BISHOP GAVIN ASHENDEN EXPLAINS ...

I spent 20 years as a member of the General Synod. In the negotiations over the proposed legislation over the consecration of women bishops I had formed the view that the only way to allow the C of E to function as an inclusive (if paradoxically self-contradicted) ecclesial community, was for those who believed the consecration of women to be an improper innovation, to be given a third province. In that way some effective level of protection of conscience could be preserved. The Gamaliel principle could operate. The Church could continue with its different integrities intact.

That didn’t happen. A less effective settlement was reached giving far less protection to those who believed what Anglicans had always believed.

I wrote a paper about it. In it I foresaw that the progressive party would not be content with ‘mutual flourishing’ but would work to remove those who believed different things from them both from the places of influence within the Church and then from the Church itself. I wrote that this would begin with the episcopate, but would not end there.
And therefore if traditional Anglicans wanted to remain Anglicans there would come a point when they had to arrange for the consecration of their own bishops. The alternative was to find their place within the Church diminished to the point of effective extinction. The consequence of this would be either to leave the Anglican Church, becoming  Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, as many had already. But for those who wanted to remain Anglican, I could see no other action available to allow it to happen. If you are an ‘orthodox’ Anglican you have to have an ‘orthodox’ bishop. 

This paper found a wide circulation. I received a number of responses, mostly agreeing with me.

One of the responses came from the Bishops of the Christian Episcopal Church. They said they had been praying about the mother Church in and of England, with some great concern, and through their prayers had reached the same conclusion that I had done. They said they had it in mind to offer to consecrate three missionary bishops who would be able to offer a foundation for a continuing orthodox Anglicanism as the Anglicanism of the Church of England became modified first by feminism, and later by homosexual marriage.  They asked if I would accept consecration at their hands against the day when such episcopal presence was needed.

I wrote back saying that I was glad that they agreed with me, but that I would not accept their offer, because to do so would cause me severe inconvenience, risk making me a public laughing stock, and other unlooked for and unwelcome consequences.

They responded saying that they were sad that I was unwilling to play a part in the remedial action that I had myself discerned and advocated, but could I recommend other clergy who were theologically and spiritually alert to the issues, and willing to pay a price for their principles.

I won’t write further about how or why my mind was changed, but as I considered their response, it came to me that my reasons for refusing their offer had at their root cowardice and a preference for self-preservation rather than a commitment to the bride of Christ and her wellbeing.

So I changed my mind.

The question then arose as to whether such a consecration should take place then, or at some later date. I was persuaded it should be then, and not at some indefinite point in the future. 

In consulting canon lawyers, it appeared that holding episcopal office outside the geographical jurisdiction of the the Provinces of Canterbury and York in an ecclesial body that was not in an official relationship with the Church of England,  was not in contravention of any canon law. There was a distinction however between ontology and function. I might be consecrated a bishop elsewhere, but canon law would only be contravened if I practiced or exercised episcopacy in some way.

The validity of this view was in fact (and much to my interest) tested recently by an assistant curate in the parish of Jesmond, the Rev’d Jonathan Pryke, receiving consecration at the hands of reformed Anglicans in South Africa. When it was announced his diocesan bishop wrote to him saying that no action would or could be taken, unless and until he acted episcopally within her jurisdiction, and she advised and counselled him not to. To date, he hasn’t.

Should I have announced the consecration when it took place in 2013?

Our judgement was not to. We would have preferred to do so, but the reasons were as follows. I held the office of a parish priest in the Island of Jersey, and was a member of the Royal Ecclesiastical Household. Under canon law (following the Pryke principle) neither of these offices were affected by holding a parallel office in a different Church in a different country and jurisdiction. Legally there was no issue. Was there a moral issue? If I had announced it in public it seemed to me that the move would be understood in the form of a threat. “If the Church of England continues in this progressive direction, I will at some point leave it and take up my episcopal office and exercise it."

Although I believed I knew what was going to happen in the C of E, I could not be certain. What if God intervened? What if I was wrong? I had obligations and responsibilities that I wanted to continue to discharge for as long as I could.

As it happened, circumstances did indeed take me by surprise.

When the first woman bishop was consecrated, I had prepared for the situation, and indeed lectured others, by being ready to make a distinction between her legal office as the duly appointed ‘Ordinary’ of the diocese, and her spiritual office as bishop. I believed I could remain in post in my parish by observing this distinction. However, I had sought a meeting with my diocesan bishop before the consecration to inform him that should he take part in the consecration which was against Scripture and against tradition, he would no longer  be my bishop, and indeed I thought he would no longer be any kind of bishop, since one of the primary functions of a bishop is to guard and preserve the apostolic faith.  

As time went by after the event, I found myself becoming increasingly distressed by the change in the ecclesial DNA in the Church, and found the comforting fiction I and others had prepared to use to live with it, did not give me peace of mind or clarity of conscience.

So I resigned my parish. 

I looked forward to some years of praying, writing and if the public chose to read it, public commentary.

When it came to asking for permission to officiate from the local diocesan within the parish I had ‘retired’ early to, urged by the incumbent to equip myself with the legal means to preach in his parish, I found I was unable in conscience to ask for permission from a bishop whose actions I repudiated. 

The next event was the reading of the Koran in St. Mary's (Scottish Episcopal) Cathedral, Glasgow. My public remarks were deemed to be incompatible with holding an office in the Royal Household since the political and cultural context we now live in were deemed to be too conflicted to allow such remarks. It was clear I had to choose between silence and remaining in office, or giving up the office. I gave it up. My primary responsibility is to articulate and defend the Gospel in private and in public.

By the spring of this year, to my surprise I found that events had stripped me of both office and responsibility in the Church of England, and I took this to be the action and initiative of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, the speed of direction of cultural and theological change continued unabated. The outcry against Philip North and the hounding of him out of office served to confirmed my original diagnosis and prognosis.


The situation I foresaw and prepared for that led to my consecration in Vancouver in 2013  had come about, and I was required to act accordingly.

I therefore exercised the provisions of the 1870 Clerical Disabilities Act.

It remains my view that as the grip of egalitarianism and the sub Christian ethics of gay marriage tighten their grip on our culture, and as the Church of England makes continued accommodation with them, that traditional Anglicans like me will lack orthodox episcopal oversight, support and the articulation of the Gospel the obligations of the office lay upon it.

When writing the press release that made the news of my new role public I could have added this accompanying narrative to explain the gap between the date of the consecration and the taking up of the office. 

I thought that to make this explanation public seemed much too much like making these events about me, whereas they were more properly about the Lordship of Christ, the authority  of the Gospel and the integrity of the Church. For that reason, the date was left a matter of public record on the websites referred to for background information in the press release.