General Synod – What’s a chap to do?

July 2, 2012 § 11 Comments

Yesterday I went to an ordination. 8 deacons were going to parishes. 6 women and 2 men, going to parishes served by 5 male and 3 female incumbents. At the service the DDO and one of the cathedral canons were women, the Dean of Women’s Ministry took part, and, as it happens, the Diocesan Registrar was a woman too. It is absolutely essential (for me) that we proceed to enable women to be ordained to the episcopate, and as soon as possible, so that, perhaps in 2014, one of the people taking part would be a woman bishop.

That’s what makes the events of the last few weeks so difficult to read. As I posted in my last blog, lots of people I respect have come out so strongly against the amendment made by the Bishops that it’s hard to see how the current Measure could pass a week today. Putting the phrase ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure has generated a profound response.

I still think that the reponse is an overreaction – any Bishop providing another Bishop for a ‘requesting’ parish will have to take the reasons for the request into consideration. The whole point of a two-clause Measure is to take those objections seriously, and I don’t think that the amendment from the House of Bishops gives those objections any more or less theological credibility: they are a current fact to be taken into consideration.

But I’m not sure that the Synod debate in a week’s time will be enough to weigh the strenuous and understandable objections to the amendment, such that those who feel it is a step too far (Women Bishops, ‘but not at any cost’ says the WATCH advert in the Church Times) can have their concerns properly addressed. The response has been so great and so concentrated that the opportunity for more measured consideration given by an adjournment might be a welcome one.

I’m with the Church Times on this. Last Friday’s editorial said that an adjournment might now be the best way forward, but that the House of Bishops should not be treated as if it had done its homework badly and should do it again until it got it right. I do think that the intention of the amendment was within the nature of the debates we had had so far, and that the reaction has been overcooked, though I’m at pains to say that I understand where the objections come from.

I hope that, in whatever form we discuss it on Friday this week and Monday next week we can let the Bishops know that we need Women Bishops now, that those who cannot accept their ministry (or of those men who ordain or who have been ordained by women) should be treated with grace, and that the ministry of all Bishops is to be seen as equally valid and honoured. It would be awful if it all fell apart next Monday.

Perhaps we need the space that an adjournment would give. But I’d give anything for that not to be the case, and would love to hear from those who have reacted so strongly to the amendment, to see if anything can be done to pass the measure as it stands. Will 4 days talking be enough?

§ 11 Responses to General Synod – What’s a chap to do?

  • twhatmough says:

    As I see it, there is a difference in having an understand about how Bishop’s will deal with dissenters, as in the Flying Bishops provision, and writing these things in law. It is the problem of unintended consequences. The current House of Bishops might be clear about what they intended, but who knows how such a provision might be treated in the future? People have such a variety of theological positions, and it could be that congregations would demand a priest who fitted their theological positions on other matters too.

    I’m not on GS, thank God, nor am I an ecclesiastical lawyer, not even the bar room type, but I think the Bishops should have left well alone, and gone along with the diocesan votes. I don’t think female bishops should have to wait a moment longer, but if they feel it’s flawed, I go along with them.

  • Andrew Spurr says:

    I’m with Tony on this.

    The House of Bishops should have left well alone. More than the two-clause measure, the opposition has been greatly overcooked; 42 out of 44 is as loud and clear as the church gets.

    At some point we have to make a stand, and refuse to legitimise a theology of taint. In addition to this, we need to stop admitting to the ordination process those who will not accept the ministry of women. In 1974 General Synod resolved that there were no theological objections to the ordination of women. Since then, anyone admitted to holy orders knew what they were getting into and cannot now cry foul.

    I would really like to belong to a church which was prepared to make a stand on an important issue of principle, and even wake up to what its Master did, in the face of the spurious purity codes of his day, and follow suit.

  • revpamsmith says:

    The history of women’s ordination in the C of E has been one of suppressing any positive feelings about the gifts women bring, or any joy about our ministry. The first women in my Diocese to be ordained as priests were told not to smile or express any joy when they were ordained as priests because it was an unhappy day for those who opposed their ordination. I wonder if they were the only ones?

    We are all aware of the pain of those who are opposed to women’s ordination, and don’t want to make it worse. But we hear little of the pain of serving in a situation where your orders are constantly in question and you are constantly told you are a problem, not a gift. The underlying feeling for many of us is that if only we had not insisted on being ordained, things would be so much easier for everyone.

    As a church, we have created a hierarchy of pain where those opposed to women’s ordination are respected for the pain they are enduring while those who support it, and ordained women themselves, are assumed to be feeling no pain. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being an ordained woman in a church which is ambivalent about me is a bit like having recurrent toothache. I can ignore it and get on with things, but It’s always there in the background.

