Chelmsford Ordinand refused Ordination

An Anglican Ordination, but not the one this fuss is about!I hesitated before typing that title, as I wanted to correctly describe the situation recently in Chelmsford. The Bishop, John Gladwin, refused to ordain Richard Wood as a deacon because Richard Wood refused to take communion with him afterwards (and in the same service). Because Mr Wood wouldn’t take communion he was essentially “sent home” on the Saturday afternoon of the ordination retreat.

Now, I was tempted to have a title “Chelmsford Ordinand refuses Ordination” but that’s not actually true. Mr Wood was happy being ordained, he just wasn’t happy sharing communion with Bishop Gladwin. The reason given for not having communion was as follows:

However, because of the Bishop’s patronage of the campaigning group ‘Changing Attitude’ (an organisation that campaigns for the inclusion of practicing homosexuals in every area of church life), Richard was not able, on the grounds of conscience, to give assurances that he would personally receive communion with the Bishop after ordination. He was therefore told he was ‘free to go’ from the ordination retreat at 4:00 pm on the day before his ordination.

The Bishop of Chelmsford had earlier been asked by Mike Reith, on Richard’s behalf, to allow him to be ordained by another bishop. The Bishop declined that request.

Hmmmm… not sure I follow really, but let’s think about it. Speaking from a personal perspective, I don’t agree with everything our own Bishop does, but that doesn’t stop me taking communion from him, or from any other person I might disagree with. That’s because I take seriously Article 26 of the 39 articles, which is being bandied around in this debate, so let’s have a look at it:

XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments. Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.

OK, so what does that mean? Well, the article points out the truth that sometimes ungodly men (and women) rise to positions of power in the church, but regardless, since the effectiveness or not of a sacrament is not dependent on the president (i.e. because the Church of England doesn’t believe in priests’ “magic hands” but rather that priests performing sacraments represent their congregation), you can therefore take a valid sacrament from an evil priest (or bishop).

Of course, Wood and Reith’s argument is more subtle, as being Conservative Evangelicals they don’t really recognise any power in and of itself in the elements of the Eucharist. Their issue isn’t therefore whether the Eucharist at the Ordination is valid (which is the subject of article 26). Rather, their argument is that they simply cannot express their unity with the Bishop in Communion because of his support for Changing Attitude. This means that an appeal to Article 26 by those critical of Wood and Reith (the vicar of the parish Wood is hoping to serve his curacy in) misses the point. Instead we need to examine whether the ordination service actually demands or simply requests the ordinand to take communion with the bishop. It’s here I think that the Bishop might come unstuck. Reith wrote to the Bishop on Monday 23rd of April and said the following:

Whilst we have no option but to submit to your decision about this ordination, Richard and I would not want to give the impression that we are one with you in your ministry; particularly as you campaign for the acceptance of homosexual practice (which you do by your Patronage of the campaigning group ‘Changing Attitude’). This means we shall only do all that is necessary for the ordination to be legal. But we will not go along with the extra and non-essential aspects of the day. I shall not robe up and process in with other incumbents. Richard will respectfully decline to be photographed with you if asked. And neither of us will take Communion in this service.

That’s a carefully worded letter but is what Reith writes a legally correct approach to the ordination? The Bishop’s chaplain is quoted by the Guardian as saying:

“Receiving communion is part of the same rite as ordination. If you are to be ordained you have to receive communion from the bishop.”

but is that necessarily true? The relevant section of the Ordination service in Common Worship is as follows:

Preparation of the Table

Taking of the Bread and Wine

A hymn may be sung.

The gifts of the people may be gathered and presented.

The deacon prepares the table and places bread and wine upon it.

One or more of the prayers at the preparation of the table may be said.

The bishop takes the bread and wine.

The Eucharistic Prayer

An authorized Eucharistic Prayer is used.

For Proper Prefaces, see here.

The Lord’s Prayer

Breaking of the Bread

Giving of Communion

Prayer after Communion

Silence is kept.

Hmmm… not much guidance there in terms of “mays” and “shalls”. There is no indication in the text that the newly ordained deacons shall take Communion with the Bishop, which is what Gladwin is arguing. We need to look at the Common Worship Communion Service:

The president and people receive communion

Authorized words of distribution are used and the communicant replies Amen.

During the distribution hymns and anthems may be sung.

If either or both of the consecrated elements are likely to prove insufficient, the president returns to the holy table and adds more, saying these words.

Any consecrated bread and wine which is not required for purposes of communion is consumed at the end of the distribution or after the service.

Call me pedantic, but I can’t find anything in there which demands that the newly ordained takes Communion from the Bishop. It’s a clearly established legal principle that a Bishop may demand of his clergy anything in Canon Law, in the liturgy or requested by Synod. On that basis, I can’t find anything in the liturgy OR the canons which demands that a new ordinand shall take Communion with the Bishop. Yes, there is an expectation in the Prayer Book of Edward VI (someone find me a link please) that newly ordained clergy take communion with the Bishop, but neither was Wood being ordained using that service, nor is that prayer book the Book of Common Prayer referenced in the Declaration of Assent.

Methinks the Bishop of Chelmsford is on a sticky wicket…

Update 18:30The Ugley Vicar has pointed out that the 1662 ordination service does have the following form of words:

Then shall the Bishop proceed in the Communion; and all who are Ordered shall tarry, and receive the Holy Communion the same day, with the Bishop.

Hmmmm… there’s that word “shall”, but it’s not in the service that was actually used on the day. One might also argue that since many ordinations under ASB and Common Worship have taken place without a Eucharist, one couldn’t argue that this section of the 1662 BCP is an essential component of any and every ordination service.