Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Ebbsfleet issues pastoral letter

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Pastoral Letter – August 2010

The General Synod at York

IT IS now 40 years since the Church of England General Synod came into being. It was an exciting new development, replacing an even more cumbersome system of dual control by Convocations of Clergy and the Church Assembly. The laity at last had a full and effective voice in the government of the Church of England. There were some safeguards in place. Certain matters had to be passed by two thirds’ majority and there could be a call for a vote by Houses, even when one was not strictly required. That meant that there needed to be majorities in each of the three Houses, Bishops, Clergy, and Laity.

It was this last safeguard which torpedoed the attempt of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to introduce an amendment to safeguard the ministry of traditionalist bishops. (As far as the democratic process is concerned, the archbishops are simply two members of the Synod). The amendment was voted down by five votes in the House of Clergy. This followed an earlier vote, where only 34% of the Synod supported new dioceses. Finally the whole draft Measure was approved, the only safeguard for traditionalists being the promise of a Code of Practice. The matter now moves from the General Synod, whose quinquennium has now ended, to the dioceses. It will return from there to the new General Synod. In 18 months’ time, November 2012, the hope of supporters of women bishops is that the Measure will be finally passed by the necessary two-thirds majority in each House, the hurdle which the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood Measure cleared on November 1992. Thereafter it must pass muster in Parliament, receive the Royal Assent, and be promulged as a canon. Last time, all of that took another 15 months, which would take us to February 2014, with the first consecrations of women bishops soon thereafter.

Traditionalists have been beaten four-square. When (though, strictly, it is still ‘If’) the Measure comes into force, there will be no more Resolution A and B, no more ‘petitioning parishes’. There will be no more ‘flying bishops’, no more Beverley, Ebbsfleet, and Richborough. There will be again the assurance of good behaviour: no one will be over-faced by women priests and bishops ministering where they are not wanted. But there will be no guarantees (and, increasingly, no likelihood) that male bishops and priests ministering to us will share those convictions, or derive their orders from an unbroken apostolic succession of bishops in the Catholic line. Avoiding women ministers will become not a conviction about Catholic Order, shared throughout the ages, but a matter of sexual discrimination, abhorrent to all of us. In a very short time, it will have become unacceptable to invoke a sexist Code of Practice.

It is important for us all to understand how momentous all this is and what the implications are for our life together. I was never very hopeful of the Archbishops’ amendment, though it was good that it was debated. It would not have brought a clear and certain place for the Catholic understanding of Faith and Order. But it would have allowed a new generation of Provincial Episcopal Visitors – flying bishops – to try to work out, with the Archbishops, some sort of corporate life for our priests, people, and parishes. It is fair to say that both Archbishops wanted that. Moreover 60% of the bishops in Synod (though not two thirds) were prepared, more or less enthusiastically, to support the Archbishops and accept their spiritual lead.

Come the final judgment when, as the Prayer Book says in the Marriage Service, ‘the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed’, some will have to account for the broken promises of the early 1990s. Traditionalists were then assured of a permanent and honoured place. Great store was set by the doctrine of reception (whereby no change in Holy Order would finally thought to be ‘received’ until it was accepted by the ancient churches of East and West). It was on the basis of these promises – both now very hollow – that Provincial Episcopal Visitors were appointed, ordinands and their families exchanged comfortable life styles for theological college, curacies, and what promised to be a lifetime of ministry, and parishes set to work energetically with the task of evangelism and catechesis. However honourably these promises were made, there were liberal pressure groups intent on destroying them. These liberal pressure groups are not full of bad people: the women and men concerned were always exasperated that the Church made such high-sounding, but undeliverable, promises. In their view -the view that has prevailed – we all simply needed to get used to the new ‘inclusive’ way of doing things. In their view, twenty years is quite long enough for that to have happened. But there have been broken promises indeed and some supporters of the women bishops’ project recognise that and seek forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.

For Ebbsfleet, the critical vote came when nearly two thirds of the General Synod rejected the creation of new dioceses. The only sense we have been able to make of the whole Ebbsfleet project these last sixteen years (of which I have been bishop for nearly ten), is that the See of Ebbsfleet is an ‘Apostolic District’. That is, it is an area of the vineyard which seeks to grow into, and become, a ‘local Church’, a ‘diocese’. To that end, we have had our Stational Masses of Initiation, our Ordinations, and our Chrism Masses. We have had our Area Deans and Deaneries, our Council of Priests, our Lay Council, and our Lay Congress. We have also had parish evangelism weekends and research into resources for catechesis and formation. We have had clergy retreats, festivals of faith, and the annual Children and Young People’s Eucharistic Festival. Our churches have been as well-attended as most, with, if anything, more than our share of men, children, young families, and other endangered categories of church-goer. Here was a new kind of diocese, not without its problems, but with promising signs. ‘In house’ there has been very little discussion of ‘church issues’ and that in itself has made us vulnerable. We have never been attacked by anyone who got to know us and experienced our corporate life. It has always been fear of who we might be, what we might represent, rather than what we actually are.

