Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience
A Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod
19th July, 2014

Dear Friends

On Monday, as we have heard, the General Synod of the Church of England gave final approval to the Measure to enable women to be consecrated as Bishops in our Church.  At the same time, the Synod approved a new package of measures to enable those unable to accept these developments to flourish into the future.

The Synod debate marked the end of a long process of discernment about both of these matters and the beginning of another long process of putting into practice what has been agreed: the welcoming of women into episcopal ministry with all this will mean for our Church and the mission of God; the continued flourishing and encouragement of those who cannot in conscience receive their ministry.

This morning I want to look ahead to this new beginning and explore what it will mean for the Church of England as a whole and for this Diocese.  Many of us celebrated recently the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests in this Diocese.  I would encourage us this morning to look ahead to the next 20 years and ask how we can build together now for the future we all want to see in this place.

A context in Colossians

It’s clear from the New Testament that conflict and disagreement were part of the life of the Church from the very beginning.  The gospels record disputes between the disciples on a number of occasions.  Acts describes and number of conflicts and disagreements among Christians, most of all the debate around whether Gentiles should be expected to keep the whole law.  The Epistles describe these and other conflicts in much sharper relief: we catch something of the passion and anger and pain involved for those who have gone before us in the faith, especially in the writings of St. Paul.  Yet we also find in those same Epistles the strongest commendation of peace, of grace, of reconciliation: urgent pleas to these early, vulnerable Christian communities to put aside their differences, to be reconciled to one another, to let their common life be filled with grace, with the fragrance of Christ, for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of their common witness.

Together we need to hear St. Paul’s appeal today and to reflect on it carefully in the coming months.  Many of us have been caught up on different sides in a debate which has endured for over thirty years in different forms.  Our Church has now come, at great length, to a decision on these matters.  Many will rejoice in that decision.  Others cannot rejoice because of their deeply held convictions.  But all will recognize, I hope, the need to move on, to change the tone of the conversation, to do our best to embrace one another again in new ways, to focus again on our common responsibility to witness to the love of God in our communities and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with fresh imagination and commitment.

There are many places where St. Paul appeals for reconciliation but no passage is more compelling or more beautiful than Colossians 3.  Paul is writing for a specific context where there is bitter disagreement but his words apply to any Church context where there has been conflict.  The Apostle makes a powerful appeal based first on the promise of resurrection:

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth for you have died and your mind is hidden with Christ in God”[1]

Our mind and our attention is directed away from ourselves and our own disputes first of all. We are directed to the risen Christ, above, and also to the future, to that moment when Christ who is our life will be revealed.  Paul urges us to take a new perspective, a fresh vision.  That’s not the work of a moment.  It  takes both time and concentration.

But a new perspective is not enough.  Paul encourages us next to be changed and transformed.  His language is radical.  Our minds must be on heaven.  But we must “put to death whatever in you is earthly”.  There are two lists, two parts to this dying.  The first list is to die to those sins which are common to all the earth:  “fornication, impurity, evil desire and greed (which is idolatry)”.  The Church is called to holiness.

The second stage is to put away, or strip off, those qualities and habits of speech which we bring with us from the world into the life of the Church and which corrupt our common life.  In times and seasons of conflict, when we are under pressure, we find that these habits and qualities remain strong within us.  None of us is free from them.  For that reason, Paul writes to all of us:

“But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator”.[2]

The things we must get rid of are all to do with the way in which we speak to one another and with one another. Paul appeals to us here to the Church to put down the weapons of dispute and division.  The goal of all of this is the unity of the Church, the overcoming of old divisions, the reconciliation of all things in Christ:

In that renewal “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free but Christ is all and in all”[3]

And then comes one of the most striking and beautiful list of qualities in the New Testament, one of the most powerful, compelling, challenging and elegant summaries of what it means to be the Church in a time of conflict.  I read them to you today as from St. Paul himself, to this Church, in this Diocese, at this key moment in our journey together.

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against one another, forgive each other; just as the LORD has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.”[4]

Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience are the virtues we need in this present moment, in this place.  They are the qualities of Christ.  They need to be the qualities of his Church in all parts of Christ’s body in this diocese.

