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.

11 Comments on “Chelmsford Ordinand refused Ordination

  1. Hi Peter

    A thoughtful article. I can provide a link to the ordinal contained in the (1662) Prayer Book here.

    It does clearly say in the rubrics there, “Then shall the Bishop proceed in the Communion; and all that are ordered shall tarry, and receive the holy Communion the same day, with the Bishop.”

    However, the point you helpfully raise is whether, given this is not a rubric of the service which was used, it can be treated as an absolute requirement for ordination.

    Of course, there are massive problems with a clergyman not being able to receive Communion with his bishop – but Richard isn’t the only one in that situation in Chelmsford. Those who denounce Richard for ‘playing with the sacraments’, ‘grandstanding’, etc, miss the point – when one is supposed to be in Communion with someone whose actions as the Church’s chief pastor one feels to be at such variance with the role and task, sharing Communion feels like an hypocrisy.

    It is this which really needs sorting out in Chelmsford, not just Richard’s particular requirements, which could easily be met.

  2. Call me pedantic, but if the Bishop is so in league with the forces of darkness as to preclude sacramental communion with him, why would an erstwhile postulant accept ordination from him?

    I am still attempting to discern whether situation indicates deficient formation in sacramental theology, or a bit of self-indulgent political theater, or a mixture of both.

  3. William,

    As I argue above, sacramental theology is not the issue. Though Article 26 suggests that one may actively receive communion from an evil bishop, the real legal issue is whether the bishop is entitled to demand as much from the newly ordained.

  4. It’s really quite simple. Richard can only be ordained by a bishop (obviously), and in Chelmsford +John GHladwin is not only the legal Ordinary (appointed by HRH) but insists on ordaining all the deacons himself. Richard therefore had little choice on that front.

    However, as I’ve blogged elsewhere, there are considerable tensions between +John and others in his diocese over his stance on human sexuality. This has already impaired fellowship including, in some cases, sacramental fellowship. This was evidently also a problem for Richard, who could accept +Gladwin’s legal authority and, objectively, his liturgical ministry, but not an expression of sacramental fellowship.

    As the opening rubric to the Prayer Book service indicates, sacramental fellowship is not always an absolute and overriding requirement.

  5. There seems to be a fundamental confusion between law and theology, here.

    Regardless of what is legally required, it beats me that anyone not willing to receive communion from a bishop would want to be ordained by him in the first place. To try to separate the two like that seems to overthrow the meaning of both ordination and communion.

    Anglican theology seems to get weirder by the day!

  6. Steve,

    As John references above, there is already sacramental disunity in Chelmsford Diocese over the issue of Bishop Gladwin’s support of Changing Attitude. Wood’s actions in refusing to have communion with the bishop is nothing new, but is an innovation in the terms of the ordination service.

    And yes, sadly there does seem to be confusion around law and theology, but sometimes we need law to defend theology.

  7. Whether legally required or not, it is the Lord’s supper, not John Gladwin’s. It seems wrong to refuse it just because their might be some sinners present. Even if one of the sinners is saying the words over the table.

    Even if it was the Bishop’s communion (which it isn’t), If the Lord himself would eat and drink with sinners, surely we can?

    Another absurd squabble that makes us evangelicals look stupid to other Christians and Christians in general look nasty and vindictive to the non-Christian majority. Not a good witness to Jesus Christ.

  8. Those who are baffled by distinguishing between ordination and communion might need to remember that, as far as the C of E is concerned, only one of them is a sacrament!

    I don’t know whether I agree with their stand or their tactics. (A cannier course of action would have been not to forewarn, and in fact they have followed a path of integrity in giving notice.) But there is a long tradition of communal discipline, and appeals to Jesus’ eating and drinking with sinners (whom he called to repentance) does not really answer the question here.

  9. I think I’m in agreement with you Ian. To argue that Jesus ate with sinners is not to give sin a carté blanche. Rather, Jesus’ socialisation with sinners was with the intent of revealing himself, his holiness and their need of repentance. I can’t think of single instance in the gospels where Jesus goes to an individual for hospitality and there isn’t a change towards holiness in the sinner offering hospitality. One thinks that in Chelmsford the situation is rather different.

  10. It is interesting that in the printed order of service for the ordination in which Richard Wood was to have been ordained there is no specific mention of the candidates receiving communion. This is in contrast with the specific mention at the Peace that “The bishop greets the deacons”. So the bishop can hardly claim that taking communion is a required part of this service. But at the actual service, which I attended to support another candidate, the new deacons were given communion first and separately from the rest of the congregation. And I do note that “the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons” is listed as one of the “historic formularies” to which the candidates must in some rather vague way assent, and this is surely a reference to the 1662 version.

    See also my comments here on the Church of England in the light of this kerfuffle.

  11. As some of the heat seems to be going out of responses to this situation, perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that Richard is not refusing to take Communion at an ordination service, and so, once again, the question of precisely what the service says or the canons or traditions require may not be the real issue.

    Richard’s refusal is, of course, to receive Communion with the present incumbent of the office of Bishop of Chelmsford, +John Gladwin. That is why the request was made for him to be ordained by another bishop – a request which was refused, leading to a stand-off.

    What needs to be settled is (a) whether clergy (and others) must be willing to receive Communion with the Diocesan Bishop, (b) whether refusal to do so is a barrier to ordination in Church of England, all other requirements having been met and (c) whether the Bishop’s actions vis a vis Changing Attitude can be seen as sufficient offence to a church member for the latter not to be able to receive Communion with the bishop. All of these are, I would have thought, issues which ought to be settled at a formal level – they are not best decided through blogs, though we may offer our opinions.

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