Sunday, 29 March 2015

When Will The Church Of England Consecrate Ms Priest?

2015 has been a year of change for the Church of England, with Libby Lane becoming the Suffragan Bishop of Stockport, and the announcements that Alison White will become Suffragan Bishop of Hull and Rachel Treweek is going to be the Church of England's first female diocesan bishop - as Bishop of Gloucester.

Due to the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015, Treweek will take the first available vacancy among the Lords Spiritual, which is likely to be when Tim Stevens retires as Bishop of Leicester in July, with Christopher Lowson, the Bishop of Lincoln, having to wait until Jonathan Gledhill, former Suffragan Bishop of Southampton, retires as Bishop of Lichfield in September.

If you follow my blog, then you will know that I do not approve of the ordination of women to the presbyterate, i.e. women becoming "priests" in the Church of England, or "elders" in free churches. I find the arguments put forward in favour to be lacking.

In the New Testament, there are clearly two orders of ministry:

  • The elder or presbyter - in the Church of England this is the bishop (as the King James Version translates the term) or the priest
  • The deacon(ess) - in the Church of England this is the deacon

Between 1992 and 2014, the Church of England's position on whether women could be presbyters was loud and clear, unequivocally declaring:

Er, dunno mate.

Women could be a lower type of presbyter, but not one of the ones wearing a pointy hat, with spiritual authority over other presbyters. The Church of England has at least resolved the issue.

I have noticed that there are churches - normally on the charismatic end of the spectrum - that have husband and wife pastors/ministers/elders. At one level, this formalises the expectation in churches that Mrs Vicar will play a pastoral role, or that Mrs Curate better keep Friday evenings free as the previous Mrs Curate was Bagheera, as was the Mrs Curate before her....

Yet, is there a Biblical basis for this? We can argue that the Apostle Paul was culture-bound and that there were special reasons why he forbid women from being elders. But surely this would apply to all suitably spiritually mature women. Why believe that these restrictions apply today - but only for women who are not married to elders?

Lane, White and Treweek share one thing in common - being clergy wives.

This could be coincidence. On the other hand, is the Church of England going down this husband-and-wife line, i.e. as a concession for those who are only OK with a woman being an elder as long as her husband is as well? If Sheila Watson, the Archdeacon of Canterbury, is announced as the next bishop of somewhere then my suspicions will be concerned.

When will the Church of England consecrate a woman presbyter who is either unmarried or married to a layman?

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