The challenge facing this Diocese

We face a particular challenge to reconciliation here.  The voting figures from the different Diocesan Synod debates are very revealing.  In more than 30 dioceses, less than ten people voted against the Measure in its final form, combining the votes in the House of Clergy and the House of Laity.  In around ten dioceses, the numbers of votes against are relatively much larger.   In 1 in 4 dioceses there continues to be a significant number of clergy and lay people who are not able in conscience to accept the ministry of women as bishops.  Sheffield is one of those Dioceses, as was pointed out in the debate on Monday.

As we know, we have in Sheffield a significant number of ordained women in ministry and many, many clergy and lay people who accept and support their ministry.  We have significant numbers also of those who opposed the Measure both from a traditionalist catholic and from a conservative evangelical perspective. We are a medium sized diocese, which makes dispute and disagreement more painful and pastoral re-organisation more challenging.  We are also a diocese in a more challenging mission situation. We cannot afford not to work together in God’s mission.

The House of Bishops declaration

For all of these reasons, as a Diocese, we should welcome the principles and the provision outlined in the House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, issued in May, prior to the General Synod debate on Monday[5].  I want to commend this declaration for study and reflection across the Diocese.  If Colossians 3 describes the virtues and character we will need to live together well, the House of Bishops declaration provides the blueprint for that common life into the future.

The five principles need to be read together and held in tension rather than applied selectively.

  • Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  • Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  • Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  • Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
  • Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

The long debate and discernment about the reception of the ordained ministry of women has now come to an end.  As a Church, we have reached a common mind.  However we acknowledge the reality that our own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God.

For that reason, those who are unable on grounds of theological conviction to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching of the Anglican Communion.  The Church of England and this Diocese of Sheffield remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.  We are making pastoral and sacramental provision for this minority in the Church of England without specifying a limit of time and which seeks to maintain the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing.

The ministry of ordained women in this Diocese

In the light of the House of Bishops declaration I want to comment on the future ministry of ordained women and then on our attitude to and provision for those unable to receive their ministry.

First, we acknowledge that many will rejoice this week inside and outside the Church at the decision which has been made and at the affirmation given to the ordained ministry of women across the Church of England.  This will be for many a moment of genuine celebration and affirmation of their own ministries or the affirmation of priests whom they respect and love.  This is not because these individual women aspire to become bishops themselves.  It is because the admission of women to the episcopate is a powerful symbol of the equality of the genders within the life of the Church and therefore of God’s grace to them.  I have been particularly struck by the powerful testimony of many lay women about what this vote means to them.

Second, I hope we will all be committed to ensuring that the ordained women in this Diocese can flourish into the future and that their ministries should be free from hurtful, inappropriate and carelessly made comments.  Over the last year the Dean of Women’s Ministry has explored in a series of meetings the experience of ordained women in this Diocese.  The women who serve here have testified to much that is good, including many gracious encounters and conversations with those who cannot in conscience receive their ministry.  However there remain a significant number of stories and incidents in the recent past where our ordained women have had to endure inappropriate remarks which undermine their ministries.

This should not be so and we all need to be proactive in building a different, more gentle and more positive culture.  Two weeks ago I wrote to all ordained women in the Diocese advising them that they should challenge such remarks in the future and also discuss them in confidence with a senior colleague should they receive them so that, where necessary, appropriate challenge can be given and change encouraged.

The ministry of traditionalist catholics

In the light of the same House of Bishops declaration, I also want to recognize and affirm the ongoing ministry of the traditionalist catholics within this Diocese who are unable to receive the ministry of ordained women on ecumenical grounds, as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have not yet made a decision on the matter, or on the grounds of the historic tradition of the Churches.

As a Diocese, we recognize that these views are responsibly held in good conscience and for good theological reasons.  They are neither mysogenist nor prejudiced.  They represent an appropriate theological position within the spectrum of Anglicanism.

I am committed to making the best possible sacramental and pastoral provision for such members of our Diocesan family into the future, supporting the community of the Hickleton Chapter and its Area Dean and continuing to welcome the ministry of the Bishop of Beverley.  I hope in turn that we will continue to enjoy the highest possible degree of communion and work towards mutual flourishing in mission and ministry into the future.

Both traditionalist catholics and conservative evangelicals occasionally bear the brunt of inappropriate, hurtful remarks which likewise damage their ministry and standing.  I say again, this should not be so in the life of Christ’s church.  I would encourage all of us to challenge such remarks when we are witness to them.  We need a new kind of conversation.

The ministry of conservative evangelicals

Thirdly, in the light of the same declaration I want to recognize and affirm the ongoing ministry of conservative evangelicals within this Diocese who are unable to receive the leadership of ordained women on the grounds of their reading of the Scriptures and on the grounds of a complementarian understanding of gender in the family and in the life of the Church.

