The idea of a ‘process of reception’ was the foundation of the Act of Synod. It now returns as one of the five principles on which the new Declaration is based.
Some have misunderstood this ‘process of reception’ as a process within the Church of England that would be concluded at some point when the Church of England had come to a common mind on the subject. The existence of the Declaration demonstrates not only that after twenty years this has not occurred, but also that it is not expected to occur in the foreseeable future.
In fact, however, the ‘process of reception’ was never intended to refer to an internal process within the Church of England. The Act of Synod calls it a process of ‘discernment in the wider Church’ concerning the Church of England’s decision. The Declaration says precisely the same thing in slightly different words: the Church of England’s decision ‘is set within a broader process of discernment… within the whole Church of God’.
The term ‘discernment’ refers to what ecclesiologists call ‘reception’ – the idea that a doctrine enunciated by a council or synod may in the end come to be ‘received’ by the whole Church – or to be rejected by the whole Church. The Church of England’s decision regarding women’s ordination is clear, but it cannot be regarded as absolute, because the Church of England is merely part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Orders belong to the whole Church, and in the end it is the whole Church that must decide on changes to them.
The ‘process of discernment’ or reception continues, and the Declaration acknowledges that.