October 15th, 2022
What do all those words mean?
A Short guide to Resolutions, Letters of Request,
bishops and parishes
- Who is this guide intended for?
Anyone who is part of a Church of England church, both clergy and laity. Members of PCCs particularly should be aware of what a “Letter of Request” is and its implications for the ministry of women in a parish which passes a resolution to submit such a letter.
- Why do we need to know about this when our parish accepts ordained women and there is a woman bishop in our diocese?
It is true that most congregations welcome ordained women, including women who are bishops and in other leadership positions. What most do not realise is that the additional legislation passed in 2014 to offer a continuing place in the Church of England to those who do not accept the full ministry of women, enshrines discrimination on the grounds of sex within the Church of England and is not balanced legislation. In other words, the legislation provides for those who want to avoid the ministry of women, but does not provide support or protection for a congregation who wishes to welcome the ministry of ordained women.
Since 2015, there have been continuing reports of parishes where a PCC has passed a Resolution to prevent the ministry of ordained women in that church, and to separate the parish from the full oversight of the diocesan bishop, but where a significant proportion of the congregation are happy to accept ordained women. In several cases, this has created significant pain and division within the parish. In many cases, after the Resolution has been passed, congregation members say that they did not realise that this could happen.
- Our bishop is a man, so we don’t have a problem
Many of those in the Church of England who do not believe women can be ordained as priests or bishops, or should not lead a church or diocese, often also believe that any bishop who has ordained a woman has broken his collegiality with other bishops by doing this. Those who believe this often request a bishop who can prove that he has neither ordained women nor been ordained by a woman, should be the bishop they relate to.
- What are Resolutions and Letters of Request?
These are the terms used to describe what a PCC has to do to make it legal to refuse to allow a woman to preach or preside in their church, and to ask for oversight from another male bishop rather than the parish’s diocesan bishop, whether they are male or female.
If a PCC wishes to invoke the provisions created in 2014 to be able to avoid the ministry of ordained women, the PCC must pass a Resolution by a simple majority (as long as at least 2/3 of the members were at the meeting) to send a Letter of Request to their bishop requesting that arrangements be made for the parish in line with its theological position on the ordination of women.
When the Bishop receives the Letter of Request, she or he must agree on which bishop will act as a bishop in that parish, for events such as confirmations, and services to which a bishop might normally be invited. It becomes legal to advertise for male clergy only. A curate coming to this church might be one who has requested that he is not ordained by the diocesan bishop or suffragan bishop, but by a Provincial Episcopal visitor (a bishop who has not ordained any women and whose role is to support parishes who have passed Resolutions and sent Letters of Request).
- How do we know that a PCC plans to pass this Resolution? If we don‘t agree, what can we do?
One of the weaknesses of the process set out in the document agreed in Synod and by the Bishops (Declaration of the House of Bishops, and Guide to the Declaration) is that although it puts the emphasis on the theological views of the parish, rather than the incumbent or Church Wardens, there is no means of ensuring that any decision is based on the views of the majority of the parish or congregation. Nor is it mandatory for the PCC to tell the congregation that they plan to discuss this, although it is, of course, good practice.
- Good Practice within a parish planning to discuss a Resolution
The advice given is to “consult widely” before the PCC discusses the proposal, and it is important for any parish where such a Resolution and Letter of Request is being considered, to explain:
- Why this is being suggested (encouraged)
- What would be the results of the PCC voting for a Resolution, for the church congregation and links to the wider diocese
- What would be the impact of the PCC voting for a Resolution on ecumenical cooperation.
Consultation can happen in an open meeting, and through smaller groups, articles in any parish magazine or similar. Ideally, more than one means of communication will be used for this.
It is good practice to consult everyone on the electoral roll, and also to offer an opportunity to those who come to any regular services to give their views. Such views should be recorded and available to PCC members, and it is also good practice to let the diocese know how the wider parish thinks.
Anyone may collate the results of such a consultation.