    Read some of the reasons people – male and female, lay and ordained – have given for signing the WATCH petition. This is not ‘hysteria’ as some people have labelled it. People believe that the current situation is wrong for all sorts of reasons, and that they need to speak out.

    No doubt the Bishops did believe they were acting from the best of intentions, and that their ‘fine tuning’ would add that little extra something that enabled the measure to pass peacefully through Synod, if not through Parliament. But good intentions are no guarantee of making the right decision..

    And as for the suggestion that the measure, however flawed some people believe it to be, should be voted through so that we get women as bishops and we can then change things – is this really a way that we should be conducting our business, through manipulation?

  • Sorry Jeremy, I disagree completely with your conclusions. The intention of the amendment is to put something in law that is currently in a drafted unapproved code of practice that hasn’t yet been debated or scrutinised by Synod. I think reaction is far from unreasonable and was entirely predictable given that various representative groups (WATCH DARC NADAWM) had made it very clear BEFORE the amendment came before the House of Bishops, that it would be unacceptable?

    Why on earth do we need more time to come to a more measured response? Surely we have all progressed beyond the point of ‘when women say no they really mean yes ? or is that just wishful thinking?

    I think the problem is partly that supporters of WB have been far too reasonable, far too willing to be accommodating up till now and perhaps we should have objected louder and clearer sooner, but we believed the passionately in the importance of ‘graciousness’. Unfortunately, this goes beyond graciousness and demands us to be doormats.

    I don’t think we need time out for more a more ‘measured’ response. I think we need to ensure the measure doesn’t proceed in its current form. I supported the route of a proposed code of practice and voted for this measure at Diocesan Synod. Seeing what we have ended up with now, I regret that decision deeply. This constant insidious casting of suspicion upon the validity of women’s orders whether priestly or episcopal is beyond wearisome. Time for the C of E to either back it’s female clergy unequivocally or stop taking advantage of their commitment and good will.

  • Emma Ineson says:

    Jeremy, this is the most sensible thing I have read on the women bishops debate in recent days. Your thoughts here echo mine. Not all women clergy think the amended measure is as alarming or unworkable as some have said. Like you, I understand the objections, and some people I deeply respect have made them. But my view at the moment is that ARE (whether I like it or agree with them or not, and I don’t) people who do not think women can/should be bishops in the church and that is a fact we have to live with. The question is therefore what we do with that difference of theological conviction and how we provide for their views (distasteful though we may find them). I think this amended legislation could have worked, but the lack of trust that is now arising due, not only to of the contents of the amendments, but reactions to them, mean that an adjournment and further reflection may be needed. What the bishops will do if it is sent back to them is anyone’s guess. I wish we could just got on with voting for it on Monday, but that seems unlikely to happen. What we seem to be singularly bad at is working out how to live with difference in the church. As a General Synod member I am not very much looking forward to this weekend – and ask people please to pray for wisdom and grace for us as we make decisions (or not).

  • Rosalind says:

    It would be lovely to believe that once we have women bishops things will change – but experience at institutional level says otherwise if there is any wriggle room left at all for those who do not believe that they are priest, let along bishops. In parishes women are accepted and can have a valued ministry – then, depending on their diocese – they are accepted or ignored or undermined at diocesan level. There are too many stories of this for it to be written off as one or two people who don’t know how to treat others with respect – but on the whole such stories have been held privately, praying for grace and reconciliation.

    The Act of Synod passed for exactly the reasons you describe and proved to be a means of undermining the full ministry of women because the way PEVs were used (not the way speakers in the 1993 debates described their ministry which was more limited) and so a church within a church developed along with the practice of taint (ie even a man who has ordained women cannot ordain validly). This then means that the church ordains women – and then says it is theologically OK to believe that they are not ordained and this view point must be protected even though it is against Canon Law. ,The same would apply to a woman who became a bishop but even more so. Everyone knows that under the unamended legislation bishops would all have done their best to link a parish requesting oversight from a male bishop would also be consulted about the bishops who give s this oversight – or certainly any woman bishop would do this because this is what all the women who might conceivably be bishops have been arguing for for years. (A side issue is that delegated oversight, which Fif and Reform have argued against so much, makes it much easier to provide oversight from bishops who can work with parishes than transferred oversight would have done.) Experience over the past 20 years says that if the laws we pass have any possilbility at all of arguing that women are not truly ordained that possiblity will be taken and not challenged (despite Canon A4) and the ministry of all all women (yes, I mean that) will continue to be undermined. This is what all nearly all the comments on the petition are saying in different ways – this is how nearly every single ordained woman feels, not just one or two. Women are not trying to force anyone out – but for the institution itself to allow there to be opposite views on who is ordained is destructive double-think. (though we know that there will continue to be individuals who believe this – individual conscience cannot be legislated about but what the institution says can be)

    But then look at how the views of women have been treated over the last few years. In 2008 Women deans , archdeacons etc wrote a letter to the HoB signed by over 1000 other women, asking for a single Clause measure for exactly the reasons above, They repeated this in May 2009,saying the same thing with the same arguments. This year before the HoB met, women wrote to their bishops saying exactly the same – but this was once again ignored.. – and now there is surprise that we are still saying the same. The conclusion I draw from this is that if a woman were to become a bishop under the amended legislation she would not be supported by the rest of the bishops when the first challenge came to her authority, but would once again be told to be gracious and give in.

