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Traditionalist bishop now backs women

Traditionalist bishop now backs women

In what the local press is calling a “shock shift in theology,” the Rt Rev Mark Sowerby, Suffragan Bishop of Sussex in the Diocese of Chichester, England, has resigned from the Council of Bishops of The Society under the Patronage of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda, a traditionalist body committed to promoting catholic teaching within the Church of England, and opposed to the ordination of women. The Society’s tagline reads, “Providing ministry, sacraments and oversight which we can receive with confidence.”

The Diocese of Chichester website has an announcement, in part:

The Bishop of Horsham announced today that following a period of strenuous theological reflection he now wishes to accept the sacramental ministry of all women and men ordained as deacon, priest and bishop in the Church of England.

As a consequence Bishop Mark has written a personal letter to the Bishop of Wakefield… The letter outlines Bishop Mark’s position, which he has obviously arrived at after much prayer and soul searching.

The Bishop of Chichester said today: “Bishop Mark’s shift in theological outlook on the ordination of women priests and bishops is a costly one. All who know and respect him will understand the serious struggle with conscience that will have led to his decision. We respect his honesty and applaud his courage. For some of those he serves it will be a development that they cannot follow, and that will be painful; for others, this news will be greeted with relief and considerable rejoicing.

Bishop Mark will continue to minister in the diocese as suffragan bishop of Horsham. Traditionalists who have looked to him for sacramental ministry will still have available to them the pastoral care and oversight of the diocesan bishop.

The Society’s chairman, the Rt Rev Tony Robinson, has published this response:

It is with great regret that I have received the Bishop of Horsham’s resignation from the Council of Bishops of The Society. I acknowledge the pain he feels in taking this step, and his regret at the pain it will cause for others.

Part of The Society’s purpose is to continue within the Church of England a tradition of sacramental theology and ministry that accords with the mind and practice of the great churches of East and West. We see this as our contribution both to the breadth and diversity of the Church of England and to the quest for the full visible unity of Christ’s Church.

As a member of the Council of Bishops, the Bishop of Chichester will continue to provide pastoral and sacramental ministry and oversight under the House of Bishops’ Declaration to the clergy and people of The Society in his diocese.

We send Bishop Mark our good wishes for his future ministry.

The Diocese of Chichester has been known as a stronghold of traditionalist views on ordination.

The diocesan release notes that arrangements for future ordinations in the diocese had already been made, using the model applied at the ordinations of Libby Lane, Bishop of Stockport, and Philip North, Bishop of Burnley. Diocesan ordinations will take place in the cathedral with all three bishops of the diocese present and participating “in ways that respect the theological conscience of those present.”

Thinking Anglicans has a round-up of releases and reactions here.

Photo credit: Posted by Rosalind Hughes


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John Chilton

He’s done several things that aren’t easy for humans: considered that he might be wrong, climbed down from a long-held public stance, and potentially lost friends and colleagues as a result.

Susan Yarborough

I agree, Anne. Recently, researchers in China have succeeded in genetically modifying the human germ line. The very meaning of what it is to be human is under threat from an economic system and a scientific point of view that recognize no limits. At a time like this, it is astonishing that so many in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church continue to agonize over the status of women and LGBT people in the Church. It is difficult for me not to view their objections as an obsessional form of escapism from problems that it is almost unbearable to think about. I sometimes feel the only thing keeping me in the Church is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Anne Bay

I still find it hard to believe that women being ordained is still a big deal. As I have seen many changes in the church through the years, I thought by now the whole church would be more progressive and not have factions of “traditionalist” and “conservative” and “progressive.” Most of the young people I know don’t go anywhere near a church-and the recent surveys that there are fewer people “in the pews” demonstrates that the church is not keeping up with current scientific and cultural information and education. My mother graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1941 and looking back, women were extremely restricted in what they could do and not do then. Thankfully women have been able to make some forward strides in the universe, unfortunately we have a long way to go. I brought up my daughter that there is nothing she can’t do-isn’t it sad that the church still has a large amount of people that restrict what women can do simply because they are women. Just think how much brainpower and expertise in many fields is not utilised just because a person is not male. Hard to believe.

JC Fisher

Perhaps because women have now been consecrated, and “Lo, the sky did not fall”?

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