BISHOP GAVIN ASHENDEN EXPLAINS ...
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.
happen. A less effective settlement was reached giving far less
protection to those who believed what Anglicans had always
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
This paper found a wide
circulation. I received a number of responses, mostly agreeing with
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I have announced the consecration when it took place in 2013?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
therefore exercised the provisions of the 1870 Clerical Disabilities
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.
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.