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It is my role today to introduce a Bill for a Church Law (Further Clarification) Canon
2004; legislation to clear the way for the consecration of women as bishops in our
This matter has been before the Australian Church for a long time.
It was 1977 and I was a fresh faced deacon in my mid-twenties , when General Synod
endorsed a report from the Doctrine Commission stating that “the theological
objections which have been raised do not constitute a barrier to the ordination of
women to the diaconate and priesthood, and the consecration of women to the
episcopate in this Church.
It was 1985 when General Synod passed a Canon to allow the ordination of women to
the diaconate.
It was 1992 when women were ordained to the priesthood and in that year General
Synod passed the Law of the Church of England Clarification, providing for the
ordination of women to the priesthood.
Throughout the debate at that time, there was recognition that the principles applying
to the priesthood also held for the episcopate. However, the 1992 General Synod
chose not to include the episcopate in the enabling legislation it passed.
So a Working Group on Women in the Episcopate, was established in 1998 and
through a General Synod Standing Committee this group brought to the 2001 General
Synod legislation presented as a principled compromise.
The compromise referred to was in the form of a schedule providing for alternative
episcopal oversight through a set of protocols. As it turned out, these protocols were
the sticking point.
Even among those in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate, there was
real concern about how the protocols might work. The protocols proposed that the
metropolitan would assume responsibility for ensuring that alternative Episcopal
oversight was provided for parishes that sought it.
Many saw in this proposal a breaking down of diocesan integrity and possibly an
undermining of the diocesan bishop.
It was clear the legislation would not get through.
General Synod did give in-
principle support for the bill, but then it was withdrawn.
Standing Committee was asked to prepare a report on the issues raised in the 2001
debate, and to propose a way ahead.
A working group was established, and over a
two-year consultation process, the working group developed the bill that is before us
It is another clarification canon.
It is important to note what this means.
It means we are not considering legislation
specific to women as opposed to men.
Rather, the canon clarifies that no barriers
exist beyond those that apply to both men and women and makes it clear that those
dioceses that wish to elect or appoint a women as bishop have the power to do so.
The legislation before us does not contain a detailed protocol as in 2001.
However, it does retain an obligation for the diocesan to put in place and maintain
provisions for alternative episcopal ministry.
It is important that we understand the
differences between this proposal and what was considered in 2001.
The differences
can be summarised in these ways:
Episcopal ministry as opposed to Episcopal oversight.
This small shift in
wording signals an important change.
The 2001 legislation provided for
alternative episcopal ministry, but also an element of alternative Episcopal
In the 2004 legislation the integrity of the diocese and diocesan
bishop is held more fully.
The diocesan bishop retains oversight, but is
obliged to put in place measures for alternative ministry.
Responsibility is focused on the diocesan bishop.
Given the constitution of
our church there are limitations on what the General Synod can require of a
diocesan synod.
We’ve put the focus on the bishop because we believe this
not only retains the integrity of the episcopate, it also provides the strongest
The bishop is bound by the Canons of General Synod and in the
end, can be taken to a special tribunal.
Flexibility is provided within an agreed framework.
No protocol, no matter
how complex, is likely to cover every situation or circumstance.
The approach
proposed avoids the possibility of having to come back to General Synod for
amendments and adaptions.
Within its framework, it allows dioceses to
respond to the needs of specific communities, possibly including indigenous
people or particular ethnic communities.
The working group feels that these provisions are in many ways as strong as those
prepared in 2001.
They are simpler and have greater flexibility.
I have acknowledged that in the 2001 debate there were, among those who supported
the Episcopal ordination of women, members who were concerned about the
constraints placed upon a bishop who was a woman, through the protocols then
In regard to the legislation before this General Synod, I make these observations:
First, that there are already constraints upon our ministry and fellowship as
priests and bishops across the Australian Church.
They are informal but they
are real.
By acknowledging these constraints together and by making the
commitment to respectful relationship implicit in this legislation, we seek to
hold community even across deeply principled differences.
