Plans for the creation of the Society were announced by the catholic bishops of the Church of England on 24 September 2010 ‘to provide a place within the Church of England where catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater churches of East and West’. They placed it under the patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, two English saints with a passion for the unity of the Church.
The context was set by draft legislation for the ordination of women to the episcopate which would have repealed the legal provisions made in the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, replacing them and the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 with a Code of Practice. The Society was intended as a constructive initiative, creating structures to enable those who, for theological reasons, are unable to receive the ministry of women ordained to the priesthood and episcopate to flourish and grow within the Church of England.
In the event, the draft legislation failed to receive final approval in November 2012. Steps towards a new legislative process began in 2013. New legislation received final approval in July 2014 and came into force in November 2014. Information about the provisions for those who are unable, for theological reasons, to receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests may be found here.
The Society is intended to become an ecclesial body, not another catholic society among the many catholic societies of the Church of England. Membership of the Church is conferred in baptism (and initiation is completed in episcopal confirmation and first communion). It costs nothing to join the Church.
Therefore, the Society is not a membership organization. The members are those baptized members of the Church of England who worship in parishes and institutions that receive episcopal oversight from the bishops of the Society and ministry from priests whom they have commended.
There is no membership fee. However, the Society is supported and administered by Forward in Faith. Those who are able to do so are therefore invited to join Forward in Faith and thereby contribute towards the costs of administering the Society.
The Society is governed by a Council of Bishops, consisting of
The bishops consult from time to time with those bishops of the Society who are retired, and also with leading members of the Catholic Group in General Synod and representatives of the principal catholic societies.
In each diocese there is a bishop’s representative. Details of the role of the Bishop’s Representative are available here.
The Society is a company of believers, led by bishops and loyal to the Church of England and her catholic heritage, who are committed to a bold proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord through:
The Society is committed to the Church of England. We intend to play our full part in the life of the Church of England at all levels, contributing to its mission, witness and service.
As we do so, we shall continue to see it as our task to recall the Church of England to a fuller understanding of its catholic heritage and its identity as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Led by its bishops, the Society is committed to strive for the visible unity of Christ’s Church. We are attentive to the theological dialogues with the ancient churches of East and West. We remain especially committed to the original vision of the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC): the restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
bless the bishops, clergy and people of The Society.
Bind us together in love and faith.
Renew us in service and witness.
And by your Holy Spirit
Guide our future and make plain your purposes.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Saint Wilfrid, pray for us.
Saint Hilda, pray for us.