For now, the prescription is for some serious summer rest and to get some praying and thinking done. I shall be addressing these issues further in the September Pastoral letter, at a Sacred Synod for clergy, and at the Ebbsfleet Lay Conference, but, for now, at least we know where we are. It is time to stop trying to make bricks without straw.

May God bless you as you seek to discern, obey, and trust his will.



  • Columba Gilliss says:

    A well written message but why does he say 18 months takes us to November 2012?
    Columba Gilliss

  • JCF says:

    “there will be no guarantees (and, increasingly, no likelihood) that male bishops and priests ministering to us will share those convictions, or derive their orders from an unbroken apostolic succession of bishops in the Catholic line. Avoiding women ministers will become not a conviction about Catholic Order”

    +Ebbsfleet and his followers want to continue their delusional farce that “it’s not about girl cooties, it’s about the shared *belief* that girls HAVE cooties (such essential, Catholic girl-cootie belief that boys may heterodoxically lack, too): see, we’re not sexist!”

    Andrew, listen: this is a DISTINCTION WITHOUT A DIFFERENCE, and outside the comfy confines of the Anglo-Popoid ghetto, NOBODY is buying it anymore!

    Give Reality a chance? Your (female-bishop delegated) PEV won’t bite. Nor will his sacraments prove any less efficacious.

  • Ian Black says:

    This is the first clear statement I have seen that the PEV network has been operating as a separate church for years. Separate chapters, deaneries, synods! These guys clearly don’t want to belong to the same church. Let’s stop kidding ourselves here that this is anything other than schism in practice.

  • Wilf says:

    Well, that’s given the game away rather, hasn’t it? He really thinks that he has a separate diocese – but there is no legal basis for this.

  • Perry Butler says:

    I agree with Wilf.The “Ebbsfleet project” was not what was envisaged when the Act of Synod was drawn up. It offered extended episcopal care to those who were unable to accept women priests.This soon became alternative episcopal oversight and an increasingly semi-detached relationship to the rest of the C of E with the two positions of integrity-acceptance of women priests and conscientious dissent from that decision-becoming “Two Integrities” ie two distinct ecclesial traditions …It was surely these developments that made many unhappy with the Abps amendment.For many traditionalists it wasnt enough but for the others who intend to stay come what may, it would have meant carrying on as usual sealed off ,as far as possible, from the rest of the C of E. I think for +Ebbsfleet and +Richborough the Ordinariate always was Plan A…we will see how many they carry with them. I somehow feel the laity will be less enthusiastic than some of their clergy.

  • Lister Tonge says:

    Bravo, Ian & Wilf.

    It is precisely because the generous pastoral Provision of the Act of Synod has been manipulated by some PEVs and their followers into a church-within-a-church, seeking to opt out of normal episcopal jurisdiction wherever possible, that some of us think the Act of Synod provision must be rescinded. The pained complaints about ‘hollow promises’ are themselves all too hollow.

  • Pantycelyn says:

    I find Andrew’s arrogance breath-taking. Noneof this was ever intended by General Synod, let alone foreseen. They were given an inch and press on for miles and miles.

    ‘Bricks without straw’ ? Oh please, you are not in Egypt -or any kind of captivity. Grow up.

    I want this arrogant, cancerous, unauthorized ‘project’ ended- and put at stop to soon. All the stuff about women and so-called ‘apostolic lines’ is an excuse to create mysoginistic, obscurantist, closetted ghettoes in which RC ideas and Liturgy dominate, using C of E resources.

    Yet not so RC, that they intend honestly to join that denomination, and be done with it.

  • Wilf says:

    Forgive me one extra comment, following on from Frs Butler and Tonge and Pantycelyn.

    The legal basis for the suffragan sees of Ebbsfleet, Richborough and Beverley is that they are suffragans in the dioceses of Canterbury (two) and York (one). They are then invited to minister under the terms of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod to parishes that request episcopal ministry other than from the diocesan or suffragan bishops of their dioceses. In many dioceses the Provincial Episcopal Visitors (as these suffragan bishops are called) have been appointed as Assistant Bishops. In many dioceses their ministrations are not needed at all as the diocesan bishop has made other arrangements.