Again, as a Diocese, we recognize that these views are also held responsibly, in good conscience and for good theological reasons.  They are neither mysogenist nor prejudiced.  They represent an appropriate theological position within the spectrum of Anglicanism and indeed, a significant position in the context of the Anglican communion worldwide.

I want to assure all conservative evangelicals, especially in the light of the debate at our Diocesan Synod in March, that no-one in this Synod or Diocese questions that their faith is orthodox in relation to the 39 Articles and the Catholic Creeds.

I have spent some time since the last Synod exploring the debate around complementarianism and the doctrine of Trinity.  With the help of Synod members I have discovered an extensive literature.  This is not the moment to share all I have learned with you.  However, I do want to reassure the Synod that, as far as I am concerned, any questions I have around complementarianism and the doctrine of the Trinity are not around the questions of teachings which would be in conflict with the creeds.  Nor do I have any difficulty with the argument that men and women have complementary roles or the God given nature of gender.  My questions are around the application of those arguments to specific roles within the Church.

Again, I am committed to making the best possible sacramental and pastoral provision for such members of our Diocesan family into the future.  I recognize that the new legislation will create new questions for those who take this view.  Here we will need to develop some new protocols and provisions, in dialogue together and in conformity with the House of Bishops Declaration.  I hope in turn that we will continue to enjoy the highest possible degree of communion and work towards mutual flourishing in mission and ministry into the future.

Continuing indaba conversations

Canon Geoffrey Harbord outlined at the last Diocesan Synod the need for continuing dialogue, or indaba, between those who take very different views on these matters.  Canon Harbord, together with the Revd. Mary Gregory and the Revd. David Middleton have developed an imaginative proposal for these conversations across the Deaneries.  I hope that, especially, those who hold very different and strongly held views will have the courage and the willingness to explore these conversations not in order to change each others minds but in order better to understand one another’s positions.  This programme will begin in the autumn.

Pastoral and sacramental provision

A significant number of parishes in this Diocese have in place Resolutions A, B and or Resolution C, all of which date from the introduction of women as priests twenty years ago.   These Resolutions will cease from the moment that the new legislation becomes law, which we expect will be in November.  It will be replaced by a new and stronger provision to be passed in a similar way by PCC’s.  Full details are in the House of Bishops Declaration and accompanying commentary[6].

There is a transition period of up to two years during which parishes which have passed Resolutions will continue in exactly the same way as previously.  This is to allow time for parishes and diocesan bishops to be in dialogue as to exactly how best to tailor the new provision so as to ensure the highest degree of communion and mutual flourishing and the differing needs and convictions of parishes.

My advice to PCC’s at this stage is to take due time to consider the nature of the detailed provision which is required.  I intend to commission a small advisory group in the autumn to listen carefully to the needs of parishes and then advise me on appropriate protocols and ways forward.  I also hope that we can hold a series of consultations for PCC members in the autumn about the aims and possibilities of the new provision before we have to implement the new legislation.  There is no doubt that for most parishes and clergy at this stage it will be very much business as usual and present arrangements will continue within the new frameworks.

And finally…..

Monday’s decision at the General Synod has resolved a question which has divided the Church of England two decades and which we have been actively exploring and arguing about for around 12 years.

It is now time to move on.  The way in which we move on together is vital.  God’s call to us all is to engage in mission.  God’s call to each of us and to this Diocese is to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in transforming our society and God’s world.  We are called to do that together with joy, as men and women, as those who receive the ministry of women as priests and bishops and those who cannot, seeking mutual flourishing and in the highest possible degree of communion.

This debate has shown us very powerfully over the last two years how much our wider society cares about the Church of England, how carefully our debates are followed, how much interest there is still in this part of the Church of Jesus Christ.  That should encourage us to greater commitment and endeavor to make disciples and see our society transformed.

As we move forward into a new chapter, we need a different kind of conversation.  I appeal to you therefore, in the words of St. Paul:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against one another, forgive each other; just as the LORD has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.”[7]

+Steven Sheffield

19th July, 2014


[1] Colossians 3.1-2
[2] Colossians 3.8-10
[3] Colossians 3.11
[4] Colossians 3.12-15
[5] GS Misc 1076
[6] GS Misc 1077 House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests – Guidance note from the House
[7] Colossians 3.12-15

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