Independent Reviewer in Action
Are you in a multi- parish benefice?
Will you be organising a service involving others in your diocese?
Then the first two reports from the Independent Reviewer could be important for you.
The role of the Independent Reviewer was set up as part of the decision to open all orders of ministry to men and women alike. PCCs can now use a grievance procedure if they believe that their treatment isn’t in line with the provisions of the House of Bishops’ Declaration. Individuals can also bring complaints, but are less certain of having them heard. However, in the first two cases decided by Sir Philip Mawer, the Independent Reviewer, complaints brought by bodies other than PCCs were admitted because they raised issues of general application.
Not many evangelicals will automatically assume that a question about Chrism Masses could have an effect on their ministries, but this one might. WATCH (the campaigning group for women priests) brought a grievance that a chrism mass, presided over by bishops of the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda (the traditional catholic society), was divisive, ‘a cause of pain’ and a ‘thoughtless challenge to mutual flourishing.’
Sir Philip’s report says that since Chrism Masses have never been compulsory in dioceses, neither the failure to attend one organised by a diocesan bishop nor the holding of an alternative, can, in his view be said to be a breach of the first two of the five guiding principles in the Declaration, provided that they take place under the overall authority of the diocesan. The report makes plain that living with a degree of hurt is a consequence of the Church of England deciding to accept a state of less than full communion in some parts of the church – and doesn’t mean that mutual flourishing is being denied. However, the report also stresses the need for such services to provide opportunities for demonstrating that the authority of the diocesan is accepted.
Multi- parish Benefices
The second report followed a grievance brought by Dr Colin Podmore, the Director of Forward in Faith. He argued that the Bishop of Tewksbury should not have issued a female curate with a licence to minister throughout the benefice, because one of the churches, All Saints, Cheltenham, had previously passed resolutions restricting clerical ministry to male clergy. The report said that it was clear that the Bishop’s intention had been that she should not minister as part of the team (ie in each and every parish) and he had given verbal reassurances about this, but there needed to be clarity in the licence itself about the precise scope of her ministry. The bishop was therefore held to have contravened paragraph 23 of the House of Bishop’s Declaration. Sir Philip made two major recommendations: where it is the intention to appoint a woman to minister otherwise than as a member of the team in a multi-parish benefice in which one or more parishes has, or is deemed to have, passed the resolution set out in paragraph 20 of the House of Bishops’ Declaration:
- the PCCs of the parishes in the benefice should be consulted, before a licence is issued, about the nature and extent of the ministry she is to be licensed to exercise; and
- the licence which is then issued to her should specify the nature and extent of the ministry she is authorised to undertake in the parish or parishes which have passed the resolution (as well as in the other parishes of the benefice).
An additional complaint brought by Dr Podmore about the attitude of the former Bishop of Gloucester and the current diocesan leadership towards traditional Catholics was not addressed.