  • Imagine a situation where black people were allowed to become women bishops, but some parishes could request that only a bishop who had no truck with black women clergy could minister to them. Yes, such positions (and worse of course) have been justified on theological grounds, from the Bible. by the Dutch Reformed Church. And church racism was not confined to South Africa. Black Anglicans have told me tales of being turned away from or made to feel very unwelcome in Anglican churches in England in the not-too-distant past.

  • Angus Goudie says:

    We all do need your prayers for General Synod. Like Jeremy I find folk I really repect on different sides of the church being very hurt about this, and its hard to see how that can be otherwise. when I first read the amendments, one looked really helpful (difference between delegation and the source of authority) and the other seemed to be merely clarifying that due care would be taken in the setting up of local schemes to be sensitive to peoples fears and limitations. St Paul talked of not offending the weaker brother in the matter of eating food, and special days. I suppose for each side those of the opposite position are the weaker brother.
    My main prayer for Synod is that God may give us a readiness to see the other as our brother (or sister) in the Lord, and show love and grace to them. The watching world will not understand if we become ever more polarised and party spirit drives out love.

  • Hi Jeremy. I sympathize with your dilemma. First, let me say that we’ll all be praying for you at GS and we know that you will all have to do some quick thinking. I know that you will do what seems the best you can in the circs, and thank you for that.

    I don’t want to see this amendment passed becasue I think it carries forward, albeit in a slightly different form, the effects of the Act of Synod. Instead of dealing with the issue of the church’s ability to accept women in all orders, it perpetuates a situation where members of the church can reject women who are ordained. I believe that if we have a few women bishops in the HoB under these circs, the HoB will be a focus for disunity and continual argument. I also think it will constrain the women bishops and make it hard for them to be effective in their ministry, but that is not my main concern.

    I don’t want to see this amendment passed because it asks the parliament of this country to enshrine in law discriminiation against women. I feel ashamed to belong to a church that does this. I also sense a growing mood amongst MPs and peers to say that they will not collude and may send the thing back to Synod.

    I do not want to see Synod pass the legislation with this amendment because it shows a disregard for the 42 diocesan synods that thought they were agreeing to the Measure without amendment. Only 10 dioceses asked for more ‘protection’ for those opposed and in most dioceses this was not by a large majority. The General Synod and bishops are beginning to lose the trust of the wider church.

    I do not want to see this amendment passed because it is not part of Anglican ecclesiology to allow people to ask for a different bishop because they don’t agree with that bishop’s theological stance. If we set this precedent, what will come next ? Parishes who don’t agree with the marriage of gay people requesting bishops who have not been ordained by people who have officiated at such marriages? This will bring down the unity of the church – it is the thin end of the wedge leading to chaos.

    • Thanks Janet. I agree…but I don’t think we can get there from where we are. You argue effectively for a one clause measure – and if bringing back such a thing is the consequence of this, then fair enough, but it’s not where we’ve been for the last few years.
      Also – it does discriminate against men too, as the Act of Synod has done for 18 years. I agree that I’d like this to change, but am not sure whether this Measure can do it overnight…but I get the point. Just about to blog on that very issue.

  • A lot has been said about the hurt that women priests feel about their ordinations not being held as valid. Whilst I sympathise, indeed I am fully in favour of women bishops, I wonder if in all this the hurt of those of a conservative evangelical persuasion have been forgotten.
    I was reading the blog of John Richardson (The Ugley Vicar blog) the other day and he made the point that there are no diocesan bishops of a conservative evangelical conviction in the CofE. And the only suffrogen of such a leaning is retiring this year. Can you imagine how this particular wing of the church feels about their views being understood and respected, particularly in the light of some of the less gracious comments in the twittersphere and blogosphere from those in favour of women bishops during this whole process?
    I say again, I am totally in favour of women bishops. However I do feel that unless something is “set in stone” for those against the ordination of women and/or women bishops they will always be looking over their shoulder as the rest of the church continues to move away from them and their once promised “honoured place” that the Act of Synod gave them becomes a corner in a broom cupboard where they are ignored as an irrelevance by the majority.
    That is not a loving way forward in my book.
    More of my view here:

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