The Society of St. Wilfred and St. Hilda

Women Bishops and our future together as a parish and in the wider Church.

Today I want to talk to you about where we are as a parish now that the Church of England has women bishops, and more important how we are to approach the future in the light of this momentous change in  Church Order, not least how those who are in conscience unable to accept this development, will secure sacramental assurance as we go forward, and be allowed to ‘flourish’ , as the General Synod tells us that’s what it wants us to do!

You will recall that following on from the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1994, we decided, under the terms of the Act of Synod, designed to preserve unity in the church, that we would petition the Bishop of Guildford to become what was then known as a Resolution ‘C’ parish, which meant we would seek episcopal ministry from a Bishop who shared the same integrity and theological position as ourselves as a faith community. That ministry was to be exercised by one of the PEV’s or other like- minded bishop, and so we had first Bishop Lindsay, then Bishop Edwin, then Bishop Keith and at present Bishop Norman who has visited us on several occasions and exercised a warm pastoral ministry as well as administering episcopal sacramental ministry.

As a parish we have also been affiliated to Forward in Faith, the organisation that has acted as a kind of political umbrella for those who continued to be unable to accept the changes made to the Church’s historic ministry, one of the main cornerstones of the Church of England’s claim to be part of the ‘One ,holy, catholic, and apostolic church.’

Of course the Church has moved on, some have just changed their minds and more people have come to accept women priests and so have also accepted women bishops; at the other end of the scale a number of those of our constituency , rather than carry on holding that ‘ honoured’ and respected place the General Synod and the Bishops have assured us is ours, have left to form the Ordinariate.

We need to remember that the present General Synod only voted in favour of women bishops on the understanding that proper provision would be made for that diminished yet sizable minority, who not only were unable to accept this innovation but also still remain unable to accept the sacramental ministry of women priests. Such provision was made so that there could be the equal opportunity for both constituencies or integrities to flourish in the Church of England, not just out of a sense of  mutual survival but for the furtherance of the Kingdom.

As we face the future together  we have to bear in mind that a number of things have changed and so  need our consideration.

Apart from what I have said already we have to consider the new political map as far as the ‘traditionalist’ constituency is concerned. Although the PEV’s remain in place their ministry in individual parishes will only continue if parishes like ours petition our Diocesan Bishop to ask for that ministry. This requires the PCC to pass an appropriate resolution under what is termed the House of Bishop’s Declaration. This ministry will be exercised by the PEV’s and other Bishops who share the same integrity within the framework of what is called   ‘The Society’ –you will remember this was initially set up with  the name ‘The Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda'. When the Society was first mooted you will also recall that everyone at St. Augustine’s signed a list to say that we would like such a Society to come into being, it was signed by not only the majority who sought sacramental assurance for the future and wished this to be maintained through the historic threefold ministry of the Church, but also by those who were ready to accept the ministry of women priests. For the sake of unity in our congregation we basically all agreed that this was the way forward for our church, bearing in mind our tradition here.


 The Society is now fully operational, and although Forward in Faith remains the political and financial ‘ umbrella’ organisation for our constituency, the Society is to be the spiritual base and exists to guarantee our future.

The Society is there, as the literature explains,

‘To promote and maintain catholic teaching and practice within the Church of England.’

It is led by a Council of Bishops which will provide episcopal oversight and will guarantee a ministry in the historic apostolic succession. Furthermore it undertakes to ensure that parishes affiliated to the Society, will receive the ministry of priests of the Society and whilst recognising the authority of the Diocesan Bishop, will receive episcopal ministry from a member of the Society’s Council of Bishops. All this along with an undertaking to be committed to flourishing within the life and structures of the Church of England and seeking to make a full contribution to Christ’s mission in the Diocese where the parish is situated.

My recommendation to the PCC and to you as a congregation, is that just as Fr. John and  I are now registered priests of the Society, so St. Augustine’s becomes an affiliated parish so that we can carry on as we are and maintain our existence as an ongoing faith community which offers sacramental ministry to all. I expect some of you already realise that a number of people come to St. Augustine’s because of the ministry we offer.   

I do not see our affiliation to the Society as a political move, but rather as a matter of guaranteeing the kind of ministry we  offer here. It is for that reason that I want us to affiliate to the Society rather than promote ourselves as a Forward in Faith parish, so that everyone can feel included. Although Forward in Faith will continue to play a vital role in the life of our constituency, and indeed affiliation to the Society means that we will still be registered with its central office,( for it will collect the affiliation fee) I wish us, in the future, to be described as a parish of the Society.

Of course I will still encourage individual support and membership of Forward in Faith both nationally and locally, but we will be better served by this new description as a parish of The Society, (not a society parish please) which I feel can include everyone and meet the needs of everyone’s conscience.

Is all this workable, well the Church of England is determined to make it so. You will recall that the first woman to be ordained Bishop was ordained in York Minster by Archbishop Sentamu, a few days later Philip North, who many of you will remember from his Walsingham days, was ordained Bishop by the Bishop of Chichester, who is a Bishop of the Society, on behalf of the Archbishop of York in his own cathedral; the new woman bishop was there with the other members of the House of Bishops to welcome the new Bishop*.  This sets a pattern for the future and will ensure that an episcopal ministry is maintained in the Church of England that all can, in conscience, accept. It will be Bishops like Bishop Philip who will ordain new male priests for our constituency, and if General Synod can be trusted this will be the pattern for the future, or at least until we are all too old to worry about it!

Passing a resolution is a matter for our PCC and it will be discussed at next Sunday’s PCC meeting. Once a resolution has been passed we will then inform the Bishop of Guildford of that fact and a simple letter will be sent to him explaining why we feel the need for the resolution to be in place in the parish and ask for Bishop Norman to continue to offer episcopal ministry to us.

Having met with Bishop Andrew my feeling is that he will wish to support the ministry we hope to continue to offer here and indeed the warmth of his personality and his straightforward sharing with the Deanery clergy makes me feel we can be assured of continuing to be regarded as very much part of the Diocesan family and hold an honourable and  honoured place in its ecclesial life.

Fr Keith Hodges


* In the last few days it has been announced that the chairman of Reform has been appointed Bishop of Maidstone to serve the conservative evangelical wing of the church, who also find themselves unable to accept the ministry of Women Bishops.