PASSING A RESOLUTION
The Bishop of Maidstone has produced a short booklet: Passing a Resolution under the House of Bishop’s Declaration. A copy of this publication is available here. Up to five printed copies of this booklet can be obtained free of charge by contacting the Bishop of Maidstone’s office at [email protected] If you would like more copies – up to 30 – we ask for a donation of £5 towards printing and postage costs.
The Reform briefing paper ‘Women Bishops: a guide for parishes’, which was published under Rod Thomas’ chairmanship of Reform, provides useful practical information. It can be accessed here. If you would like to obtain printed copies of this guide, please contact us at [email protected]
In brief, the steps that need to be taken are these:
- A decision on a resolution needs to be taken by a PCC. If a PCC wants to specify that it seeks only male applicants for a clergy role, then a resolution has to be passed – otherwise, the provisions of Equality legislation are contravened. A resolution is also needed if a PCC is unable to accept episcopal oversight from a woman. Please see the Additional Notes section below for further information passing resolutions in particular circumstances.
- A resolution can be passed at any time as long as the correct notice has been given to PCC members – and this includes during an interregnum.
- The notice period is four weeks. During an interregnum, a resolution can be passed at a ‘Section 11’ meeting – ie the meeting at which key decisions are taken about filling a vacancy. In its Guidance Note, the House of Bishops recommends that before consideration of a resolution, a period of consultation should take place with members of the wider church community.
- A recommended form of words is provided in the Declaration, but a PCC can change this. The suggested wording, given in paragraph 20 of the Declaration is as follows:
- ‘This PCC requests, on grounds of theological conviction, that arrangements be made for it in accordance with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests.’
This wording is deliberately vague so as to allow PCCs to specify separately exactly what their theological convictions are and what arrangements they are looking for. An example of the sort of theological statement that might accompany a resolution can be found here in the Belief section of this website.
- A resolution is passed when a specific majority has voted in favour of it. That majority has to be either:
- A majority of all the members of a PCC; or
- A majority of those voting provided at least two-thirds of the members of the PCC who are entitled to be present were attending.
- The letter of request, together with any theological statement, then needs to be sent to the diocesan bishop, the archdeacon, the diocesan registrar and the patron. The next step is for the bishop to consult the PCC (or representatives chosen for the purpose) in order to clarify any questions about their theological convictions. This is not an occasion for the bishop to seek to persuade the parish to change its mind but, rather, to help in knowing how best to implement the resolution.
If there is a diversity of views within the PCC, it may wish to consider passing an amended resolution. It is up to the PCC to decide on the wording of this but it is worth noting that some PCCS have passed resolutions in the form: ‘This PCC requests, on grounds of theological conviction and due to concern for the need for unity of our congregation, that arrangements be made…’ A further example of an amended resolution refers to meeting the needs of the incumbent: ‘Our flourishing requires the flourishing of our Vicar. In order to safeguard his convictions, this PCC requests…’
It is important for PCCs to pass resolutions even if no change in episcopal oversight is currently being sought. Having a resolution in place safeguards the position of the church to seek a male incumbent should a vacancy arise or should a change in episcopal provision within the diocese occur. It also sends out a message of the need for, and support of, complementarianism within the Church of England.
If a PCC believes that the outcome of all this is not in line with the principles or procedures of the House of Bishops’ Declaration, then it can register a grievance with the Independent Reviewer. Before doing so, it must give the officeholder in respect of whom the grievance is being brought a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to address the grievance. However, it is important to bear in mind that grievances have to be registered with the Independent Reviewer within 3 months of the action in respect of which a grievance is being brought.
PROVISION FOR INDIVIDUALS
There is no provision in the Declaration for individual clergy to seek special arrangements if they are not supported in doing so by their PCCs. However, the Declaration does say that in discerning vocations, bishops will continue not to discriminate on the grounds of a candidate’s theological convictions in relation to gender and ministry; and it also says that ordination services will be planned and conducted in a way that is consistent with the five guiding principles set out in the Declaration. Furthermore, the Independent Reviewer can conduct an enquiry if an individual raises a concern (although this is a matter for his judgement).
OATHS OF CANONICAL OBEDIENCE
A number of conservative evangelical ordinands and clergy are concerned that the requirement to take an oath of canonical obedience could compromise their theological convictions if the bishop to whom they took their oath was a woman. To some, the commitment to obey sounds very like submission, which seems to be contrary to our understanding of the Bible’s teaching. This concern is deepened by the language of the BCP Ordinal which specifically asks clergy to obey their Bishop, ‘following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions, and submitting yourselves to their godly judgements’.
However, there is a strong argument that submission to a female ‘head’ is not taking place. The declaration explicitly says in a section devoted to oaths, that ‘all ministers of the Church of England will be able, in good conscience, to take the oath’ and that ‘the giving and receiving of the oath does not entail acting contrary to theological conviction.’
How can this be? One answer is given in the Declaration itself. It emphasizes that the obedience is ‘canonical obedience.’ This is a requirement of law whether or not an oath is taken. The fact that it is given to a particular bishop is simply ‘a recognition of the pattern of relationships which underpins the exercise of ministry by those who make and those who receive the oath.’
A second answer is that since the oath is about ‘canonical’ obedience, we must turn to the canons to discover what is required. Those canons include Canon C29 which specifically provides for a grievance procedure for those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of women bishops. In other words, there is canonical recognition that theological convictions relating to gender and ministry should not be offended. In short, this may mean that the oath cannot imply obedience in a spiritual sphere to a female bishop. One way in which individuals can reassure themselves on this is by saying (or writing) to the Bishop that in taking the oath and in view of the statements in the House of Bishops’ Declaration, that individual is not vowing to obey in any way that would entail acting contrary to theological conviction.
