Presidential Address – Governing Body, September 2014

As you might expect, Presidential Addresses at the Governing Body, are what they say they are – addresses written and given by the Archbishop, as President, about the issues, challenges and complexities facing our church and world.

This presidential address is different because it is from all seven bishops – an address that has been agreed by all of us, so that although I am the one giving it, it is given on behalf of us all. If you like, we are all co-presidents on this occasion and the reason for this will become obvious in a moment.

Marcus Borg, the American New Testament scholar says that “there were two things that marked Jesus’ ministry – his openness to God’s spirit and his openness to God’s compassion. Jesus prayed to God, addressed him as father, and began his ministry with the words “The spirit of the Lord is upon me””. At the centre of His life was this deep and continuous relationship with God.

The gospels are also full of stories about the compassion of Jesus – for Him, compassion was God’s defining characteristic. To be compassionate means feeling the feelings of someone else at a level below the level of the head. It is entering into somebody else’s pain and being moved to do something about it. Yet, for the chief religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the chief characteristic of God was not compassion but holiness and holiness meant separation from everything that was unclean. Ancient Jewish society was based on a system of purity where everything was classified as either impure or pure, clean or unclean. Your job could make you impure if you were a tax collector or a shepherd, in the one case because you were dealing with a foreign power and in the other because you looked after animals. People who were maimed, sick or poor were also seen as impure because they were regarded as less than perfect. Men were more pure than women and Jews more pure than Gentiles.

The effect of all this was to create a world of sharp social boundaries between the righteous and sinners, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. By re-defining God’s chief characteristic as compassion not holiness, Jesus shattered the purity system. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a critique of the purity system – the priest and Levite ignored the man at the side of the road because contact with illness was seen as a source of impurity. Jesus touched lepers and haemorrhaging women. He ate with all kinds of people and allowed women to anoint Him. In so doing, he clashed with the religious leaders of His day. His was an inclusive not exclusive ministry.

After Jesus’ death, the early church decided that Gentiles did not have to become Jews first in order to become Christians, and so Gentiles did not have to observe Jewish food laws or Gentile males be circumcised in order to become Christians. The early church was an inclusive church.

Throughout the church’s history, decisions have, from time to time, had to be made on various issues. The church decided, for example, to allow Christians who had fallen away and been guilty of apostasy at times of persecution, to return to the Christian family – to be inclusive not exclusive, to the dismay of some. The Council of Chalcedon, on the other hand, excluded those who could not accept its Credal formularies and so began a schism that has lasted fifteen hundred years.

In the 16th Century, the Reformers’ ideas about what it meant to be “saved in and through Christ” differed so much from that of the medieval church that they broke away from it – our own Anglican church among them and later on, of course, Anglicans and Methodists parted ways in the 18th Century. The church has not therefore always been inclusive. The danger in all of this is, that we can exclude, not when perhaps there is a fundamental threat to the true preaching of the gospel, but because we happen to think differently from other Christians and our discipleship of Christ seems to be headed in different directions.

The 20th Century saw a different phenomenon – the world was faced with such huge challenges of exclusion in the political sphere of fascism against democracy, of East against West, of communism against capitalism, that Christian churches, for now there were many, excluding and dividing again and again, were forced to do some radical thinking.

The fundamental question was how a gospel about the reconciling love of God towards His world could be proclaimed by churches which were deeply in need of reconciliation themselves?

As a result, the ecumenical movement was born and a reluctance to exclude people over questions of doctrine and morality. Indeed, the ecumenical movement is a movement which tries to bring together all who confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour despite deep differences.

That is not indifferentism – a case of “anything goes” but a real readiness to ask the question, if we exclude, is it really because we can no longer see Christ in the other side?

We see Christ today in the face of many we might not have in previous generations. Roman Catholics are no longer “papists” in the pejorative sense. Remarried divorcees are no longer understood to have cut themselves off from the compassion and ministry of the church.

