Forward in Faith UK
Agreed Statement on Communion

Adopted at National Assembly, September 1994

Preamble Agreed Statement


1. This Statement, and the Code of Practice which accompanies it, deal principally with relations between bishops and clergy and bishops and lay people, because since the promulgation of the Act of Synod it is in these relationships that some difficulties of particular sensitivity are being experienced. We well know that the transmission of Holy Orders is but one strand in our understanding of that communion to which at baptism we have been admitted.

2. Our participation in Christ, by faith and baptism is a communion of adoption and grace on the one hand with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit and on the other with our fellow Christians. Every Christian lives this communion in the fellowship of a particular Church. For those of us in the Church of England who hold a Catholic understanding of our Church and its ministry, the bishop's role in the life of the diocese is of particular importance, and the proper exercise of his role as the chief minister of the diocese provides an important measure of assurance to the faithful.

3. It is precisely this assurance which we fear has been imperilled by recent developments in connection with the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood in our Church.

4. The Statement has been prepared with a view to helping loyal members of the Church of England to remain within the fellowship of that Church and make a lively contribution to its life and witness.

5. We want a Catholic understanding of faith and morals, and the practice of Catholic sacramental discipline to flourish in our Church, for we are convinced that they are essential features in the presentation of the gospel to our nation. Remove these elements and our Church's witness will be greatly impoverished and weakened.

6. It is our earnest hope that the suggestions contained in this statement will make possible the continued growth of strong and effective Catholic parishes and enable Catholic-minded Church people to play their part in the life of their parishes and dioceses and in the representative bodies of the Church.

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1. The threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon, continued unchanged from the Apostles' time, as the Preface to the Prayer Book Ordinal makes clear, is a sine qua non of Anglicanism. This fact has very largely determined and continues to determine the relationship of the Church of England to other ecclesial bodies. Roman Catholics have denied the claim of the Church of England to have continued those orders, and so have declared them null and void. The Church of England has also felt obliged to distance itself from churches where the apostolic ministry is not valued or retained.

2. But the Apostolic Ministry is not an end in itself. It exists to authenticate the teaching and sacraments which it ministers. Within the diocese the bishop is the originator, regulator and guarantor of all ordained ministry. [Every bishop is within his diocese the principal minister, and to him belongs the right...of conducting, ordering, controlling and authorising all services... Canon C18 4] He is charged to uphold the catholic faith and to ensure the reliability and validity of the teaching given and the sacraments celebrated by his authority. [ appertains to his office to teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions Canon C18 1] To this end all those who exercise a pastoral or parochial ministry in a diocese do so by license of its bishop and are said to exercise their function on his behalf [Receive the cure of souls which is both mine and thine] as his vicar or alternate.

3. The ordination of women introduces into this time-honoured pattern of relationships and guarantees, already threatened by unbiblical teaching, a new element of doubt. Not only do many faithful people in every diocese not accept that the Church of England and its General Synod have the ecclesial authority to authorize bishops to make this change, but the bishops themselves have expressed doubt about an action which they have nevertheless taken. The bishops unanimously affirmed (and the General Synod overwhelmingly endorsed) the principle that "discernment of the rightness or otherwise of the decision to ordain women to the priesthood should be as open a process as possible." [Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 Preamble 3 (a) (i)] Believing as we do that in the administration of the sacraments the Church is always obliged to take the "safest" course, a degree of separation from those whose orders result from this principle of deliberate experiment and declared uncertainty is inevitable.

4. The priests of a diocese act on behalf of its bishop, standing in his place. Every eucharist celebrated by his authority is his eucharist. The priests of a diocese act as alternates one of another because all act on behalf of the one bishop. It follows that if that bishop introduces into his college of priests those whose orders are in doubt, this fellowship and the guarantees it mediates are fractured. A priest who cannot in conscience recognize the orders of one ordained by his bishop cannot in conscience act on behalf of that person or of that bishop. He is obliged to seek fellowship with a bishop whom he can with integrity represent, and in whose college of priests he can wholeheartedly participate. A diocese is not merely an administrative territorial unit; it is also, properly and necessarily, a fellowship based on doctrinal agreement and sacramental assurance.

5. Such a re-alignment inevitably involves a degree of separation, both for laity and for clergy. But though our doubts about women's ordination (which the House of Bishops and the General Synod clearly share) entail separation, they do not oblige us to any other conclusions about the general teaching or other sacramental acts of those who ordain women or receive their ministry. "The highest possible degree of communion should be maintained within each diocese" [Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, 1993, Preamble 3 (a) (ii)]. Separation is not an end in itself; nor is it, in this instance, a judgment upon others. It is the necessary minimum expression of that rejection of experiment and uncertainty which naturally precedes a re-assertion of the unimpaired fellowship of layfolk, priests and bishops which is the normative local expression of the Catholic Church.

6. By its very nature this regrettable but inevitable impairment of communion must be open and public. Just as the Church of England distances itself from other ecclesial groupings who have not valued or continued the apostolic ministry as the Church of England has received it; so now a similar distancing will be inevitable within the Church of England. But the degree of separation, though in every sense necessary, need not be acrimonious. Ecumenical relations with many of the Free Churches clearly show to the contrary. In the spirit of the Act of Synod both parties to the separation will need to co-operate closely and pray for unity and a common understanding.

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