Centre for the Study of the Christian
& St George's House, Windsor
THE EPISCOPAL MINISTRY ACT OF SYNOD 1993: A
THEOLOGICAL AND PASTORAL REVIEW
A consultation was held at St George's House, Windsor Castle from 20 to 22
April 1998, the first in a series of Consultations jointly sponsored by the
Centre for the Study of the Christian Church and St George's House. Twenty-seven
people, representing a wide range of views on the ordination of women to the
priesthood and the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, took part. It is
thought that this may be the first concerted attempt to undertake a theological
and pastoral assessment of the provisions of the Act of Synod which has now been
in force for five years.
The Consultation heard papers from Dr Mary Tanner (General Secretary of the
Council for Christian Unity of the General Synod), the Rt Revd Dr Geoffrey
Rowell (Bishop of Basingstoke), the Rt Revd Christopher Hill (Bishop of
Stafford). The Revd Dr Robert Hannaford (Senior Lecturer, Christ Church College
Canterbury) and the Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis (Vicar of Stoke Canon,
Poltimore with Huxham and Rewe with Netherexe, Sub Dean of Exeter Cathedral and
Director of the Centre for the Study of the Christian Church). The work of the
Consultation was undergirded by worship in St George's Chapel. Following small
group and plenary discussions, it agreed several recommendations (see below).
The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod makes provision for extended episcopal
oversight, at the invitation of the diocesan bishop, for clergy and parishes
which request it, in a diocese where the bishop has ordained women to the
priesthood. The Consultation acknowledged that this provision is a lifeline for
some, enabling them to remain in the Church of England, but a source of distress
and bewilderment to others. The passionate convictions and the personal
vulnerability, generated by the ordination of women to the priesthood and the
provision of extended pastoral oversight to those opposed, were fully
acknowledged by the group.
The Consultation generally believed that there was still a need for space and
time in which the decision of the Church of England in 1992 to ordain women to
the priesthood could undergo a process of discernment, reception and dialogue.
It affirmed that the provisions of the Act should be seen as an opportunity to
enable greater understanding between people of different convictions and to
enhance the unity and communion of the Church of England. The group was clear
that there are not simply two schools of thought but many shades of opinion and
differences of practice on these issues.
There was a consensus, though not unanimity, that the Act of Synod was
necessary, that it was serving a useful purpose and that it should continue. On
the other hand, the group recognised that it has introduced anomalies into the
Church of England's doctrine of the Church, particularly with regard to the
unity of the diocese (the local Church), the unity of a bishop's ministry within
a diocese, and the expression of communion (koinonia) in the sacraments
of the Church.
There was also considerable concern lest the Act of Synod be seen as a
precedent for providing extended episcopal oversight for other groups claiming
that they could not, in conscience, receive the total ministry of their diocesan
bishop. It was generally thought that a bishop's sacramental acts (i.e. in
ordination) had a greater degree of objectivity and finality than a bishop's
opinions on ethical or doctrinal questions.
The weight of the Consultation was behind a continued commitment to uphold
and implement the letter and the spirit of the Act of Synod. There was agreement
that, given the Act of Synod, those provisions that offered extended episcopal
oversight through diocesan or regional arrangements (i.e. through an
'acceptable' suffragan within a diocese or an 'acceptable' diocesan or suffragan
visiting from a neighbouring diocese) better maintained the unity and communion
of the local church, the diocese. Meanwhile the group generally wished to see
the Provincial Episcopal Visitors more fully integrated into the life of the
diocese in which they serve, in particular by being appointed as Assistant
Within the provisions of the Act of Synod, the Consultation strongly affirmed
the principle (stemming from the 1988 Lambeth Conference and the reports of the
Commission chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames) that all parties should seek to
maintain the highest possible degree of communion.
It is hoped to publish the papers delivered at the Consultation after
revision in the light of the discussion and to hold a follow-up Consultation,
similarly representative, in due course, to continue to monitor the theological
and pastoral aspects of the Act of Synod and to further explore the issues of
unity and communion.
1. The consultation identified a definite need for objective and
comprehensive research into the practical workings of the Act of Synod. This
should be officially sponsored by the Church of England and undertaken by
suitably qualified persons by professional methods. Members of the Consultation
are willing to advise and assist in this.
2. The Consultation also identified a need for widespread education and
communication, especially in theological education and ministerial training,
regarding the provisions of the Act of Synod. This requires a central initiative
by the Church of England. Education and dialogue should be officially sponsored
centrally and locally, rather than left to individual initiative.
3. The Consultation recommended that the Code of Practice issued by the House
of Bishop in conjunction with the legislation to make possible the ordination of
women to the priesthood (i.e. prior to the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993)
should be revisited to take account of the experience of its working, following
appropriate research and dialogue. Any revision should incorporate lessons in
good practice derived from such research. The Code might usefully be expanded to
include a code of practice relating specifically to the Episcopal Ministry Act
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