Two issues which we have discussed at recent meetings of the Governing Body yield no easy answers either – what should the church’s attitude be to people in same-sex civil partnerships and marriages and what is its stance on assisted dying? On both topics, Christians hold totally different and sincerely held views.

Some members of the Anglican Church believe that we should exclude those who have entered same-sex civil partnerships and marriages, but the church’s stance on the matter in the past has caused untold misery. Alternatively, we could, of course, embrace wholeheartedly such relationships and tell those who cannot accept them, in our change of heart from the condemnation of previous years, that they in turn are free to leave.

The temptation to be neat or to be logical and to exclude one category or other is great. The trouble is these are not neat divisions between Christian people and those who reject the gospel of Jesus, these are divisions within the Body of Christ and the crucial question is, how do we accept difference and diversity? Archbishop Rowan once wrote “Be careful where you draw the boundary because you may just see Christ waving at you from the other side”. The relevance of all this to our agenda this week will be brought home again when we review the discussions we had on same sex relationships at April’s Governing Body.

And that brings us to the issue of the ordination of women to the Order of Bishops in our church, another issue which has the potential to polarise opinion around exclusion or inclusion. Let me remind you again, that although I am the mouthpiece, this presidential address reflects our collective view as bishops. I am aware that there is a danger that what I am about to say will not please either the strong advocates for women in ministry or the strong advocates against women in ordained ministry either.

That is the risk the Governing Body took in entrusting the bishops, and the bishops alone, with the task of drawing up the Code of Practice. However, we undertook an extensive listening process in all six dioceses and in this Governing Body and we were inundated by letters and documents of all kinds.
The Code of Practice we have produced has not been produced for the benefit of one side or the other in the debate but for the whole church. That is what you asked us to do. The Bill explicitly says that the Code should be drawn up in such a way that every member of the Church in Wales might feel secure. In other words, this Code is not just for those who in conscience dissent but is a code for every member of the Church in Wales. We have also drawn extensively on work done elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. You will undoubtedly recognise phrases and ideas which you have heard in other places. We also felt it right that since the Governing Body had charged us to produce the Code, you should be the first to be told of its contents. And so I am dealing with it now and not as a separate item on the agenda.

The Code of Practice is in two parts. First, there are five principles which underlie it and there are five provisions which, in the second part, set out the details. There is also an explanatory note. Copies of it all, in both languages, will be available during the tea break.

What then are the principles which we are advocating? Here are the first two:

1. The Church in Wales is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender. It holds that all those whom it duly elects, canonically ordains and appoints to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience.

2. Anyone who ministers within the Church in Wales must be prepared to accept that the Church in Wales has reached a clear decision on the matter.

And as our explanatory note makes clear, this Code affirms that any woman becoming a diocesan bishop in the Church in Wales, becomes such on exactly the same terms and with the same jurisdiction, as any other diocesan bishop in the province.

We could then have gone on to say that that being the case, those who disagree are free to leave or quietly fade away. We refuse to do that partly because we do not believe that is compatible with the Gospel we proclaim but also because we are still in a period of reception, both within the Anglican Communion and the wider church. There are still provinces within the Anglican Communion who do not ordain women to any of the three Orders and as the third of our principles puts it, the wider church too is in the process of discernment.

“Since the Church in Wales continues to share the historic episcopate with other churches, including other churches of the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Bench of Bishops acknowledges that this decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment and reception within the Anglican Communion and the whole church of God”.

And as principle 4 explains “Those who on grounds of conscience are unable to receive the Sacramental ministry of women bishops, continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion. The Church in Wales therefore remains committed to enabling all its members to flourish within its life and structures as accepted and valued. Appropriate provision for them will be made in a way intended to maintain the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church in Wales”.

This reflects Resolution III.2 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference which stated that “those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate are both loyal Anglicans.”

The Bench therefore do not accept the view of those who say we should not ordain or confirm from this moment onwards those who do not accept the ordination of women. A process of discernment means waiting to see what emerges in the Communion.

The fifth principle reserves “The Bench’s right to amend the provisions of the Code as may be necessary in the future”. That is both sensible and practical. We are open about the work we have done, but we do not want any confusion about whether this code is capable of amendment by the Bench in the future.