Second, I would suggest that the provisions in this legislation do not go
beyond what a pastorally sensitive bishop, male or female, would be likely to
do as a matter of course.
Episcopal ministry, like all ministry, is to be relational.
It should not trample in or
impose itself on the discomfort of others.
So I strongly support the requirement in
this bill for the provision of alternative episcopal ministry, within the jurisdiction of
the diocesan bishop.
The legislation before this General Synod is very much in the Spirit of Resolution
III.2 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which calls upon all provinces to make such
provision, including appropriate Episcopal ministry, as would allow them to live in
the highest degree of communion possible.
Of course, the effectiveness of any provision or protocol lies in relationship and trust.
Why do we bring legislation to General Synod?
Certainly not in the first instance
because we are expecting to have to resort to enforcement, -- with ecclesiastical red
light cameras for unlicensed (low or high) flying bishops!
No, we bring legislation to our synods, and to this General Synod, because within the
means available to us as Australian Anglicans, this is our strongest way of making a
commitment together, and to each other.
This is what this legislation is about.
Having said that, it may be that the General Synod will not wish to include the
provisions for alternative episcopal ministry within the legislation before it.
legislation has been designed so that they can be omitted easily at the Committee
stage of the debate, if that is General Synod’s decision.
Members of General synod, my support for this bill clearing the way for the
ordination of women to all orders of the Anglican church of Australia comes from my
reading of Scripture and a conviction about the Gospel.
It comes form a reading of Genesis that sees male dominance over women as a curse
of the Fall and a distortion of creation order. (Gen 1.27; 3.16)
It comes from a conviction that the primary trajectory of the New Testament is one
that allows, provides for, and supports the full participation of women in ministerial
According to Gospel tradition, Jesus appears not only as a unique and radical reformer
of the place of women in a society that regarded women as minors all their life, but at
Easter, made women the first witnesses to that event which is at the heart of the
apostolic message, prompting St Augustine to call Mary Magdalene the ‘apostle to the
In the Lukan tradition, women share in the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit and
there is no reason at all to presume they remained in modest silence, since Peter
Rith B. Edwards,
The Case for Women’s Ministry.
London: SPCK, 1989 p. 100.
himself quotes Joel: ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy’. (Acts 21.9)
Supporting this account is the statement that
the daughters of Philip exercised this high ministry gift. (Acts 21.9)
And Paul, to whom we attribute those famous words about the Church being built on
the foundation of the apostles and prophets, tells us that women prophesied in the
Pauline churches and that prominent among the apostles was a woman called Junea,
the feminine name being favoured by early manuscripts (Eph 2.20, 1 Cor 11.5, Rom
There are, in Paul, passages urging modest behaviour upon women and restraining
them within the gathered assembly in greater detail.
But, let me touch on one; the section of 1 Corinthians 11, which deals with headship
and head covering (1 Cor 11.2-16). I was struck by John Calvin’s commentary on
these verses. In regard to the specific instructions in this passage about the conduct of
women in the church, Calvin says two things:
They were to do with suitable and profitable government, which, according to
Calvin, every church had liberty to frame for itself and which differentiates
from essential doctrine.
they were matters of decorum, about not disturbing civil order.
And he concludes: ‘In fine, the rule to be observed here is decorum. If that is secured,
Paul requires nothing more.’ (Commentary on 1Cor 11.4-5)
Whether we agree with Calvin here, in whole or in part, he certainly raises some
But what is clear from this passage, and what Scripture in its wholeness calls us to
recognise, is the theme of created complementarity of male female, women and man.
And it is that created complementarity, that wholeness in all the orders of our
ministry, that is my vision as I bring this bill before General Synod.
My friends, I believe the prevailing trajectory of the Scripture is one that allows,
indeed provides, the full participation of women in ministerial leadership.
I believe our church is called to receive the ordination of women to the Episcopate.
But I also believe that our very being as a church should be relational, that we are
called to live together respectfully even with greater diversity, that we are called to
provide for each other even where we disagree, and we are called to struggle towards
trust even when the struggle is daunting.
That’s what this Bill is about members of General Synod. I urge you to support it.
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