apply the theology of taint believe that anyone at all (bishops, priests or deacons) now ordained in Scotland is legit.
Oh, and by the way an English bishop was present and joining in when this situation began. I was there – I saw it with my own eyes.
Where does this leave the Scottish Episcopal Church in relation to those who would deny the legitimacy of women to act as bishops?
(The bishop who happens to be a women who joined the SEC for a consecration was a delight and I attempted to teach her the gay gordons).
Do we, or do we not, remain in full communion with [all of] the Church of England?