    None of this adds up to there being a diocese of Ebbsfleet, or of Richborough, or of Beverley.

  • Fr James says:

    “I want this arrogant, cancerous, unauthorized ‘project’ ended”

    Who are you to demand anything? What hideous language you use – I have witnessed first-hand how the Gospel can be lived out in an ABC context. To hear it described as cancerous is heart-breaking.

    You cannot presume to fully understand the Holy Spirit. If you believe that it is right for women to be ordained, you should allow for the possibility that you are wrong.

  • Neil says:

    how I hope the likes of Pantenclyn will not hold the keys come judgement day, for none of the properties of our loving God seem to matter to him.
    Cancer and arrogance be with thy Spirit.

  • Neil says:

    I need to point out to Lister Tonge that the CofE, as a result of ordaining women has become exactly as he describes: A church within a Church.

  • Jerry Hannon says:

    This seems like much more than a soup├žon of arrogance, with a healthy dash of denial.

    Andrew also reminds me a bit of the centralized (and self-perpetuating) authorities of my long-ago former church: Pray, Pay, and Obey.

  • Robert Ian Williams says:

    Apparently Bishop Burnham has written a very good book on Anglican liturgy showing its basic Protestantism, and how Anglo-Catholics have had to re-catholicise it by importing Catholic doctrines and ritual.

  • Thanks for these comments, especially the eirenic ones. Hostile comment of anonymous or pseudonymous origin is the enemy of dialogue. It is the ‘green ink’ of the internet, I’m afraid.

    The arithmetic was not exact (sorry, Columba Gillis) but there could be a November Synod to move things faster and most would welcome that.

    The Ebbsfleet project, much derided here, has not sought to develop a new or continuing Church but to maintain Catholic Faith and Order and the ecumenical impetus of the ARCIC process. The project founders at the point where the rest of the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion,
    makes the recovery and maintenance of Catholic Faith and Order and the urgency of the ecumenical process impossible to maintain. Catholicism cannot eventually be a party, flavour or style, and neither can Catholics be an interest group within a Church which does not order itself in a Catholic way. Please feel free to disagree, but less us do so charitably and respecting the good faith of other views.

    + Andrew

  • magistra says:

    A question for +Andrew. You are keen to build bridges with those in the Catholic church (who do not recognise your priesthood), which is admirable in itself. But what have you been doing to build bridges with women priests within your own church (whose priesthood you do not recognise)? In all your discussion of your activities in this letter, you do not mention how you have worked together at an everyday level with Anglicans you disagree with. If you have done so,I would like to hear more about your attempts at that. If you have not done so, how do you expect good relationships to develop with Anglicans whose views on women’s ordination differ from yours?

  • Lister Tonge says:

    Thank you, Bishop Andrew.

    But your comment does not answer the points made best by Dr Butler, above.

    Hearing of ‘traditionalist’ bishops and clergy telling ordinands that they are wasting their time going ahead in the C of E and should cut their losses and head for Rome is an example of the sort of behaviour which makes it difficult to find integrity in such ‘tradition’.

    Concerning the Ordinariate, I should also like to know from you what is the attraction to Anglicans who have spent their lives acting liturgically as if they were Roman Catholic now being invited to become Roman Catholics acting liturgically as if they were Anglican.

    Also, what is the status of the ‘Sacred Synod of Clergy’ to which you refer? When was a suffragan bishop of the diocese of Canterbury given the right to summon such? Or is it merely a fellowship of the like-minded?

  • Jerry Hannon says:

    I will leave to others the refutation of the concept of independent development or evolution into new dioceses, as implied by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet (within the Diocese of Canterbury, as noted by others).

    However, as an Anglo Catholic, and a former Roman Catholic (1944-1976) who now strongly supports — after prayerful consideration and study at a time when I also did not accept it — the ordination of women to all orders, I find the threatened or actual dipping of toes into the Tiber as either (a) a cold-blooded negotiating ploy, or (b) a sad strategy of exit on this very narrow point, most disconcerting.

    Ironically, there are increasing numbers of Roman Catholics who now favor the ordination of all of humanity, regardless of gender, and, combined with great dismay over the sexual abuse and hierarchy cover-up scandals, may not be willing to merely pray, pay, and obey much longer.

    Are we coming to a point where all of the people, who support such ordination, should migrate to the CofE or other churches of the Anglican Communion, and where the relative minority of those in CofE (and related churches) who cannot (yet, in my opinion) support ordination of women to all orders should migrate to Rome?

    I won’t live long enough to see the day, but I do believe that Rome will have women as priests within the next twenty years; in the case of Rome, where change takes much longer, and where the self-perpetuating hierarchy can prevent change more easily, I would not expect to see women as bishops until perhaps the next century.

