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Church of England Back Broken at York Synod

Church of England Back Broken at York Synod

By Julian Paylor, reporting from York
Special to Virtueonline
July 13, 2010

As the final day of the present five-year General Synod dawned, Catholic and Evangelical members woke to a gloomy realisation that they had lost everything in the debates which had taken place over the preceding weekend.

After protracted hints from the two Archbishops that they would propose an amendment to the women bishops legislation which would secure for conservative Anglicans a recognised place in the church to which they have always belonged, the proposals which finally emerged from Lambeth Palace turned out to be a mouse, not a lion, and the Synod strangled it at birth.

It finally became apparent that despite endless talk of their own "generosity" and "graciousness" from supporters of the legislation, there would not be the slightest practical demonstration of such rhetoric, with every attempt by the threatened minority to defend itself firmly slapped down from the platform and by the Synod.

The event became more and more Orwellian as the debate ground relentlessly forward, until one could almost hear in the background a chorus of "Four legs good, two legs bad" as the dismayed conservatives heard the same message delivered again and again, that they were left with two options, to conform or to leave.

The clinching moment came when the Archbishop of Canterbury defended his proposals, prefaced by a declaration of his undying commitment to women bishops (a staple of speakers in the discussions which followed). They were designed to offer an absolute bare minimum to traditionalists - that much was apparent to his intended beneficiaries, who had considerable doubts as to what they even meant - and he helpfully added that nobody should support his proposals as a matter of loyalty to him or his office.

When the vote finally came the only surprise was that so many had decided to support the Archbishops' amendments - a majority in the House of Bishops, a majority in the House of Laity, and a majority of the whole Synod taken together - but a defeat in the House of Clergy, many of whose members are women priests, with at least one eye to their own prospects of donning a miter sooner rather than later.

With this key vote lost, the rest of the proposed amendments to the Measure were quickly taken, and anything with a conservative flavour was sharply dismissed. Faced with the yawning schism for which they were responsible, the best the Archbishops could offer the Synod was a vague hope that the legislation might somehow be changed (a practical impossibility) by resolutions from the 43 dioceses, which must now consider it.

The Archbishop of York's consolation for conservatives was that miracles do sometimes occur. And that Jesus is risen. They already knew that.

Those who had to receive this advice were faced, however, with a somewhat more pressing reality: how to go home to a Church of England whose back was broken on Saturday 10 July. There will be no new priests for the Catholic movement: there will be no more vocations, and no bishops to ordain them. Some of the 1,300 who remain will serve out their time as best they can, and then retire. Some - a rather larger number than before, thanks to the failure of the leadership of the Church of England - will join the Ordinariate which seems likely to be announced following the papal visit to the UK in September.

More will resign and become Roman Catholics in local churches and dioceses. A number of very significant Evangelical churches were poised to quit the Church of England if bad news came, and arrangements will now swiftly be made for unofficial oversight from bishops beyond the Church of England.

Their detachment from the dioceses in which they are situated will dramatically affect diocesan budgets, many of which rely on the generosity of a small number of growing Evangelical congregations, who have been subsidising many failing liberal churches through diocesan shared finances. July 10 may well come to be remembered as the day on which a new Anglican province in England was born.

Reference was made in the debates to Professor Eamon Duffy's study, "Voices of Morebath", which charts the fortunes of a small Devon parish through the diaries of its priest, appointed before the Reformation began, and remaining in post until the protestant reforms of Queen Elizabeth I were completed.

It is a chilling description of the unravelling which is now under way in the Church of England of 2010. The church buildings will remain, but the church within their walls will be unrecognisable as the Church of England. The flag flying on the tower, just a few short years from now, will be that of TEC.



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