Women Bishops: Holed below the Waterline

June 25, 2012 § 3 Comments

Members of General Synod received the following email today from ‘senior women clergy’. They are indeed senior, experienced, and absolutely united.

They include: The Venerable Christine Allsopp; The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull; The Reverend Canon Jane Hedges; The Reverend Lucy Winkett (full list below).

They say:

Following the House of Bishops’ amendments many people have asked for the perspective of senior women clergy regarding the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure as it now stands.

We the undersigned wish to express our deep dismay at the introduction of Clause 5(1)(c), which has serious implications for the way the Church understands itself and undermines women so profoundly that we are now unable to support the Measure.

We recognise that bishops voted in favour of this amendment in good faith, believing that further assurances for those unable to accept the ministry of ordained women would help secure the Measure’s passing.

However, with the introduction of this clause the Measure is likely to be defeated. It is therefore our hope that the General Synod will adjourn the debate in July and return the legislation to the House of Bishops for further reflection. This will give the opportunity for the Measure (as passed by 42 of the 44 dioceses) to be returned to General Synod for approval later in the year.

 For someone like me, totally pro-women Bishops, and hopeful that at least one of the signatories would be a bishop before long, this is a significant move. They don’t go into the reasons for their opposition to the House of Bishops’ amendment, but there has been such an outcry that they don’t need to.

As I said before, it seemed to me that the House of Bishops’ clarifying the reasons why a parish would need an alternative bishop (and therefore what kind of bishop to provide) was just common sense. On the ground it is exactly what every diocesan bishop will (or should) do when responding to a letter of request. But it is now clear that ‘naming’ these ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure is felt by many as solidifying a situation that they hoped would be subject to change. Those who are most in favour of women becoming bishops are not prepared to have the objections to this ministry (and the ordination of women in general) ‘named’ in legislation, preferring this to be worked out in practice rather than legitimized (and fossilized) in statute.

I still don’t think that the amendment is a bad thing, and think that it will not become fossilized in this way. But I am persuaded that so many people think differently that the only thing the House of Bishops can now do is to let the debate be adjourned, and talk to as many people as possible as quickly as possible to bring back a Measure in November which will honour objections held with integrity, and honour the ministry of women (and men ordaining women) without preserving the whole situation in aspic.

The Signatories

The Venerable Christine Allsopp (Archdeacon of Northampton)
The Reverend Canon Sarah Bullock (Bishop’s Advisor for Women’s Ministry, Diocese of  Manchester)
The Venerable Annette Cooper (Archdeacon of Colchester)
The Venerable Penny Driver (Archdeacon of Westmorland and Furness)
The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull (Dean of Leicester)
The Venerable Karen Gorham (Archdeacon of Buckingham)
The Reverend Canon Jane Hedges (Canon Steward & Archdeacon of Westminster)
The Venerable Canon Janet Henderson (Archdeacon of Richmond)
The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons)
The Reverend Rosemary Lain-Priestley (Chair of the National Association of Diocesan Advisers in Women’s Ministry)
The Very Reverend Catherine Ogle (Dean of Birmingham)
The Very Reverend June Osborne (Dean of Salisbury)
The Venerable Jane Sinclair (Archdeacon of Stow and Lindsey)
The Reverend Canon Celia Thomson (Canon Pastor, Gloucester Cathedral)
The Venerable Rachel Treweek (Archdeacon of Hackney)
The Very Reverend Dr Frances Ward (Dean of St Edmundsbury)
The Venerable Christine Wilson (Archdeacon of Chesterfield)
The Reverend Lucy Winkett (Rector, St James’s Piccadilly)

§ 3 Responses to Women Bishops: Holed below the Waterline

  • David Lee says:

    I find this most re-assuring. The HoB amendment has clearly significantly changed the original Measure (despite contrary statements by the gang of six men).

    It ran the huge risk of splitting those in favour. Are we so keen to get women bishops soon that we just pass it anyway? Or should we reject it because we really can’t stomach this amendment? It ran the risk of giving instant gratification now, but concreting in place the amendment as a millstone round the necks of future generations.

    Given that, what was very much needed was a strong, clear voice of agreement about what to do next. So it’s good to see such a voice emerging.

    I would strongly urge those on General Synod who agree with women bishops to give a strong, united and decisive voice to whatever action they decide to take.

    Please avoid, at all costs, a split, divided vote amongst the supporters.

  • Matt says:

    Thank you for your instructive post. You use the word ‘legitimize’ to describe the effect the bishops amendments have for the objections to women’s ministry. However, hasn’t the declared aim of the measure always been to hold in tension two views and thereby acknowledge that the dissenting view is legitimate. Conversely if objections are not legitimate then only a one clause measure will do.

    You also highlight the fear that the amendments would not allow change in the future. But if the Church is acknowledging the legitimacy of dissenting views surely such change would have to be consensual. In which case the amendments are not a problem.

    I think the amendments are a challenge to all participants in the debate. The impression has been given by some that they simply do not accept the need for more nuanced provision than simply a male bishop. I know from your previous posts that you do not take this view, but for those like yourself the question posed now is surely how do to give reassurance that such nuanced provision will be provided. There doesn’t appear to be consensus among those in favour for such provision hence the need for the measure to be honest and say that such provision will be provided. It seems to me that this is all that the bishops have done. Had they not done so those against may have been promised provision which could not be delivered. As the bishop’s rejected more entrenched provision such as the ‘society model’ etc aren’t we now really in the position whereby the arguments about the provision given to dissenters cannot be finessed further. Either they are assured of such provision (only possible via the measure) or they are not. If the latter surely the honourable thing to do is vote down this legislation which is based on the aim of providing adequate provision and make it plain that a one clause measure is on the horizon. If there is an alternative which satisfies the stated aim of providing reliable provision I can’t see it at the moment. But I would suggest it is incumbent on those advocating an adjournment to put forward alternative models because the debate since the bishop’s amendments has shown up the fact that many in favour are not actually willing to consent to accommodate provision which, for example, addresses sacramental assurance as understood by traditionalist catholics.

    Best wishes,


  • Past caring now, I will let God be the judge. Christ died for all, that we may have life in abundance. If part of the Body of Christ then suppresses another due to race, gender, homophobia, then I am at peace, God will judge in the end.

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