COI Gazette – 20 July 2012

‘There is no magic wand’, bishop who derailed English House of Bishops’ women bishops amendment tells Gazette

Bishop Trevor Willmott

Bishop Trevor Willmott

Speaking to the Gazette, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, who successfully opposed a House of Bishops’ amendment to the draft legislation on women bishops at last week’s English General Synod, has said there is “no magic wand” to sort out the difficulties. (Audio details, page 9)

The House of Bishops had sought to extend the grounds on which a parish could request male episcopal oversight, in place of a female bishop’s ministry, to allow parishes to reject a male bishop who agreed with women bishops.



It had been expected that last week’s meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod in York would have seen the final decision in relation to legislation for women bishops in that Church. Yet, because the voting margins are perceived to be so close – with two-thirds majorities required in each of the three Houses (Bishops, Clergy and Laity) – the House of Bishops decided to exercise its right to introduce an amendment to the already-agreed draft legislation in order to reassure further those who oppose the move.

The draft legislation already had provided for parishes to request a male bishop’s ministry, but the House of Bishops felt that the theological perspective of any male bishop so appointed, on the subject of the ordination and consecration of women, could be a significant matter. What the bishops were in effect saying was that for some a man may be important but that, equally, some may feel that not any man would do. However, the General Synod clearly felt that this was all a move too far and so the amendment was returned to the House of Bishops for reconsideration.

In the Church of Ireland, we have not had a woman bishop despite the legislation having been in place since we legislated for women priests. There are, no doubt, reasons for this somewhat curious situation, but at least the legislation is there and can be used when the right woman comes along at the right time for the right place. Yet, there simply does not seem to be the same strength of feeling in the Church of Ireland against women bishops as there is in the Church of England, and this adds a quite striking feature to the situation.

Last week’s General Synod at York was dominated by the women bishops issue, but, as we also report in this week’s Gazette, there were two significant reports on mission. ‘Mission’ is a term that is not easy to define, but we all know we must be getting on with it as best we can. Mission is at the heart of the life of the Church; a Church or a diocese or a parish that has lost the heart for mission is one that is failing seriously.

Yet, we do need to have a clear idea of what we are doing when we are doing ‘mission’ and, if the term is to mean everything, then it won’t really mean anything. Our awareness of mission needs to be sharp for it to be effective. If it is blurred, the work of mission will be fundamentally hindered. In this context, the Anglican Communion’s ‘Five Marks of Mission’ are no doubt a useful tool in starting to think about mission, focusing minds together on proclamation, nurturing, compassion, justice and stewardship of the created order (full text, page 9).

However, even this short list risks a blurring of the basic concept because nearly any form of work could qualify here as ‘mission’. The real focus of mission, rather, is what it always has been, from the beginning of the Church – quite simply, the gathering of more people into the faith of Christ and fellowship of the Church.

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Letters to the Editor

General Synod resolution on human sexuality

The suggestion, widely heard, that the reason why the General Synod motion supporting marriage passed was that a preponderance of voters from Northern Ireland attended on the Saturday, when the vote took place, needs to be rebutted once and for all.

In the first place, it is spurious even to suggest that this is a great North/ South divide. As I said in my earlier letter (Gazette, 22nd June), a number of speakers made this clear at the rostrum.

Having had the opportunity to examine the attendance figures on a diocese-by-diocese basis, there was no surge in attendance from Northern Ireland on the Saturday. In fact, the opposite occurred.

Whilst the dioceses of the northern Province of Armagh are not coterminous with the political area of Northern Ireland, there is a rough approximation if one singles out Armagh, Clogher, Derry and Raphoe, Down and Dromore and Connor, as they are largely within the North.

On this basis, the number of delegates from these five northern dioceses entitled to attend each day was 326 as against 305 for the other dioceses (total 631). In the event, the numbers who registered each day were:

   North    South    Total

Thursday     244        247        491

Friday          222       232        454

Saturday      174        215        389

From these figures, it can be seen that, in keeping with the traditional pattern, the numbers declined each day, with the decline from the listed northern dioceses being more pronounced. It should be noted that when it came to the vote – 235 for and 113 against (total 348) – the number who actually voted had further declined from those who registered as attending on the Saturday.

Apart from the bishops, who revealed their vote, it is not possible to say how the voting pattern was distributed, but what is clear from these figures is that on each of the three days there was a Southern majority in the Synod and that the third day (the Saturday) saw the largest Southern majority.

Peter T. Hanna (The Revd) Farnahoe Innishannon Co. Cork

Thomas McAllen’s understanding of the Church’s view of biblical orthodoxy that “the sex act should only be between a man and a woman” (Letters, 29th June) is deficient to the extent that the Church’s view is that the act mentioned is only normative between a man and a woman married for life, till death do them part, to the exclusion of all others.

Effectively, the literal interpretation of the resolution is that sex outside a valid marriage (as defined by the Church) is not acceptable.

Since Mr McAllen understands that a Bishop is the custodian of that orthodoxy, I suggest that he should question the role of a Bishop who gives his consent to the solemnisation of a type of marriage where a person takes a second spouse when the first spouse is still living.

A civil divorce does not dissolve a marriage as defined by the Church.

Tim Bracken, Cork

Eucharistic Congress

It was very encouraging to read about the ecumenical nature of the recent Eucharistic Congress in Dublin and the involvement of the Archbishop of Dublin and other members of the Church of Ireland community in the event.

Perhaps I could add to this aspect of the occasion.

Among other Anglicans taking part was a Church of Ireland priest from Tipperary, the Revd Bronwen Carling. For many years, Bronwen has been involved with the Focolare Movement, an organisation dedicated to unity, which played a big part in this congress.

Bronwen leads an ecumenical group in Tipperary, known as the Word of Life Group. It consists of members of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Independent Evangelical Churches.

At the evening session on the Monday of the Congress, Bronwen spoke about this group and the effect that membership of such a group has on its members. She quoted one member as saying: “Approaching living the Gospel from differing backgrounds has widened our experience. We have much to learn from each other.”

The talk aroused much interest from those who attended.

Michael Nuttall (The Ven.), Scarborough

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