Jeremy Fletcher's Blog

Before the House of Bishops

Advertisements

The House of Bishops meets this week to talk about the women bishops legislation. Last time they did this they made an amendment which was contentious when they thought it wouldn’t be, and the Synod invited them to think again.

This time there has been a huge degree of transparency, with options published in a paper, and responses invited from anyone who cared to write in.

I have a view, and contributed it as invited, but rather than publicly adding it to the overburdened and overloaded thoughts and prayers of the House of Bishops, I want to take a step back. I want to anticipate what I will do with what they decide, whatever it is.

It seems to me that the wording of clause 5 (which is what this debate has become focussed upon) cannot ever contain the different ways in which our practice will develop in the future.

So last night I asked myself a couple of questions. In November do I want to be part of a Church of England which fails to pass legislation enabling the consecration of women bishops? No, I do not.

Do I believe that the Church of England, if it does pass that legislation, can develop the means to enact it so that those with different views on the matter can work together in mission? Yes, I do.

That means that, as far as I can tell at the moment, I will accept what the Bishops bring to the Synod, and vote for the legislation as they present it – whatever option they give us. I will do this because I think it is within the capabilities of the Church of England to work out its practice with grace and generosity. I will do this because I think people of good will, on both sides of the debate, can and will determine to make it work. I will do this because I believe that there is nothing in what is or is likely to be proposed which can prevent that, if we are determined to make it happen.

The legislation has more than one clause. That is because there are people in the Church of England who cannot, in all conscience, accept the ministry of a woman as priest or bishop. I sat next to such a person for seven years in York Minster, and he is now to be Bishop of Beverley. The reason I am thrilled about Glyn’s appointment is that he holds those views with deep integrity and great grace, and aims to work for rather than against people. He is the embodiment of why I think that, with such grace, we can make this work.

The tweaking of clause 5 will not make views against the ordination of women disappear. What will mitigate the effect of our differences is not a perfect wording, because I don’t think that such a thing exists. What will save us is a determination to work this out with best practice, accepting each other’s differences even if we think they have no logical or theological validity. That, it seems to me, is the practice of the Church of England, and what makes us the denomination I love.

So, I’m determined – at the moment – to accept what the Bishops bring.  There are, of course, some options which I think will help us more than others. After all the consultation, they should be able to see that. They have hard work to do, and they will be prayed for. But, after votes in Synod and Parliament, the real hard work will begin. And I believe we have what it will take for that work to succeed.

Advertisements