Schism threats come from Reform

As I predicted, the threats of schism are coming in from conservatives. At General Synod today, a report was issued that some conservatives didn’t like. No formal action was taken, but a mere report was enough to bring out high-handed pronouncements from supposed victims. Today Reform has issued a press release with this threat:

The ministers say that if future legislation fails to provide adequately for them, then they would have to encourage new potential ordinands to consider training for ministry outside the Church of England and to help them financially to do that. Churches would also need to consider establishing charitable trusts to finance their own ministries in the longer term. These costs would inevitably put a “severe strain” on their continuing ability to contribute to the Church of England. (emphasis added)

In other words, “we will not send our people to Church of England theological schools if you don’t see things our way. And we’ll stop paying our contributions to the dioceses in which we serve.” This is exactly how secessionists started in the US — they stopped paying their contributions to dioceses. Then the next step was to say they couldn’t possibly be accountable to “ungodly” bishops, that is, any bishop who had anything to do with the institution whose choices they didn’t like.

Reform is already laying the ground for this step. Here’s a quote from their media release:

Our congregations will inevitably start asking questions about their own place within the Church of England if they see us encouraging people into training for alternative ministries. This will come into sharp focus when the issue of succession to an incumbency arises. Since we cannot take an oath of canonical obedience to a female bishop, we are unlikely to be appointed to future incumbencies. We see nothing but difficulty facing us. In these circumstances we will have to discuss with our congregations how to foster and protect the ministry they wish to receive. This is likely to generate a need for the creation of new independent charitable trusts whose purpose will be to finance our future ministries, when the need arises.

These twin developments will need to be financed from current congregational giving. This will inevitably put a severe strain on our ability to continue to contribute financially to Diocesan funds. Where we are unable to contribute as before some will see this as a form of retaliation. However, that could not be further from the truth. We long to contribute to the well being of the Church of England. Over the last ten years we have encouraged more than 180 young men into the ordained ministry, over 50% of whom were under the age of 30. We have together contributed a gross figure of more than £22 million to Diocesan funds.

Got that? Already they are saying, “we cannot take an oath of canonical obedience to a female bishop.” Next they will add, “we cannot take an oath of canonical obedience to a bishop who has taken part in the consecration of a female bishop.” And soon after that it will be, “we cannot recognize episcopal orders in a Church which has admitted heresy in its Synod.”

Already, they plan to withhold their money, all the while denying that this is retaliation. This is doubtless to avoid ecclesiastical discipline. However, withholding money is just the beginning. About the same time they are unable to recognize C of E bishops, they’ll seek “alternative oversight” from Nigeria or the Southern Cone. And they will not want to vacate their buildings.

The sad game has started. I hope the C of E will have learned from the Episcopal Church. This is best dealt with right up front. Clarity is the solution. Ambiguity only increases anxiety and leaves room for grandstanding. I am not saying that “clarity equals liberal choices.” For example, the C of E might choose to move ahead with women bishops, and it should not expel those who cannot recognize the sacramental validity of women — while making graceful accommodation for those for whom this change is difficult.

Diocesan bishops, however, should be able to count on the financial support of the parishes in their dioceses, and they should expect to retain temporal authority and control of the disciplinary process for any parish in their dioceses. This can be done (as it is in a couple of cases in the diocese where I serve, where priests recognize the bishop as an administrative, but not sacramental, leader).

Also, I wonder if someone can help me out on a technical point. Reform claims the 50 signatories have contributed “more than £22 million to Diocesan funds.” My understanding is that parishes pay money into the diocese and then their clergy are paid by the diocese. So that £22 million could less impressive than it seems, given that much of that sum will have been paid back to them as stipends. Is that right, or have I gotten it horribly wrong?

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4 Responses

  1. Father Ron Smith says:

    “Since we cannot take an oath of canonical obedience to a female bishop, we are unlikely to be appointed to future incumbencies. We see nothing but difficulty facing us.” – Reform –

    Surely these ‘Reform’ people can hardly be known as Anglicans. They sound very much like the old-fashioned ‘Congregationalists’, whose polity and ethics are far removed from the episcopally-governed Church of England and Churches of the Anglican Communion. Their inability to affirm the ministry of women seems to equate more with the Roman Catholic ethos – but I doubt these people would be happy with any sort of ‘Magisterium’.
    Perhaps they need to form their very own ‘Church of the Pure and Simple’

  2. Chris H. says:

    You mention “graceful accomodation” above? What kind of accomodation do you see working in this situation?

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    Chris, as I’ve written elsewhere, I can tell you the arrangement that has worked in Rhode Island since 1996, when Bishop Geralyn Wolf became the ordinary. Two parishes did (and still do not) not accept women as priests or bishops. The bishop ensured that the rectors of both parishes would acknowledge her temporal authority and her authority to be responsible for discipline in those parishes (I’m simplifying somewhat). She has not prevented the parishes from calling rectors who do not accept women as priests & bishops.

    She made visitations at both parishes, attending the evening office at first. Since then, she has presided at the Eucharist in one of them (I think only one), though some people may not have received Eucharist.

    She made arrangements with both rectors to have other (male) bishops visit for confirmation and other Episcopal functions. Most recently, Frank Griswold came to one of them for an ordination.

    My point is that she was able to delegate pastoral functions and episcopal sacraments to other bishops, by mutual arrangement. Yet she retains the authority as the ordinary. I believe everyone involved would say the arrangement works pretty well. This could be a model for others. It works without a formal code of practice or legislation. It works based on mutual trust and respect.

    I wrote a bit about this here:


  4. Chris H. says:

    Father Smith,
    Your comment that Reformers can hardly be Anglicans shows that both sides are intolerant of the other. The “Big Tent” doesn’t exist for either group.
    Reminds me of an argument between a young woman in our congregation and an elderly gentleman. She said that by not wanting a female or gay priest he wasn’t living into his baptismal covenant and so wasn’t a real Episcopalian. His reply was that her Episcopalianism was a new religion because nobody in the world baptized before 1979 could be a real Episcopalian because her “Baptismal Covenant” didn’t exist before that BCP.
    Saying that all real Anglicans agree with current liberal beliefs is like saying that all real Episcopalians are living into their 1979 Baptismal Covenant. So, when the next BCP comes out, only those baptized under it will be “real”? Or is always changing to believe the latest and greatest what makes a “real” Anglican?