Motion to refuse ordination to traditionalists rejected by Welsh synod

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A private members motion asking bishops to refuse to ordain anyone who objected to women clergy was defeated this week at the 1-2 May 2019 meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales meeting at the City Hall, Cardiff.

The motion put forward by the Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven. Peggy Jackson, would have removed the protections of a conscience clause adopted in 2014 after the church authorized the consecration of women bishops. The vote was 19 in favor, 63 opposed with 20 abstentions. Two of the church’s six bishops, the Rt. Rev. Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St Davids, and the Rt. Rev. Andy John, Bishop of Bangor, voted in favor of the traditionalist ban.

The motion was presented to the Governing Body on 2 May 2019 and an hour was set aside for debate. However, after the first ten speakers voiced disapproval for the motion, saying it would drive traditionalists out of the church and was “malicious”, illiberal and discriminatory, discussion was cut short. Archdeacon Jackson responded that her intentions had been misunderstood. She did not want to drive out traditionalists but merely wanted them to conform to her understanding of doctrine and discipline.

The proposed motion and its explanatory paper are printed below:

That this Governing Body rejoices that the Church in Wales has now received the consecration of two Bishops who are women, and:

1.     requests that all Bishops, consonant with previous undertakings, agree not to hold in future separate ordination services for any candidates, on the grounds of the candidates’ views on gender.

2.     calls on the Bench of Bishops to resile from paragraph 5 of the Explanatory Note to their 2014 Code of Practice, and cease to ordain those who, refusing the sacramental ministry of women, expect to rely upon the conscience clauses of the Code.

Proposer:    the Ven Peggy Jackson, Archdeacon of Llandaff – Nominated Archdeacon

Seconder:   the Revd Dominic McClean, Director of Vocations & Discipleship, Diocese of Bangor –Elected Member

This motion asks GB to celebrate the progress made by the Church in Wales since 2014, to develop and benefit from the gifts of ordained women across the province, particularly evident in the fact that the latest two bishops to be consecrated in Wales have both been women.

It then asks GB to recognise, and signal to the Bishops, two other respects in which we believe there need to be changes in the implementation of the Code, in order to preserve its original intention: of enabling, in the Church in Wales, “all its members to flourish within its life and structures, as accepted and valued”.

Clause 1   asks the Bishops to reaffirm earlier undertakings that have been given. We believe that the holding of separate ordination services for candidates, on grounds of their views on gender, undermines the visible unity of all clergy around their bishop, and the principle of the catholicity of orders, as understood by the Church in Wales. By permitting some candidates to distance themselves from ordination services which include women, it appears to offer respect to views which question the validity of women’s orders, and it undermines the affirmation and support that all clergy, women and men, have the right to assume from their diocesan bishop.  It fails to uphold the second Principle of the Code, that “Anyone who ministers within the Church in Wales must be prepared to accept that the Church in Wales has reached a clear decision on the matter”.

Clause 2 –   challenges the assertion made in paragraph 5 of the 2014 Explanatory Note to the Code of Practice, and asks the Bishops to modify their future practice, in order to maintain their intention that in the CinW “all may flourish within its life and structures”.  Paragraph 5 of the Explanatory Note states that:

“The Code acknowledges that we are still in a period of reception, and therefore we do not believe that we can exclude from consideration for ordination those who in conscience cannot receive the sacramental ministry of women in Holy Orders.”

The concept of a “period of reception” has never before been either defined or referred to by the Church in Wales, and was not mentioned in the legislation concerning the ordination of women. There has been no discussion to determine what it would mean to agree the assertion that “we” are “in a period of reception”.  When and how did “we” embark on such a period? And even if we had, how and when, if at all, will this “period of reception” ever be said to be completed, and to have come to an end? The bishops, in using the word “we” in their text, appeared to be identifying the Church in Wales either with the whole of the Anglican Communion, where this expression has been adopted, or with the Roman Catholic Church, where the concept of ‘reception’ is to be found, but applied in very different contexts.  But the Church in Wales is a self-governing province, and thus should not allow its own authority, or the ministry of the clergy who rely on that authority, to be undermined by striving to align itself with others outside Wales, with whom it has explicitly chosen to disagree over the ordination of women. The second of the Principles attached to the Code of Practice, was very clear on this point: “Anyone who ministers within the Church in Wales must be prepared to accept that the Church in Wales has reached a clear decision on the matter”. It cannot be just, or helpful to the mutual flourishing of all in orders in the Church in Wales, to have an open-ended period of time described as ‘a period of reception’, with no indication at all as to either a time limit, or a means of determining when the period of reception is past.   

The Code of Practice explicitly set out conscience provisions for those individuals, lay or ordained, around whom the doctrine of the Church in Wales was being changed – in order that they, remaining within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, should, as far as possible be enabled to remain and flourish within its life and structures.  The purpose was to recognise and honour the long allegiance and service many such people had given to the Church in Wales, and to mitigate as far as possible any feelings of rejection that they might otherwise experience, by the enactment of this doctrinal change. The provisions were never intended to maintain within the Church in Wales a parallel, or alternative, doctrinal tradition to that which had been decided by Governing Body; nor were they intended to uphold, or sustain on behalf of others, different doctrinal traditions belonging to other provinces of the Anglican Communion, with whom the Church in Wales has chosen to disagree.  

Anyone presenting themselves for ordination since 2013 must be aware of this, and therefore cannot now, in good faith, seek to be excused by conscience, from the obligations within the Church in Wales, which are laid upon every other cleric at ordination.  Therefore we believe that the Bishops should not in future allow conscience provisions to be extended towards anyone who seeks ordination from this point on; nor should they be prepared to consider for ordination in the Church in Wales anyone, who intends from the very outset of their ministry, to restrict the exercise of that ministry, by their reliance upon conscience provisions.

The Code of Practice set out, as a priority, its intention to promote as far as possible the mutual flourishing of all within the Church in Wales, and made provisions accordingly.  The cost of these provisions has been borne, at times painfully, by many people across the Church in Wales, but most specifically, and constantly, by women who serve the church: women ordinands who have been obliged to train alongside other ordinands who, with impunity, have been allowed to question and deny the validity of their vocations; women clergy who have been made to feel, in the context of some clergy gatherings where shared communion is impaired, that they are the ‘problem’, or who have been asked to tolerate the public  rejection of their ministry by fellow clergy, in the name of ‘tradition’ or ‘conscience’; women exploring their vocations, who have had to overcome additional hurdles in discernment, over and above their male counterparts, because of a prevailing attitude among some influential people, that their vocations were somehow questionable. A survey undertaken in 2017 indicated that, four years after the passing of the legislation on women bishops, women were still disproportionately being subject to these experiences.

The mutual flourishing of all members of the Church in Wales cannot be assured while this remains the case.  And as long as women are unable, because of these factors, to realise their full potential in ministry, the whole Church is suffering, through the loss of the gifts (and sometimes of the people) who could otherwise be contributing so much to its growth.  In their operation of the Code of Practice, the bishops carry significant responsibility for how this situation is addressed, but they also have the potential to enable a flourishing and fruitful ministry for the whole Church in Wales. In the two specific ways outlined in the motion above, we urge them to do so.

Peggy Jackson7th April, 2019