Act of Synod
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Centre for the Study of the Christian Church

& St George's House, Windsor Castle


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 Bishops.

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 of Synod.

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