    It would be nice to see more candor, and an acknowledgment of arrogance and past stonewalling on this point by CofE opponents of the ordination of women.

    For every criticism of a perceived lack of current collegial consideration, some of which may be justified, there is a certain amount of mote and beam denial.

  • Thank you, Lister Tonge. I can see the force of Dr Butler’s argument but he simply states the divergence of view between those who set up Act of Synod and those who availed themselves of it. It had developed its own life for six or seven years before I became a bishop and Archbishop Carey knew my own take on it, i.e. a vehicle to develop an adequate ecclesiology within a fissiparous Anglicanism.

    As for ‘telling ordinands that they are wasting their time going ahead in the C of E and should cut their losses and head for Rome’, I don’t think I have done that or would do it.

    As for ‘the attraction to Anglicans who have spent their lives acting liturgically as if they were Roman Catholic now being invited to become Roman Catholics acting liturgically as if they were Anglican’, they have acted liturgically as Catholics for many complex reasons. Some reasons are doctrinal, some ecumenical (Lund principle). Some are based on the older (pre-ARCIC) view that Anglo-Catholicism is the legitimate guardian of the Western Rite in England and that RCs in England are somehow not proper Catholics. Anglicanorum Coetibus allows former Anglicans the use of the Latin Rite within a coherent Catholic ecclesiology and doctrinal framework.

    “What is the status of the ‘Sacred Synod of Clergy’ to which you refer? When was a suffragan bishop of the diocese of Canterbury given the right to summon such? Or is it merely a fellowship of the like-minded?”
    It has been called by fourteen (I think) bishops, including diocesans. (I am not one of the organisers). There is a similar one in the North.
    These are not canonical synods but, as you say, fellowships of the like-minded (quite a good translation of ‘synod’).

    I’ll answer ‘magistra’ separately because of word limits.

    + Andrew

  • To Magistra

    It has been hard as a PEV to build good relationships with women clergy but I hope I have made good use of limited opportunities. I have encouraged clergy who look to me to make opportunities for dialogue, which many have. Hostile comments about our clergy and parishes, therefore, usually come from contexts where they are not to be found and are not based on familiarity or contact.

    At theological college I taught women ordinands and tried to support them and build good relationships – with varying success, because of my known stance. As a parish priest I supported two or three vocations to the priesthood from women in the congregation and had a husband and wife team as stipendiary deacons before the Act of Synod made them feel they could not stay on. Before that I had a female colleague as an assistant curate, and went to her diaconal ordination, and campaigned for women to be accepted for the diaconate and to be properly remunerated as stipends and given such posts as were consonant with Catholic Order – including dean and archdeacon. I contributed to a book and booklets on the general subject. (The context was that the Orthodox had declared for women deacons in, I think, 1979, and at that stage the Vatican had studiously avoided comment.) I still feel that ordaining women to the priesthood and episcopate has delayed the evolution of women’s ministry in the ancient churches and that the way forward for them (and us all) was/would be a formalising and developing of what we (and the Didascalia) have called ‘deaconess’ and Catholics have called ‘parish sister’ and ‘catechist’ and ‘extraordinary minister of the Eucharist’ (involving thousands of women worldwide.

    Nowadays I accept in full, however, the teaching of the Catholic Church that ‘holy order’ in the ancient sense is intrinsically one and therefore male. I don’t rule out this teaching itself evolving further when the ferment about feminism, the family, and the complementary role of men and women in the economy and in public life settle down a little.

    You won’t agree, I suspect, but it may unsettle one or two people’s prejudices about my position.

    + Andrew

  • Lister Tonge says:

    Thank you again, Bishop Andrew.

    I suppose what most concerns me in your response is:
    ‘I can see the force of Dr Butler’s argument but he simply states the divergence of view between those who set up Act of Synod and those who availed themselves of it.’

    But we are now being pilloried for taking objection to precisely this. The PEV Project has been so abused as to undermine our confidence in its continuation. That you think being outside communion with Rome and in impaired communion with the Church of England is an adequate Catholic ecclesiology would have surprised me once upon a time.

    My complaint abput liturgical use is one about honesty. I am not questioning those who ‘have acted liturgically as Catholics’. I have done that all my adult life.

    I am questioning the integrity of e.g. taking an oath to use only the rites of the C of E when having not the faintest intention of keeping it. This has always struck me as rank dishonesty, disloyalty and ‘acting liturgically as Congregationalists’. That will not be possible under Anglicanorum Coetibus and is partly why so few will take it up.

    But we’ll have to agree to differ, I am sure. Thank you again.

