Oxford job ad creates stir

“Not poets but clergymen hastened to meet
Thy redden’d remorselessness, Cardigan Street”

St Barnabas, Oxford, John Betjeman

On 4th September 2018, the Diocese of Oxford posted the notice of a clergy vacancy for the Vicar of St Barnabas and St Paul, with St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford. At the end of the month,  the BBC (and others) ran a story  Male only vicar job advert ‘misogynistic’, based upon the reaction of a local councillor. The possibility of a “male-only” incumbent should not be a surprise to those cognizant of the procedures of appointing clergy in the Church of England, and they need read no further.

For others, however, the following provides a summary of the requirements within the Church’s ecclesiastical law, all of which were apparently followed by the parish and the diocese. Nevertheless, as we commented in the round-up on 30th, the CofE has been glacially slow to acknowledge the role of women in the priesthood and the episcopate. The situation at St Barnabas (and elsewhere) reflects the legislation passed by the Church in 1993 and 2014, and the provisions available to those clergy and congregations who are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests on grounds of theological conviction.


Much of the context of the proposed appointment may be evinced from the job advertisement and the associated linked documents. Key points are:

  • there was involvement of the patrons – Keble College and Christ Church – in conjunction with the Bishop of Oxford;
  • the letter of request for a male-only future incumbent was sent by the PCC in accordance with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, v infra; and.
  • the Guidance Notes, dated 3 May 2016.

Women in the priesthood and episcopate

Women as priests

The Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) operated from 1979 to 1994 and was the major organisation to campaign for women to become priests in the Church of England, here. The controversial legislation, the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 (No. 2) was passed by the General Synod on 11 November 1992 and Royal Assent was granted on 5 November 1993. Under section 12 of the Measure, the two Archbishops appointed that the provisions should come into effect on 1 February 1994, Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 (Appointed Day Instrument 1994), and the ordination of the first women took place in a ceremony at Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994.

The move was opposed by a number of Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelical Anglicans within the CofE; the organization Church Society “was amongst those upholding the traditional line and the Society took legal action to block the legislation as being beyond the powers of the General Synod”. Although the action was unsuccessful, the 1993 Measure included the following resolutions, “to be read in the context of that legislation”:

Resolution A: That this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the minister who presides at or celebrates the Holy Communion or pronounces the Absolution in the parish.

Resolution B: That this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the incumbent or priest-in-charge of the benefice or as a team vicar for the benefice.

In addition, General Synod passed the Episcopal Act of Synod 1993 to make provision for the continuing diversity of opinion in the Church of England as to the ordination and ministry of women as priests, and for related matters. This quasi-legislation provides for what is commonly known as Resolution C, i.e. where the PCC has passed one or both of the resolutions set out in the 1993 Measure, a decision may be taken jointly by the minister and the PCC to petition the diocesan bishop concerned to the effect that appropriate episcopal duties in the parish should be carried out in accordance with the terms of the Act of Synod. Alternative episcopal oversight for these parishes is provided through Provincial Episcopal Visitors (PEVs), a.k.a. “flying bishops”. Further information on Resolutions A, B and C is on the See of Beverley web site.

Women in the episcopate 

The appointment of women as bishops was equally controversial, if not more so, but on 14 July 2014, General Synod approved the four legislative measures required to secure the appointment of women to the episcopate, viz.

  • Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure (GS 1925B) – Draft Measure for Final Approval;
  • Draft Amending Canon No. 33 (GS 1926B) – Draft Amending Canon for Final Approval;
  • Draft Petition for Her Majesty’s Royal Assent and Licence (GS 1926C) – Draft Petition for Adoption;
  • Draft Act of Synod Rescinding the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993(GS 1934A) – Draft Act of Synod for i] Final Approval and ii] Affirmation and Proclamation as an Act of Synod.

These are discussed further here. In addition to these measures, but not subject to a vote of Synod, were the House of Bishops Declaration on women bishops and the House of Bishops Guidance Notes on women bishops; these two documents provide details of the alternative episcopal oversight of parishes. Important to the are the five guiding principles which the House  of Bishops first commended in May 2013 when submitting legislative proposals to the General Synod for the consecration of women to the episcopate. There were welcomed by Synod in its resolution of 20 November 2013, and reaffirmed by the House in its Declaration. 

Dispute resolution

During the development of these legislative measures, some concerns were expressed regarding the replacement of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 with the Bishops’ Declaration. However, as noted here and elsewhere, although both instruments are essentially quasi-legislation, paragraph 1 of Canon C 29, Of the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests links the Declaration to a duty of the House of Bishop to make Regulations “prescribing a procedure for the resolution of disputes arising from the arrangements for which the House of Bishops’ declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests makes provision”.  Furthermore, under paragraphs 3 and 4, these must be laid before General Synod and for subsequent changes to these to achieve a two thirds majority in each House in order to be passed.

The House of Bishops issued the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Resolution of Dispute Procedure) Regulations 2014 on 17 November 2014. As set out in GS Misc 1090, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York initially appointed Sir Philip Mawer as the Independent Reviewer under the terms of the Regulations. (In February 2018 he was succeeded by Sir William Fittall).

In the vast majority of instances, it is anticipated that parishes and bishops would agree arrangements which are consistent with the Declaration. Where this is not the case, and the PCC considers that the bishop or some other office holder has acted in a way which is inconsistent with the Declaration, it may bring a grievance to the Independent Reviewer appointed under the Regulations it has made for the resolution of disputes under the Declaration.

