Synod ‘Promulges’ Canon

By Gavin Drake

It was in July 2000 that the Church of England General Synod called for “a thorough theological study on the question of women in the episcopate.” Fourteen-and-a-half years later, the final legislative process to enable women to be consecrated as bishops in the C of E took just six minutes and 32 seconds at a two-day sitting of the synod in Church House, Westminster.

This final stage was mostly symbolic and ceremonial, but a necessary stage in the legal process. The Most. Rev. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, confirmed that the Queen had given her assent and licence to the canon; the registrar, Stephen Slack, read the Instrument of Enactment, with its archaic language and form; and the synod voted, by a simple show of hands without debate, that the amending canon should be “made, promulged, and executed.”

Then it was duly signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Prolocutors of the Lower House of the Convocations (the leaders of the House of Clergy for the two provinces), and the chair and vice chair of the House of Laity. And it came to pass that women can now be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England. But not all of it.

The word promulge “might sound like something you do to a potato field before you plant your spuds,” said Ian Brookes, an editorial consultant for Collins Dictionary, “but in fact it just means that the archbishops have made a public proclamation of the decision.”

Brookes said that it was one of “many words encountered in the formal lexicon of the Church of England” that was “an example of a very old word that has survived in ecclesiastical use long after it has fallen out of use elsewhere.

“It comes from the Latin verb promulgare, meaning ‘to bring to public knowledge.’ This itself was probably derived from pro, meaning ‘before,’ and vulgus, meaning ‘the common people’ (thus also vulgar).

“In a world before universal literacy, public proclamation of laws was an important tool for making the ordinary people aware of them.”

He said that the first recorded use of the word in English dates back to the 15th century, but it has since “fallen out of general use” and is “likely to be overlooked these days in favour of ‘proclaim’, ‘announce’ or — the current buzzword — ‘disseminate.’

Because it is an established church, the C of E’s rules are part of the general law of the land; and the measure had to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it could become law. But the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, is an independent country, not part of the U.K., and it has its own legislature, the Tynwald. The Westminster Parliament cannot make law that affects the Isle of Man.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Patterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, has already started the ball rolling to get the measure through the Tynwald after a special meeting of the Diocesan Synod on January 13 and says he foresees no problems. “Once it is passed by Tynwald it becomes law and I can be bumped off,” he joked. “Since Tynwald is the oldest continuous parliament in the word [dating from A.D. 970], it is good to give it the respect it is due.”

The Isle of Man is not alone. The Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey also have their own legislatures. In this case, however, the additional processes needed to enact the legislation there will affect a diocese in England: the Channel Islands are part of the Diocese of Winchester, which also covers most of Hampshire on the south coast and part of Dorset. Winchester is one of the oldest dioceses in the C of E and its bishop is one of only five to have an automatic seat in the House of Lords.

“In the case of the Channel Islands, a scheme needs to be drawn up in consultation with the deanery synods of the Islands, communicated to the States General for comment, approved by the General Synod, and then confirmed by order in council,” said the secretary general of the synod, William Fittall. He said it was “a little too soon to predict the timescale.”

When the C of E admitted women into the priesthood, it took the Channel Islands six years to catch up. The Rev. Rosalind Rutherford, a team vicar in Basingstoke and a Winchester diocesan member of the General Synod, said it was “regrettable” that a specific date could not be given for the Channel Islands and urged that “active and practical encouragement will be given to those responsible for the process.”

Following a pastoral breakdown between some on the islands and the current Bishop of Winchester, the Rt. Rev. Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, is providing episcopal oversight. He told the synod that “letters had already been sent to the deanery synods of Guernsey and Jersey to start the process.”

Speaking to journalists, the Archbishop of Canterbury described the move as the Church of England starting “a completely new phase in our existence as a church.” He continued: “It has taken a very long time but the way is now open to select people for the episcopacy, to nominate them on the basis, simply … that they are called by God to be in that position without qualification to their gender.”

State of the Communion

Archbishop Justin Welby used his presidential address to deliver a State of the Union-style update on the Anglican Communion. The archbishop had just concluded a gruelling series of international visits for private meetings with 36 primates. He told synod members that the future of the Communion was secure, but it may not keep its same shape and structures.

He said that to meet the primates he had made a total of 14 trips lasting 96 days, including 11 days sitting in aeroplanes and two days waiting for his luggage at airport carousels.

“The Anglican Communion exists and is flourishing in roughly 165 countries,” he said. “Within the Communion there are perhaps more than 2,000 languages and perhaps more than 500 distinct cultures and ways of looking at the world. Some of its churches sit in the middle of what are literally the richest parts of the globe, and have within them some of the richest people on earth. The vast majority are poor. Despite appearances here, we are a poor church for the poor.”

