LONDON - The debate on ordination of women bishop in the Church of England was led into a new dimension after the General Synod was held earlier this month. The plan about dividing the Church into men-only and mixed clergy so as to relieve the ongoing battle between the conservatives and liberals was revealed by the Archbishop of York last Tuesday.
Since the first ordination of women priests 10 years ago in the Church of England, discussion on the possibility of women bishops has emerged. Over the years, conservatives of the church resist the change due to theological reasons while the liberals continue to fight for the right of women to serve the church as bishops. A working group was established to draw a final decision to the issue.
The Archbishop of York, Dr. David Hope, explained the new proposal about the structural division within the Church. A so-called “Third Province” will be created as requested by the die-hard conservatives who cannot tolerate any women in the ministry. This would operate in the same way as the main Church with archbishops, bishops and training colleges, but women would not be ordained.
Hope said that he would canvass the support of Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who supports women bishops. Even though Hope opposes women bishops, he admitted that the new proposal would be a painful split that he would not prefer. The proposal was probably formed under the threat of increasing number of traditionalist clergy who may quit in protest to the consecration of women bishops.
About 300 clergymen are said to be considering quitting their posts if women bishops are ordinated. It will then cost the church tens of millions of pounds in hardship payments to those who leave. The Church Commissioners said that, up until the end of 2003, 430 clergy had resigned and applied for the payments. It also said that the estimate for the total cost up to the end of 2014 was now approximately £26 million ($47.9 million USD).
Under the current severe financial difficulty and lack of clergymen in the Church of England, both Willams and Hope agreed that the options facing the Church are limited. Therefore, in case the consecration of women bishops passes, the “Third Province” scheme will minimize the problem for the church and maintain peace in the church, even though it is controversial.
Meanwhile, Hope has also suggested the “Flying Bishop” scheme that protects the right of the conservative parishes that oppose to women’s ordination. They are allowed to choose to be ministered by a like-minded traditionalist bishop from outside the diocese if they found their diocese was unacceptably headed by women bishops or liberals.
Many have anticipated the split of the church, and seen it as inevitable since the debate on women bishop broke out. Actually, both options suggested by Archbishop York will only solve the debate on the surface, but it does not mean to communicate a common ground to unite the whole church in one belief and spirit.
According to the Church of England Newspaper, a recent survey carried out by the Christian Research interviewed over 2,000 members of clergy. While 59-percent of clergy responded that they want women bishops as soon as possible, or within the next 10 years, 41-percent said never, or only when all the other churches have agreed.
Rev. Robbie Low, a member of the traditionalist group Cost of Conscience, who commissioned the survey said, “There is a large group in the church who will not have women bishops so we need a settlement so that we can live in peace.”
“I suspect that people are very bored with living in a Church that operates in a civil war. Most of us don’t want to live in this mess very much longer.”