December 1st, 2017

Introduction to the Revd Dr Judith Maltby’s essay in Act of Synod – Act of Folly? edited by Monica Furlong, SCM Canterbury Press 1998.

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, but Two Integrities?

On 11th November 1992, after many years of debate and discussion at all levels in the Church, the General Synod voted to make it law- ful for women to be ordained as priests. Almost exactly one year later, with only two debates a day apart, the General Synod passed the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, creating provision for three separate ‘flying bishops’ to minister to those opposed to women’s ordained ministries.

Five years after the Act of Synod was passed, the late Monica Furlong edited a collection of essays entitled Act of Synod – Act of Folly? Canon Dr Judith Maltby, Fellow of Christ Church College, Oxford, has given WATCH her permission to use her contribution to Monica’s book. We are grateful to Judith for her essay, which traces the theological and ecclesiological flaws inherent in the Act and the dam- aging precedent it has set, not only for the Church of England but for the entire Anglican Communion. 16 years on, the Act is still in place, although only 2% of parishes in the Church of England have signed Resolution C, the resolution calling for the extended Episcopal oversight created by the Act.

As the Church prepares to open the Episcopate to women, WATCH continues to work for the rescinding of the Act of Synod and for the simplest and most straightforward legislation for women bishops.

I. Introduction

In about 1980 or 1981, I attended a Central Council meeting of Movement for the Ordination of Women. One of the tasks set the meeting was to break into the inevitable small groups, armed with magic markers and newsprint, and ‘buzz’ about the reasons we thought that the Church of England should admit women to the priesthood. Bluetack in hand we then reported back to plenary. The vast majority of the reasons given, it is fair to say, had a great deal to do with the feelings of the people there: the deaconesses present felt frustrated that their gifts were not being fully employed; the male priests felt guilty that the same vocation they saw in themselves was being denied to their female colleagues; the women, both lay and the would-be ordained, felt that comparisons of the ordination of members of one half of the human race to the ordination of a monkey or a pork pie was, truth to tell, deeply insulting and unchristian. After a while, a senior bishop present stood up and told us all, in short, to stop whinging. He said that the leadership of the church was not really interested in the feelings of women: we had to make an intellectually rigor-ous, theological case for why the Church of England should reform itself in this regard. I am to this day deeply grateful for the painful honesty of that bishop. The Movement for the Ordination of Women responded to the challenge and produced literature of a high theological content. Authors who published on the pro-side included Janet Morely, John Austin Baker, Rowan Williams, Monica Furlong, and Elaine Storkey to name just a few. In an article published in 1984, Rowanb Williams eloquently argued ‘the case for theological seriousness’, criticizing the lack of theological rigour in the ordination of women debate..

You can read the rest of the essay by downloading the PDF from the link above