Those are the five principles which have formed our thinking. What then of the provisions we are making?

The first makes clear that the jurisdiction of a woman bishop has to be “recognised unreservedly and without qualification as set out in the Canons and Constitution of the Church in Wales for a diocesan bishop”. However, alternative provision is to be made for individuals, (not parishes), but individuals who on the grounds of conscience are unable to receive the sacramental (not jurisdictional) ministry of a woman bishop i.e. her confirmations and ordinations. (Provision 2)

We go on to say that alternative provision SHALL be made by the bishop of the diocese, on submission in writing by individuals, supported by a letter from the parish priest. (Provision 3)

If that happens, the bishops of the Church in Wales promise to assist one another in making such provision. If, for example, in a diocese where there is a woman bishop, individuals ask not to be confirmed or ordained by her, she will consult the Bench and, at her request, one of her male colleagues will either come and do it or she will ask candidates to go to them to be confirmed or ordained. Some might even prefer to be ordained by a woman bishop and that request will go to the relevant Diocesan who will make provision for that to happen so that there is total reciprocity.

We try to show our good faith as we did when women were ordained priests when we assert in Provision 5 “No bishop shall be obliged to bring proceedings against any member of the Church in Wales on the grounds that such a member dissents in conscience from the provisions of the Canons enabling women to be ordained as bishops or priests”.

Many of those who are against the ordination of women want us to go a step further and not just allow ordinations or confirmations by a male bishop but by a male bishop specifically ordained for the purpose who is himself against the ordination of women. That is a model of episcopacy this Bench cannot accept. We regard it as an uncatholic view of the episcopate for people to accept only bishops who happen to agree with their own views. Others could refuse the ministry of bishops simply because they are not in accord with their views on a whole range of other issues.

Now some of you may be thinking that the Bench has ordained a Provincial Assistant Bishop in the past, so why not do so again? In fact, I am the only bishop left who was party to that agreement and since that time, the church has moved on and the situation now is very different. When the then Bench decided to appoint a Provincial Assistant Bishop, its members were voluntarily subjecting their own ministries to restrictions. They were, if you like, limiting their own ministries, for they were allowing, under certain conditions, the Provincial Assistant Bishop to ordain and confirm in their dioceses. The situation we are making provisions for here is totally different since we would be setting limits on someone else’s ministry – a woman bishop’s not our own.

Moreover, as paragraph 4 of the explanatory note makes clear, “a clear outcome of discussions of the matter of women bishops at the September 2012 meeting of the Governing Body (and reaffirmed in September 2013 and April 2014 in discussion) was that members expressed a strong preference by an indicative poll for pastoral rather than structural provision for those who dissent in conscience from the sacramental ministry of a woman bishop, and the Bishops have had due regard to this”.

And also as our explanatory note makes clear in its last paragraph, “the bishops are not persuaded to provide for specific alternative Episcopal ministry for members of the Church in Wales who are unable in conscience to accept the ministry of a woman bishop. Such alternative ministry could not be in full communion with a future Bench of Bishops which included women and as such would not serve the unity of the church”. The Code, as I have already said, makes specific provision for such members, both to request and receive alternative sacramental provision.

Bishops have a particular responsibility for matters of faith and order and we want to be as inclusive as possible which is why we are able to affirm wholeheartedly the ordination of women to the episcopate and can also accept that provision should be made for those who cannot accept their sacramental ministry. By making such a provision, our hope is that no-one will feel the need to leave the Church in Wales.

As we hope this address makes clear, the Church in the past has chosen to be inclusive and exclusive. But exclusion is only an option when we can no longer see Christ in each other. In the Church in Wales, we, as your bishops, quite frankly see Christ at work in our members, married or single, gay or straight, we perceive the call of God in women to all three orders, and we are respectful of the faith of those who cannot in conscience receive such ministry. In these issues, as in others, we invite the Church to unite in the greater task of proclaiming the Gospel.