ASSENT TO THE FIVE GUIDING PRINCIPLES
The House of Bishops’ Declaration contains five guiding principles to which ordinands and clergy moving to new appointments are being asked to assent.
In summary these are:
- The Church of England is unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being equally open to all irrespective of gender, and believes that office holders deserve respect and canonical obedience
- Ministers in the Church of England must acknowledge that the Church has reached a clear decision on the matter
- This clear decision is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God
- Those whose theological convictions mean they are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, so the church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish
- Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority will be made without specifying a limit of time.
One of the concerns that ordinands and clergy have expressed is that they cannot in conscience agree with the first principle. However, this is to misconstrue what is being required as well as the meaning of the five principles. What is being required is assent, not agreement. As Stephen Hofmeyer QC has put it, assenting merely requires acknowledgement of what the Church of England has done, as an entity. It does not require the individual to agree personally with the commitment or the decision.
It is important to realise too that the five principles are governed by the words introducing them: ‘They need to be read one with the other and held together in tension, rather than applied selectively.’ This means that each principle must be read in a way that produces consistency with the others, not inconsistency. Thus the first principle cannot mean that each and every person in the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being equally open to all irrespective of gender, because of the fourth principle respecting the position of those who disagree.
The five principles give important safeguards to those who are in favour and those who are not in favour of women bishops and priests. When asked about his own position before his appointment, the present Bishop of Maidstone said he was willing to assent to the five principles on the grounds that they promoted mutual respect and would not require him to act contrary to his theological convictions. When asked to give assent to the five principles, ordinands and others could therefore consider answering that they are willing to assent on the same grounds as the Bishop of Maidstone.
TEXT FROM THE BISHOP OF MAIDSTONE’S LEAFLET ‘PASSING A RESOLUTION’
This PDF document can be downloaded by clicking the link HERE.
Text from the booklet: Fellow Workers: Women and men in gospel ministry
A discussion paper by Revd Alan Purser, published by the Bishop of Maidstone.
This PDF document can be downloaded by clicking the link HERE.
Text from the booklet Evangelicals and their Bishops: The role of bishops and how we should relate to them
A briefing paper for the Church Society Regional Conferences 2020 by Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, published by the Bishop of Maidstone.
This PDF document can be downloaded by clicking the link HERE.
PASSING A RESOLUTION
The House of Bishops’ Declaration:
General Synod, Church of England (2014) House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (2014) – the declaration setting out the provision for parishes to pass a resolution requesting the oversight of male bishops and priests.
Guidance Note on the Declaration:
General Synod, Church of England (2014) House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests – Guidance note from the House – guidance in relation to the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the same subject.
Explanatory booklet written by Rod Thomas:
The Bishop of Maidstone (2016) Passing a Resolution under the House of Bishops’ Declaration – a booklet giving advice on the steps which parish churches need to take if they want to take advantage of the special arrangements available under the House of Bishops’ Declaration.
A guide booklet co-authored for Reform by Rod Thomas:
Reform Guide (not dated) Women Bishops: A guide for parishes – this guide published under Rod Thomas’ chairmanship of Reform, provides useful practical information. The booklet can be accessed here. If you would like to obtain a printed copy of this guide, please contact us at [email protected]
A leaflet produced by one church after a resolution had been passed:
Simon Austen, Rector of St Leonard’s Exeter has produced this leaflet explaining the decisions taken by the Church Council (PCC) in passing a resolution.
A summary of arguments for egalitarian and complementarian positions:
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (2007) Summaries of the egalitarian and complementarian positions – a clear summary of biblical arguments advanced by those both in favour of, and against, the ordination and consecration of women, written by Bruce Ware.
RESPONSES TO SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS
Church of England Evangelical Council (2016) Guarding the Deposit, Apostolic Truth for an Apostolic Church – a paper discussing the subject of how the Church should respond to same-sex relationships including marriages.
SELECTION FOR ORDINATION
Guidance on selection for ordination can be found on the Church of England website here. In particular, the criteria which those going to a selection conference need to meet are found in this publication.
THE JERUSALEM STATEMENT AND DECLARATION
GAFCON Jerusalem Statement – this is the founding document for GAFCON and represents a great statement of Anglican orthodoxy.
ORGANISATIONS PROVIDING SUPPORT AND RESOURCES:
Anglican Mainstream began in 2004 as part of a united international response of Anglicans from different backgrounds (Reformed, Charismatic and Catholic) to re-state and support traditional understandings of marriage, the family and human sexuality in the face of erosion of these values in church and society.
Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) is a mission society that seeks to promote gospel growth in areas covered by the Church of England (principally in England, but also in other parts of Europe) by supporting Anglican churches and individuals both within and outside present Church of England structures.
Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) is a network bringing together evangelicals in the Church of England with a particular concern to encourage evangelism, bible-based, and Christ – centred formation of discipleship, evangelical leadership within the Church of England, and evangelical unity within and outside Anglicanism.
Church Society exists to strengthen local churches in biblical faith and to help shape the Church of England now and for the future.
Forward in Faith advises and supports anglo-catholic parishes that have passed a resolution under the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests. The website contains very useful information relating to passing a resolution.
The GAFCON movement is a global family of authentic Anglicans standing together to retain and restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion. Their mission is to guard the unchanging, transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ and to proclaim Him to the world.
Reform is a network of individuals and churches bound together in fellowship to uphold, defend and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the original doctrines of the Church of England. Their aim is to encourage clergy and laity to steadfastly promote biblical ministry, to win the nation for Christ, to the Glory of God.