On 4 June 2015, the Church issued a Consultation Paper on the Operation of the Resolution of Disputes Procedure within the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, hereThe raison d’être of the Consultation document is evident from paragraph 5 which states:

“[t]he Regulations do not prescribe in detail how the Independent Reviewer will carry out his functions. However, they do lay down some requirements and they also include some permissive provisions intended to guide the Reviewer in the task. These are, so far as the consideration of grievances is concerned, set out in Regulations 16-26.”

The Reviewer publishes an annual report to the Archbishops following the end of each calendar year, as well as individual reports. To date these include:

The legal and canonical status of the provincial episcopal visitors – the holders of the sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough,  and (at that time) the status of the Bishop of Maidstone – was clarified in the first Annual Report, supra.

Individual report of the Independent Reviewer have included:


This advertisement for a male-only priest cannot be viewed in isolation, but in the context the developments of church law in this area; furthermore, the Oxford job advertisement cannot simply be dismissed on the grounds that, in the reported words of the Councillor, “there are still a few crusty old misogynists clinging on”, since “on grounds of theological conviction, [the PCC requested] that arrangements be made for it in accordance with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests.”

The church of St Barnabas is not alone and in the Oxford archdeaconry (one of the four “episcopal Areas” of the diocese) five out of the 46 churches seek male headship. The See of Ebbsfleet website lists 13 churches in the whole of the Oxford diocese, although St Barnabas is not one of them.

Mrs Pressel, Labour city councillor for West Oxford, also said “St Barnabas Church would surely be a much better place if it had a woman priest. Some of the local people who have left might return, but we now see that the dinosaurs have won yet again.” It is not clear to what extent the St Barnabas PCC addressed the wider views of those within the parish.

Coincidentally, John Betjeman’s own Anglo-Catholic parish in Oxfordshire is also in the process of advertising for an incumbent. As recommended for parishes in the diocese, the Parish Development Advisor for the Archdeaconry of Dorchester led an Open Meeting, to assist the PCC’s deliberations in drawing up the Parish Profile. The ninety or so attendees were comprised of members of the congregations of the two churches, and individuals & organisations that the Churchwardens had identified as stakeholders, viz. the Area Dean, Lay Chair of the Deanery Synod, Mayor and members of the Town Council, The Community of St Mary the Virgin, Betjeman Society, Royal British Legion. Royal Naval Association. Royal Airforce Association, schools and the local youth group.

Working both in small groups and in plenary, there was ample opportunity for attendees to express their views, which were recorded and analysed. A range of opinions was expressed, and these were quantified in relation to the three issues addressed by the groups. It would be presumptuous to pre-judge the outcome of the meeting in advance of the PCCs deliberation. However, the “Section 12 Meeting”  is scheduled for 8 October and the post should soon appear on the Diocesan web site and possibly elsewhere. Watch this space.

“Good Lord, as the angelus floats down the road
Byzantine St Barnabas, be Thine Abode.”

Job Advertisement

The closing date for applications for the post was 30 September 2018, and consequently the advertisement is no longer on the diocesan web site. The content, however, is reproduced below including the links which are still “live”. 

Vicar of St Barnabas and St Paul, with St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford

Keble College and Christ Church as patrons, in conjunction with the Bishop of Oxford, wish to appoint a parish priest to this historic benefice in the heart of Oxford.

 We are seeking a male priest with

  • a spirituality rooted in the Daily Office and the Mass, who will deepen the sacramental and devotional life of the church
  • enthusiasm for work with a congregation with a diversity of views but a strong desire for unity
  • confidence in presiding at the liturgy and in sympathy with its music
  • the ability to preach the Word and expound the teaching of the Church in ways that will enrich our life together
  • the desire and ability to minister effectively in the local community and church school
  • a vision for developing the joint benefice with St Thomas the Martyr and the skills to manage and facilitate its reordering and future growth.

The PCC has sent a letter of request in accordance with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests.

For an informal conversation about the post, please contact Archdeacon Martin Gorick on 01865 208263

  • Parish profile available here
  • Application form available here
  • Guidance notes here
  • Recruitment Monitoring form here

Closing date: 30 September

Interviews at Keble College on 16 October

4th September 2018

Five Guiding Principles

Statement of guiding principles

The House reaffirms the five guiding principles which it first commended in May 2013 when submitting legislative proposals to the General Synod for the consecration of women to the episcopate and which the Synod welcomed in its resolution of 20 November 2013. They need to be read one with the other and held together in tension, rather than being applied selectively:

  • Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  • Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  • Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  • Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
  • Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

David Pocklington

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Oxford job ad creates stir" in Law & Religion UK, 8 October 2018, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2018/10/08/oxford-job-ad-creates-stir/


4 thoughts on “Oxford job ad creates stir

  1. David, my General Synod Private Member’s Motion headed “Review of the ‘Five Guiding Principles’,” which I tabled in March 2017 in the wake of +Philip North’s decision to withdraw his acceptance of the nomination to the See of Sheffield, now has 101 supporting signatories, so I am hopeful that it will be scheduled for debate at the next group of sessions in London in February 2019. [Possibly together with the Oxford Diocesan Synod motion inviting the Archbishops “to initiate a review into the role of the Crown Nominations Commission, including consideration of alternative methods of appointment for diocesan bishops.”]

      • I think technically that it was the Vacancy in See Committee’s position rather than the CNC. Ms Jacobs alleged “abuse of power” on the part of the VISC in stating that they sought a candidate who would ordain women, which is a positive request within the statement of needs, In doing so, the committee, on behalf of the diocese, was simply exercising its right under para 12 of the HoB Declaration. This seems to be another instance where the terms and implications of the Declaration are not fully understood, or possibly only selectively quoted.

  2. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 10th February | Law & Religion UK

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