All Saints was founded by a group of lay people in 1868, who had been influenced by the Tractarians (Oxford Movement), which under the leadership of Newman, Keble and Pusey was concerned to restore the catholic nature of the Church of England. The movement saw the Church of England as part of the one catholic (universal) and apostolic church founded Jesus Christ and his Apostles. They stressed that at the Reformation the reformers had reformed the English Church, not set up a new church (unlike some protestant groups in Europe), so for example the Church of England retained bishops, and many other catholic practices. These views can best be summed up in the statement made by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (one of the editors of the King James Bible ), ‘We believe in one catholic church, eastern, western, our own.’ This expresses very clearly the fact that the Tractarians, and their predecessors since the Reformation, like Andrewes had looked to the undivided church of the first 5 centuries as the model for the reformed Church of England.
In 1868 when All Saints was founded, this was the theological conviction that shaped the new parish and its life. Andrewes’ statement was given physical expression in the content of the three south Aisle windows, and the theological life of All Saints has always been Eucharistic, centred on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements, shaped by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theological thinking.
In continuity with this theological inheritance, All Saints, when the Church of England voted to admit women to the priesthood, choose to pass the resolutions that allowed parishes to affirm that they would not accept this innovation to the catholic and apostolic traditions concerning priesthood. So All Saints stated that it would not accept a women priest at the altar or as the incumbent of the parish; but it did not petition for alternative episcopal oversight, from a so called ‘flying bishop’, but remained under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Gloucester. This partly reflected the wide diversity of views about the ordination of women to the priesthood held by the parish family.
When the Church of England decided to ordain women as Bishops, new more flexible provision was made for those members of the church who wished to remain loyal to traditional Anglican and catholic teaching about orders. The PCC of All Saints therefore after lengthy discussion agreed to pass a declaration of theological conviction, namely that the parish did not accept the innovation introduced by the Church of England in admitting women to the Priesthood and Episcopate, and wished to remain loyal to traditional Anglican and catholic teaching on this matter. One advantage of this new provision was that it enabled the other parishes in the North Cheltenham Team to appoint a woman Team Vicar, which the previous resolutions blocked.
When the PCC passed declaration, the Diocese was awaiting a new Bishop. Within two days of her installation as the first woman Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Rachel met with the PCC of All Saints, accepted and recognised their declaration. Bishop Rachel (whilst remaining the legal ordinary of the Parish), recognising All Saints theological conviction asked Bishop Jonathan Goodall, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, to provide spiritual and pastoral care to the Parish.
What does this declaration mean? That All Saints is against equality? Definitely not, in that All Saints enjoys and welcomes the ministry of a perpetual Woman Deacon (there being extensive evidence for woman deacons in the first five centuries, especially in the Eastern Church, and in some western monastic orders). All Saints is also very happy to recognise Bishop Rachel’s legal role as ordinary, and has been very happy to welcome her as a fellow pilgrim to a number of services (and we look forward to her preaching for us at the conclusion of our 150 year celebrations).
So if the issue is not about equality, what is it about? Simply that many at All Saints believe like the parish founders that the Church of England, is not a new church, but part of the one catholic and apostolic Church. Orders (Deacon, Priest and Bishop) belong to the whole church (as is stated in the Prayer Book Ordination service) and so we can not accept that the C of E has the right to change what belongs to the whole church; should the whole church, Roman Catholic and Orthodox included choose to admit women as Priests and Bishops then the basis of our theological conviction would no longer exist. You could sum it up in these terms. All Saints is a Tractarian parish and wishes to remain true to the principles of the movement, that there is one church, eastern, western, our own; and that continues to shape our corporate and theological life .