Within the Communion, he said, there was “profound unity” despite a “diversity on all sorts of matters including sexuality, marriage and its nature, the use of money, the relations between men and women, the environment, war and peace, distribution of wealth and food, and a million other things.”

And he said that “the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that. There is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity.”

The archbishop gave a variety of examples of the Anglican Communion in action, including a priest who, at risk to his life, moved into a small community in Mexico that had been “abandoned by all”; a conference in Oklahoma City to discuss the meaning of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms in the modern-day United States; and the Archbishop of South Sudan, who, after a day spent burying the dead of a great massacre, “stood up with extraordinary courage and called for reconciliation.”

But he warned that the Communion was “under threat” from persecution “in many, many areas.” He continued: “In very many parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and the Middle East, but also South East Asia, persecution comes from jihadist attacks which have killed many, many Anglicans, other Christians and in largest number Muslims, over the last few years.

“Not a day goes by without some report being received of the suffering and persecution of churches around the world, and of cries for help and requests for support. Not a day goes by without something which should break one’s heart at the courage and the difficulties involved.

“There is immense suffering in the Communion. The terrible spread of Ebola, indescribable, a Black Death sweeping through three Dioceses of West Africa, is by itself a catastrophe of historic proportions. … The suffering of people in the afflicted countries makes the blood run cold. We must help, pray and call for more help.”

On the future shape of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Welby signalled a potential change of approach in its leadership. He said that although he could call a Primates Meeting, he was not going to do so on his own authority.

“I feel that it is necessary for the Anglican Communion to develop a collegial model of leadership, as much as it is necessary in the Church of England, and I have therefore waited for the end of the visits to provinces.

“If the majority view of the primates is that such a meeting would be a good thing, one will be called in response. The agenda for that meeting will not be set centrally, but from around the primates of the Communion.

“One issue that needs to be decided on, ideally by the Primates’ Meeting, is whether and if so when there is another Lambeth Conference. It is certainly achievable, but the decision is better made together carefully.”

He said that Lambeth Conferences were “so expensive and so complex that we have to be sure that it is worthwhile. It will not be imposed, but part of a collective decision.”

Later, speaking to journalists, the archbishop said that he was “not overwhelmed with the need to remain having the principle role in the Communion.” He added that in his meetings with primates he had picked up the message that “Canterbury matters.”

“One of the primates,” he said, “in the nicest way, gave me a really pretty strong telling off for suggesting anything else.”

He also said that while the initialism IASCUFO (the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order) did “not come up in every conversation” he had held, its “ underlying issues” are “of huge importance.”

He continued: “The issue of faith and order in the Communion, and particularly the direction of how they emerge; what is a right and godly way of being the Anglican Communion in the 21st Century, is something that is of major, major concern.”


A key item on the synod’s agenda was not a debate but a presentation, question and answer session, and prayers about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.

The panel included the first Muslim ever to be invited to address the Synod, Sheikh Fuad Nahdi. “The vast majority of the Muslim community in this country are paralysed by what is going on,” he said. “They are looking for prophetic action, but they find none. What is going on is totally incomprehensible.”

He said that the death sentence for apostasy was anti-Islamic, because “the Qur’an says that there is no compulsion in religion.”

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K., the increasingly respected Bishop Angaelos, told the Synod that many people on the ground in Iraq and Syria had been “touched” by the Synod’s support for the plight of persecuted Christians.

He issued a plea that “we stop making distinctions between the Western and Eastern Church,” adding: “We are one Church and one body. When one suffers we all suffer. This division has become cosmetic and artificial. We need to feel and to react as one church.”

The Rt. Rev. Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds in the north of England, said that religious illiteracy in the media was part of the problem of accurate reporting. He quoted one senior BBC official as saying he wanted a story about “Christian Yazidis.”

Later, the Archbishop Welby told a press conference that there was “a huge debate” between Christian communities in the Middle East on what to do. While some wanted to leave and seek asylum elsewhere, others wanted to remain in the area where Christianity was born.

“There isn’t a straightforward, simple answer,” Archbishop Welby said. While the West should “do more for those where there is really no choice,” the Church should be “deeply committed to enabling solutions to be found that enable communities that have been there for 2,000 years to remain there.

“These are not Johnny Come Lateleys. These have more history of being there than we have, most of us, of being in this country.”

He continued: “There are things that can be done and it is better than simply draining the entire region of Christians that have been there since the time of St. Paul,” but he added: “For those who want to go, there is a humanitarian duty of hospitality.”

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