The views of the majority of the parish should be made known to all PCC members and the wider church community before any formal meeting of the PCC. PCC members should be strongly encouraged to take the views of church members seriously. However, the PCC does not have to vote in line with the results of any wider consultation. There have been cases where the parish-wide consultation is clearly in favour of not limiting the ministry of women, but the PCC has voted in favour of a Resolution. In several cases this has led to loyal congregation members leaving the church and divisions in the congregation.
- Can we appeal to anyone?
In 2014, the role of Independent Reviewer was created to act as a kind of “ombudsman” to receive and adjudicate if any parish or individual with a valid interest in the particular situation, felt that the provisions in the Declaration had not been applied properly. However, the weakness in this, is that the Declaration does not include anything to protect the rights and theological views of those who want to be able to receive the ministry of women, and so there is no way of appealing if this is what is wanted. It is still very important to let your diocesan bishop know that this Resolution was passed despite the majority of parish members not being in favour. The bishop may not be able to change anything, but it does matter that these examples of bad practice are not hidden and ignored.
If you and your parish feel strongly about this, you can still contact the Independent Reviewer and then your complaint will be noted and recorded, but it is very unlikely that any action will be taken.
- Our parish is currently in vacancy (without a vicar or rector)
It is important to make sure that, unless your parish has passed a Resolution, the parish profile and person specification for a new vicar states clearly that your parish welcomes ordained women. There are plenty of examples of a new vicar being appointed who, even if he does not try to pass a Resolution, still limits the ministry of women, both ordained and lay. Even if the profile states the parish supports the ministry of women, make sure that at least one of the parish representatives asks any interviewees specific questions about their views on women leading worship, both preaching and sacramental and the role of ordained women.
If your parish has passed a Resolution, then a vacancy can offer a helpful opportunity to discuss this in the parish again, without the influence of a vicar who does not agree with the ordination of women. If your PCC agrees to this, then ask your Archdeacon or diocesan parish support staff to help you find a good facilitator to lead such discussions.
What are the main reasons why some people continue to refuse to accept ordained women?
There are two main groups of those who do not think the Church of England should ordain women as priests or bishops.
- a) Conservative Evangelicals believe that the bible teaches that men should take the lead in marriages, families and the church. They do not object to women being ordained as priests, but do not let them preach or lead mixed study groups in their churches if the group members are adults. They do not believe a woman should be the incumbent of any church, and similarly, they do not believe that a woman should take the leadership role of a bishop. The Bishop who normally gives oversight to this group, if requested, has been the Bishop of Maidstone (up to October 2022). It is proposed that his replacement will be known as the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
- b) Traditional Anglo-Catholics do not consider that the Church of England has the authority to decide to ordain women unless the Roman Catholic Church has made a decision to allow this. Sacraments and church order are very important to this group and they will not receive communion from a woman, nor will they receive communion from a bishop who has ordained a woman.
The bishops appointed to give oversight to these churches are: the Bishops of Richborough, Beverley and Fulham. Until he resigned, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet was also a bishop for these churches, but the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet will be a conservative evangelical. The Bishop of Oswestry will be the title of the replacement for Ebbsfleet.
This group are sometimes linked to the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda and/or Forward in Faith
Further Information and links
What are the Five Guiding principles? How do they help to remove or lessen conflict in the Church of England over the ordination of women?
These are five statements created by a working group in 2013 to be an accepted basis for any future legislation to enable women to be appointed as bishops. The view was that as these statements had helped Synod to draft legislation that Synod could support, they should be retained and all ordinands, and sometimes others, are asked to affirm that they support them. The difficulty is that because they were created to be a negotiating base, they contain contradictory statements. In our experience so far, they have been used more often to protect the rights of a church or individual to continue to discriminate against women, than to search for new ways of working together.
You can read the text of the five principles, and some explanation of them, here:
Where can we find out more?
WATCH has a much more detailed Guide to the Five Guiding Principles and what they might mean in practice on its website, referenced in the paragraphs above..
If you decide you want to read the original documents, then go to GS Misc 1076 House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests
and the published Guidance on the Declaration GS Misc 1077
A PDF of the above is available by clicking HERE