  • Again, if I may, to Lister Tonge. I think the oath about rites has been widely interpreted as being bound to liturgical forms rather than ‘free church worship’ and there has been something between sophistication and sophistry as the permissive range has increased so that almost anything is either ‘Common Worship’ or established pre-Reformation use which has been sanctioned by what has been said about previous forms continuing to be available. Unsatisfactory but there we are, a whole culture of use, catechesis and self-understanding.

    On the question of Catholic ecclesiology, we have acted thus far on the basis that (a) we are retaining something which the Church has drifted away from and because of what it had said about the provisional nature of ordaining women may have been able to drift back to [the Bishop of London once volunteered that that process would take 100 years] and (b) we have been continuing to pursue urgently the objective of communion with the Holy See, since about 1970 the avowed strategy of the Anglican Communion.

    Synod July 2010 rather closes off (a) and Anglicanorum Coetibus rather changes the speed, means and manner of (b). Hence our present difficulties.

    We will no doubt disagree but we do all need to credit one another with being ‘thinking Anglicans’ even if we end up thinking different things. But thank you for the courteous dialogue.

    + Andrew

  • magistra says:

    Bishop Andrew

    Thank you very much for your explanations: that has given me a much better sense of how you are co-operating positively with those you disagree with. I admit I was basing my previous views mainly on the public pronouncements of FiF (which often focus solely on their opposition to women priests), and the negative experiences one female priest I knew had in a largely Anglo-Catholic diocese. It is hard work to continue to engage with those whose views you do not share, but I think it can sometimes be done constructively, and I am grateful to you for doing so.

    If some of my misconceptions about FiF are due to my lack of knowledge of them, is it also possible that some of your fears about your opponents are due to a lack of experience with them? Although I am a supporter of women priests and bishops I would want to make provision for those who have conscientious objections. But I simply cannot see how the kind of provision in perpetuity can be made that FiF would like without radical innovations in church organization. Is there any historical precedent or Catholic warranty for non-geographical dioceses like yours? (Ironically, as a liberal, that is not necessarily the decisive factor for me, but it must presumably be for you). And if the church were to make such provision, what will happen in 50-100 years time (or maybe even less) if there are suggestions about female archbishops? I do not think long term it is practical to maintain the institutional separation you feel you need and still have you fully part of the Anglican church. But I might, of course, be wrong about that!

  • Dear Magistra

    Thank you for that. I think I would want to say that, though I belong to FiF, I am not an FiF bishop. My view has been that that is a political organisation but that I am a bishop of the Church. Every scheme that has been considered is a form of the ecclesiola, the little church, with distinct arrangements, and I do not find that an easy idea. It is too similar to the Protestant principle of separating off and founding new communities because of disagreements over Faith and Order. Literally thousands of denominations have been born that way and it is the antithesis of the Catholic impetus to unity. Nevertheless, that does seem to have been the only means whereby the Church of England could have more than one set of bishops.

    Non-geographical dioceses are not necessarily a problem. Nineteenth century England had all sorts of different dioceses and jurisdictions and, though much of that has been tidied up, Oxford colleges (for example) have different arrangements so that, in one college, I was told not to carry a crosier to confirm because the Ordinary was the Archbishop of York (different province). And, of course, the Ordinariate offered by the Pope is a variant of the non-geographical diocese. It is ironic that ‘monolithic’ Rome can create spaces that ‘inclusive’ Canterbury (sc. General Synod) cannot.

    I myself do not think long term institutional division solves anything but the important thing now is to manage things as best we can so as few people as possible get hurt or unchurched and the relationships whereby the Kingdom is hastened are maintained.

    Prayers and best wishes

    + Andrew

  • Father Ron Smith says:

    “We hope that in the coming months the various groups and organisations involved can meet and talk, so that we can develop bonds of love in what is likely to continue to be a difficult process.” – P.E.V Bishop Andrew Burnham –

    Unfortunately, Bishop Burnham’s argument for the pursuit of the ‘maintenance of catholic order’, as far as his personal prelature is concerned, has already failed to guarantee that particular ethos in the Church of England.

    The very thought of ‘Flying Bishops’ – in the circmstances that the C.of E. has already conceived and acted upon, and given credence to through this Bishop’s present ministry as ‘P.E.V’ – is neither perceptibly nor credibly catholic.

    The sort of ‘catholicity’ that Bishop Burnham is advocating would surely precipitate his transfer (after due confession of his own dereliction of ‘catholic order’) to the Roman Jursidiction.
    For him to remain in the Church of England, which has already affirmed the role of women in Holy Orders, while yet claiming their apostacy, is a theological irregularity – to say the very least.

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