By Mark Michael

Anglo-Catholics who uphold traditional teaching in faith and morals and reject the ordination of women retain retain a significant presence and voice in the Church of England. Since 1992, the group has been organized under the auspices of Forward in Faith, a membership organization, currently led by Tom Middleton. In late April the group celebrated the appointment of one of their own, the Rev. Will Hazlewood, SSC, as Bishop of Lewes, while also mourning the death of Dr. Geoffrey Kirk, the founder of Forward in Faith and a key leader among Anglo-Catholics until his entry into the Roman Catholic Church in 2012.

Since conflict over the ordination of women began in the Church of England in the 1970s, traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have persistently called for institutional safeguards that, in their own words, “guarantee a ministry in the historic apostolic succession in which they can have confidence.” The provision of bishops and candidates for ordination who believe in a male-only ministry, as well as structures to unite parishes who share their convictions have been their consistent goals.

When the Church of England’s General Synod authorized the consecration of women as bishops in 2014, it promised, through a set of Five Guiding Principles, that pastoral and sacramental ministry would be provided for traditionalists “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.”

All those who would be ordained to serve in the Church of England are required to certify their consent to the guiding principles. These establish the ordination of women as “the clear decision” of the Church of England and require traditionalists to affirm that “that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience.” They also insist that “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 Society under the Patronage of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda was organized in 2010 by Forward in Faith, as the movement for ordaining women to the episcopate was gaining momentum. The Society provides an ecclesial structure for episcopal oversight for several hundred mostly Anglo-Catholic parishes who have adopted resolutions indicating they will only receive male clergy ordained in historic succession. Parishes of the Society participate in the wider life of their Church of England dioceses, while also remaining under the ecclesiastical authority of a bishop of the Society.

There are seven bishops who serve within the Society. Four are responsible for the Society “episcopal areas” of Beverley, Ebbsfleet, Fulham, and Richborough, whose jurisdictions overlap the Church of England’s diocesan structure. The other three serve within the Church of England’s diocesan structure, exercising oversight over male and female priests. One, Martin Warner, is a Church of England diocesan bishop, serving as Bishop of Chichester, a historic Anglo-Catholic stronghold. Two additional bishops serve as suffragans within Church of England dioceses.

Maintaining the possibility for priests of the Society to serve as bishops within the standard diocesan structure has long been seen as crucial by Anglo-Catholics for securing “the highest degree of communion possible” with the rest of the Church of England, and for ensuring their continued survival as a theological minority. While the Church of England has continued to fill the sees of Society episcopal areas when vacated by retirement or resignation (often to enter the Roman Catholic Church), until the appointment of Hazlewood last month it had not named a traditionalist to a diocesan see since 2014. That was the year Philip North, a gifted evangelist who had spent much of his ministry in deprived communities, was appointed Bishop of Burnley, a suffragan see in the Diocese of Blackburn.

North, however, was at the center of a 2017 controversy that some traditionalists believed tested the Church of England’s willingness to live by the Five Guiding Principles and found it wanting. In January 2017, North was appointed Bishop of Sheffield, which would have made him the second Society bishop to serve as a diocesan bishop. An intense protest campaign, organized by Oxford professor Martyn Percy, decried the appointment.  After three months, North bowed to pressure and declined the appointment, noting in a public statement, that “the level of feeling is such that my arrival would be counter-productive in terms of the mission of the Church in South Yorkshire and that my leadership would not be acceptable to many.”

Hazlewood’s appointment to the suffragan role is an important affirmation that the door has not been fully closed to traditionalists serving in wider church roles. It is significant, though, that he will serve as a suffragan within the Diocese of Chichester, which is led by Warner, the Society’s only diocesan bishop. Suffragan bishops in the Church of England have a simple selection process, and are largely chosen at the direction of the diocesan.  Bishop Warner also selected the Rev. Ruth Bushyager, an evangelical, as his other suffragan in a simultaneous announcement. Bushyager will be the first woman to serve as a bishop within Chichester Diocese.

The significance of Hazlewood’s appointment was underlined by the Rt. Rev. Tony Robinson, the chair of the Society’s Council of Bishops, who said, “I am thrilled for Will and Ruth and wish them every success and happiness in their new roles. It is wonderful to see the Church of England’s Five Guiding Principles being lived out in this way. We have been acutely conscious of the lapse in time since the last appointment of a traditional Catholic priest to the episcopate and so Will’s appointment is both welcome and timely.”

The announcement of the new bishop came just over two weeks after news of the death of Dr. Geoffrey Kirk, traditional Anglo-Catholics’ most visible leader in the dramatic years after the ordination of women. On April 10, when his death was announced, Forward in Faith honored his work, noting, “in the period since the Church of England’s General Synod approved measures for the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1992, Geoffrey played a pivotal role in establishing and sustaining Forward in Faith for almost 20 years, including acting as its National Secretary.”

Kirk served for more than thirty years as vicar of St. Stephen’s, Lewisham, an Afro-Caribbean congregation in South London. He was a leader in General Synod and helped to establish New Directions, Forward in Faith’s magazine, writing often in its pages. He worked closely with traditionalist Anglicans in other parts of the Communion, especially aiming to avoid the bitter and litigious results of the Episcopal Church’s conflicts over women’s ordination and liturgical revision.

Upon his retirement, Kirk was received into the Roman Catholic Church by his former bishop, John Broadhurst, who had since become a Roman Catholic monsignor. He remained a layman in retirement, active in an ordinariate congregation in London.

His friend, Canon Nicholas Turner, paid tribute to Kirk in a May 1 obituary in The Church Times, stating that “though most will remember Fr Geoffrey Kirk as a national figure in the Church of England, or an international leader of the traditionalist constituency within the Anglican Communion, his ministry is perhaps best summed up as ‘the most influential parish priest of his generation.’ Fill a room with bishops, his would still have been the commanding presence.”