STATEMENT FROM WATCH
Implementation and Dialogue Group on the House of Bishops’ Declaration: Report of the Group
WATCH has read with interest the long-awaited report from the Implementation and Dialogue Group on the House of Bishops’ Declaration (GS 2225). While there is much to welcome in the Report, the evidence, commentary and analysis contained within it are already two years’ old and this is highlighted by the virtual absence of reference to issues which have been identified and have risen in importance since 2019.
From this perspective the Report provides an important foundation for looking to the future and moving the conversation forward in a positive way. WATCH is looking for full attention to be paid to issues noted but not fully engaged with in the Report, in particular:
- the experience of lay people, and in particular lay women, both within and outwith the church, bearing in mind the bewilderment of those who cannot understand that the church still discriminates against women;
- the need to engage further with the theology which might underpin the concept of ‘mutual flourishing’, referred to in the Report as ‘a theology of paradox’ (feedback from the Diocese of Chelmsford, p. 67);
- the lived experience of women, both clergy and lay, in those parts of the church where the application of the Five Guiding Principles is a live issue;
- the need for transparency in all aspects of the application of the Principles, including easily accessible website statements which give complete clarity on the position of a church which has passed a resolution, and what this means for both women and men attending the church.
WATCH endorses the need for education on the Declaration and the importance of placing the Five Guiding Principles in context. We hope that a wide range of material will be used in such education and commend our own resources (https://womenandthechurch.org/resources/).
WATCH sees the potential in Recommendation Four of the Report:
The guidance originally produced for bishops and for parochial church councils in 2014 on the operation of the settlement, and on how parishes may petition for extended episcopal ministry should be revised to update their drafting to ensure that they reflect the practical experience of the arrangements since 2014.
We would like this to emphasise the requirement for consultation with lay people beyond the PCC. We would also suggest a requirement for full review at regular intervals and always at a time of vacancy.
WATCH recognises the value of Recommendation Fourteen:
Each diocese to have a clear and accessible policy on how it proposes to apply the House of Bishops’ Declaration in its particular context.
But adds the proviso that any such diocesan policy should include proper safeguards so that lay people are fully informed about the Five Guiding Principles, their voices heard and their views recognised, in any decisions taken.
WATCH endorses the position of the Revd Canon Dr Emma Percy, Chair of WATCH, on Recommendations Nineteen and Twenty, which she could not support, noting the geographical spread of the four per cent of parishes with arrangements under the Declaration, and the proportion of bishoprics currently held by non-ordaining clergy:
Recommendation Nineteen: We recommend that serious consideration is given, in all dioceses with more than one suffragan see, to the possible appointment of traditional catholic and/or complementarian evangelical candidates to one of the sees once a vacancy occurs should qualified candidates from those traditions be available.
Recommendation Twenty: We recommend that some suffragan sees are given a combined diocesan and national (or regional) role; and that some such sees could be identified, at given points, as being suitable for a traditional catholic or complementarian evangelical. We recommend that the Dioceses Commission, in its scrutiny of proposals for filling vacant suffragan sees, should actively identify such sees in consultation with the diocese concerned.
WATCH hopes that in the context of the ‘clear and unequivocal decisions made through General Synod that all three orders of ministry be open to all, both women and men’ (GS 2225, p 1), the membership of the proposed Standing Commission will reflect that decision. We would hope to see a membership which, while including those who represent the four per cent who do not fully accept ordained women, also has a balance of laity and clergy and recognises the full diversity of the Church of England.
The Implementation and Dialogue Group on the House of Bishops’ Declaration: Report of the Group (GS 2225) can be accessed here: