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General Synod Women Bishops' Debate - Archbishop's Contributions

Tuesday 7th February 2006

The General Synod of the Church of England debated a report from the House of Bishops 'Women Bishops Group', chaired by the Bishop of Guildford. The Archbishop of Canterbury made the following intervention:

A very brief contribution on the theological foundation of some of what we've been saying.

The division that we've been talking about this morning is fundamentally of course a division about where authority lies in the Church. It's not simply about one issue in fact; it's a great deal broader than that.

It does seem to me that since we're not going to resolve that issue of where authority lies in a hurry in the Church of England because, as we've just been reminded, we've been thinking about it for four hundred years or so and there may be a dimension of the Guildford report's proposals that actually might help us.

In the work of finding some kind of structure that will carry us forward together we are, I think, trying to find principles and practices and ideals and hopes to which we can all, and I do use the word advisedly, submit in good Christian conscience. In other words we're trying in practice to discover where authority lies by finding what it would take to create a measure of godly concord between us in the Church of England. That's not going to resolve the question of where authority lies as between the great traditional blocks of argument on this; but it will, pragmatically (and that's perhaps an Anglican virtue sometimes) give us a way of finding what it is that we as a matter of fact give authority to when we're trying how to live in relative concord and prayerful peace together.

That is why I think these proposals are worth developing; I don't want to anticipate what I'll say later this week, but it did seem to me that we need to think about what emerges in the very process of working at this.

What emerges for our theology, for our sense of ourselves as a church, what we discover in this (because, to make a very obvious point, we have not passed this way before) and whatever happens, will not be simply the reproduction of some classical identity, Anglican or otherwise, that we think we have held. Whatever happens, we shall be moving into a new place. Perhaps this process will help us think about that.

© Rowan Williams 2006

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