Female would be welcomed as next Bishop of Norwich
The Diocese of Norwich has restated its view that it would welcome either a woman or a man as the next Bishop of Norwich, after one of its priests said he could not fully accept the sacramental ministry of a female. Keith Morris reports.
The next Bishop of Norwich is due to be chosen in early March and ahead of that decision Rev Canon Howard Stoker, Rector of Holt and High Kelling, wrote to his parishioners, saying: “Ever since the ordination of women as priests and more recently as bishops there are those like myself who still cannot fully accept their sacramental ministry in the Church.
“Such a position is not lightly held and is one based upon an understanding of scripture, apostolic tradition and the authority of the Church of England in relation to the wider one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and nothing has happened to make me change my opinion.
“The possibility of the appointment of a woman as the diocesan bishop of Norwich suddenly brings the issue into sharp focus for both the majority of the clergy of the parish and a significant number of laity in our congregations who, unfortunately, would be unable to accept and receive her sacramental ministry.”
The church council (PCC) has agreed to vote on the issue at its next meeting on February 18 and if it decides it cannot accept the ministry of a female bishop, it will seek the episcopal care of the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Norman Banks, who is an assistant bishop in the diocese.
Reacting to the comments, Rt Rev Alan Winton, Bishop of Thetford and the acting Bishop of Norwich, said: “There are now 18 female bishops in the Church of England and in this Diocese we are delighted to have, among our senior staff, our first female Dean of Norwich Cathedral, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, as well as the Ven Karen Hutchinson as Archdeacon of Norwich.
“In drawing up the profile for the appointment of the next Bishop of Norwich, the Vacancy-in-See committee was clear that the Diocese of Norwich would welcome a woman or a man as our next bishop.
“If there are proper theological convictions that prevent a parish being able to welcome the sacramental ministry (the celebration of holy communion or ordination of new priests) of a female bishop, then the church council can request that such ministry is provided by a male bishop. However, the parish would still come under the care of the female bishop of the diocese. This is in accordance with the provision made at the 2014 General Synod when the decision was taken that led to the first woman bishop being consecrated.
“This arrangement is already in place in a number of other dioceses where a female diocesan bishop has been appointed. It is to the credit of our first female diocesan bishops that they have all been prepared to show such grace and generosity in acting in accordance with this decision of the General Synod.
“The Church of England is endeavouring to learn how to live well with difference. Not all Anglican Christians agree about everything, but we are united in our desire to share God’s love with others, and we do everything we can to stay together as a family.”
The Crown Nominations Commission will meet on March 11 and 12 to consider the comments, views and suggestions that have been submitted and appoint the next Bishop of Norwich, if a suitable candidate is found.
Pictured above is Rt Rev Alan Winton, Bishop of Thetford.