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Dividing a church to keep it together

Dividing a church to keep it together

Women And The Church (WATCH) has issued a statement on the upcoming consecration of The Rev. Philip North as Suffragan Bishop of Burnley and Provincial Episcopal Visitor (PEV) for the Province of York.

The group asks about the rationale of the decision by Archbishop Sentamu to preside but not ordain North, and the fact that while this ordination is supposed to hold the Church of England together, it does so at the expense of the unity of the Church that the office of Bishop is supposed to symbolize.

WATCH points out that Burnley will not only be a “flying bishop” but the bishop of a diocese whose members include women clergy as well as male and female Anglicans who accept the ordination of women, which North does not.


What might the Archbishop’s decision to refrain from consecrating a bishop indicate? At the least, it appears to be a tacit endorsement of the rationale that his active laying on of hands would not be welcome by the candidate or a particular constituency that he represents. Given that, we believe it would be very helpful for the House of Bishops to invite the Faith and Order Commission to examine and explore this rationale and the theology underpinning it. That might help those who are perplexed to comprehend it, and therefore be more able to honour the faithfulness of its adherents.

Our greatest sadness is that the word ‘taint’ is in the atmosphere again. However much dissenters refute this as a basis for their beliefs, it is very hard to overcome the perception that because the Archbishop has consecrated a female bishop, he is now unacceptable as a consecrator of a dissenting bishop. This concept causes such deep damage to all of us but it cannot be avoided in these circumstances. We all know the message this conveys to members of the Church and wider society about how women are perceived.

All these issues have particular resonance in this case, as the Bishop of Burnley is a bishop for the whole church, not a PEV. We are concerned that he should be affirmed and upheld through his consecration as a bishop for the people of Blackburn Diocese, not as a bishop whose ministry will be directed solely towards the dissenting minority. He will share the cure of souls across Blackburn Diocese with female and male priests, and will minister across all parishes.

Thinking Anglicans has an excellent round up of pieces about North’s consecration and it’s implications.  Bosco Peters wrote:

The Donatist controversy in the early church sought purity in the one ordaining. Donatism is a heresy. The church is clear – the validity of sacramental actions is not dependent on the worthiness of the one administering that action.

Ruth Gledhill’s article says, “the Church of England’s catholic wing is being allowed to preserve the traditionalist apostolic succession, creating a line of male bishops in perpetuity”. That, as I said at the start, is something I understand. But in their method of bringing that about, let us hope that the article is wrong. Or, if not, let us hope that those involved resile from these plans.

Because, if they do go ahead, and what she terms “the Church of England’s catholic wing” does in fact think that in order to preserve a male-only episcopal line it needs to have “no bishop lay hands on [Father Philip North] who has previously laid hands on a woman bishop or priest”, then that would mean that this “wing” would have lost its mooring, and drifted away from orthodox sacramental understanding, and could no longer rightly be called “catholic”.

Posted by Andrew Gerns


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Mark E. Mason

Didn’t our first Bishop have to shop around a little for the Laying on of Hands?

The Rev Dr Ellen Barrett (Sr Helena,OSB)

Bosco Peters is correct–Donatism is alive and well in the CofE. Catholic theology says that Jesus Christ is the only perfect man and that the rest of us, even as we are redeemed are yet sinful. Therefore, unless the Second Coming is already upon us, there is no one ‘worthy’ to be a priest. Worthiness isn’t what being an icon of Christ is about. The modern ‘perfecti’ are left with two logical alternatives, both heretical. Either they must declare their priests equal to the Second Person of the Trinity or say that since no one is worthy the Sacraments themselves are in question without any worthy minister but Christ. The only alternative is the classic Anglican position that the worthiness of the minister does not affect the validity of the sacrament, something that nobody seems to be remembering in this debate. What is next? Balkanization by grades of purity? And who gets to be the Purity Police? The most appropriate Scriptural reference for the present state of affairs is simply, ‘Jesus wept.’

Whit Johnstone

When this particular news story broke, I thought that Fr. North had asked +York to refrain from laying hands on him, which I considered a de-facto act of schism. I have since learned that this was the ABY’s idea. In that case, while it is not a schismatic act, I do consider it a spectacularly bad idea. But then again I think that flying bishops are a bad idea in general. IME the best solution would be to allow the anti-OOW fraction of the CoE to leave the Church with their buildings and form a new denomination or join the Ordinariate or the Wee Frees.

Nick Porter

With their buildings? You’re the first person I heard say that. Imagine the millions we could have saved if 815 followed your advice.

Whit Johnstone

@Nick- Episcopal bishops do not have to ordain women or LGBT people, but they do have to acknowledge that the ordination of women is a real ordination, not an invalid attempt at ordination. They may think of the ordination of women as sinful, wrong, or unhelpful in the North American context, but they must acknowledge that women ordained as bishops and priests really are bishops and priests. Otherwise, they couldn’t be part of a college of bishops headed by a woman with any theological integrity!*

*I suppose that it’s possible that some traditionalist bishops don’t care about theological integrity or haven’t thought through the issue.

Nick Porter

Fair point, but still, I would really like to hear from the Bishop-Elect himself. I think he could clarify his views. Maybe its that he personally would not ordain women. I did check the BCP for the consecration of a bishop though, and there isn’t a clause saying that they have to acknowledge women being ordained.

Roselyn Drake

People in Australia know that The Women Issue is not about anglo-catholicism.

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