Women Bishops – After Tuesday

November 21, 2012 § 29 Comments

I’ll make this personal. I get pre-Synod depression. A day or so before a group of sessions I would rather I was not going. This is mainly because I’ve left it too late to sort out all the other stuff before leaving for London or York. It was no different on Sunday. In the middle of it I started to wonder what I would do if the vote went against women bishops this time. Resignation from the Synod and concentration on the day job seemed the best option.

It’s early on Wednesday morning as I type. After the vote last night I didn’t talk to too many people, and only looked at social media a bit. We will all need to help each other this morning. But here’s where I am.

I have an Associate Vicar and two curates. All women. I am Rural Dean of Beverley, which has a majority of female incumbents and retired clergy. It is only a tiny minority of clergy who will become a bishop…and they need their head examining if they aspire to be one. I’ve worked in a bishop’s office. You don’t want to be one. But this vote pats ordained women on the head and says ‘there there. You’re good for some stuff and not others. Leave it to the men.’ I will affirm, and help, and pray, and mentor and serve and everything else. But, for some years to come there are places I can go that my female colleagues can’t, and that is very bad, and I can’t say any more. Feelings are feelings, but God I feel awful.

Archbishop Rowan said in the debate that if conscience demanded a ‘no’ vote then so be it. The measure was about how different consciences might be accommodated in the same church. I tweeted during the afternoon yesterday that the vote might be swung by people who were for women bishops but who didn’t feel the Measure helped those against. At least two people made such speeches. Well, anyone who voted that way bears a heavy responsibility.

Time after time yesterday bishops said that even if the ‘provisions’ were flawed they would and could be made to work. It is hard to see how a ‘no’ vote works in any shape or form, and those who voted ‘no’ even though they wanted ‘yes’ better have a fabulous solution to hand. Our votes will be made public. I look forward to hearing people’s justification – especially the laity who did not declare their allegiances when they were elected, and especially from those who were ‘for’ yet voted ‘no’. Expect the laity elections in 2015 to be hotly contested. We sleepwalked into this.

I tweeted yesterday that the great majority in the chamber would vote yes – it turned out to be 72%. Yet the speech count was 50-50. That was a superb example of the majority caring for the minority (I called it ‘grace in action’), and Archbishop Sentamu’s chairmanship was exemplary. But I wonder whether it made the ‘no’ arguments weightier for the waverers. There’s probably no other way to do it, but can you have too much balance?

What now? I can’t see much beyond this morning, but…

I’m not going to go on about the procedures and the numbers. I was one of the clergy who voted down ‘coordinate jurisdiction’ two years ago even though a majority was in favour. That’s how it works, and we all knew that the house of laity would be the key.

Many ‘traditionalists’ will be as devastated as me. There is no pleasure in this. But now the ball is in their court. Synod has listened and said: ‘Go on then. You had a point. Give us a solution that will work for the 72% who wanted this’. In doing so they must remember that every option they offered before was tried and found wanting. They need to tell us loud and clear what will really work for us, and tell us that it starts with trust not law. They need to recognise this morning’s devastation, put themselves in our shoes, and talk about what we need, not just about what they need. Synod has ‘preferred’ them. They now need to ‘prefer’ us.

Those who were ‘for’ but voted ‘no’ need urgently to tell us how the church is better for this, and what solutions they will offer. Synod has given them a key platform. They should use it well.

Those for women bishops will be tempted to say: ‘Stuff this. We tried like stink to accommodate traditionalists and look what happened. Let’s just go for a ‘single clause measure’. It is so attractive now to make no provision for those who cannot accept women’s ministry. I’m tempted myself. But… I’m still convinced that provision needs to be made. We who are shattered this morning must not lash out, but take counsel, be restored, regroup, work to make it better. And the majority in the church want it to be better together. That’s what we voted for.

I said this was personal. Last night I agreed with my pre-Synod self. Resignation from the Synod was an overwhelming option. This morning it remains, but there are other considerations. Diocesan bishops can’t resign from Synod, and they need support. More deeply there is this. As a student many of my friends found the option of forming a brand new church attractive, because the established ones weren’t getting it right. I experienced a strong call then to stay, and to ‘renew the institution’. I’ll have to ponder, and see whether staying on Synod is a good way to do this.

It might be that just getting my parish and deanery ministry right is the best way to make the Church of England work, since Synod has so comprehensively fouled things up. But feeling this bad about what has happened is beginning to fuel a determination not to feel this bad again, and to do everything I can to make it right as quickly as possible. Some people need to commit themselves now to the hard yards of prayer and committee work to come up with something better. I’m not clever enough to make any real difference. But I feel so bad this morning that a lot of me wants to make the commitment to support the people who are cleverer than me and who can do it – and to do that from the inside.

After Tuesday comes Wednesday. Devastation. Solidarity. Hope. A better future. We need each other. I think I’m staying.

Sorry. Thank you for listening.

PS: I spent June in Israel. There is bigger stuff going on in the world I know.

§ 29 Responses to Women Bishops – After Tuesday

  • Please, please, whatever else you do, don’t resign!
    May I commend to you Elizabeth Longford’s seminal remark when asked if she had ever considered divorcing her (tiresome) husband, Lord Longford.
    “Murder? often! Divorce? Never!”
    There are times when we could all cheerfully wring the collective neck of General Synod. But you can’t walk away, you know you can’t…

  • Thank you for your blog today.

  • As a member of the Anglican Communion across The Pond, where we have wrestled with this issue and come to a (generally reasonable) solution, I will continue to pray for wisdom and healing for my sisters and brothers in Christ’s love in the UK and around the world. Peace be with all of you.

  • Paul Seymour says:

    God bless you brother, thanks for serving our church. I pray Gods peace on you

  • The path is stony, narrow and overgrown right now, but keep walking. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time. For people walking the way will make it wider, and smoother, and eventually it will become a highway.

  • Crispin Pemberton says:

    Wise and loving words, Jeremy. The Church needs more like you on Synod, not fewer.

  • Ian MacKarill says:

    Yes Jeremy you encompass some of my feelings this morning. I too feel the urge to resign, kind of pointless, as one new to full time minsitry. But I know I have felt this before in the Church of England, a church I have been part of for over 40 years, yet in the past has thrown me into confusion and rejection; it is probably why it took me so long to offer myself for ordained ministry. But above all it is a church that can listen and deal with these issues, it is also a church that can deal with my tantrums and disbelief and still let me be part of it.

    I awoke this morning with an empty and soulless feeling, I took up Morning Prayer and read ” The night has passed the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind…”

  • Susie Sanders Collingridge says:

    Thanks for this, Jerry. Be of good courage x

  • Stephen Waters says:

    Thanks for your honesty, I just don’t know what to do both my wife and I are retired priests, we have no vote, no voice and it seems very little place in a church that can treat women in this way. please hang on in there.

  • speedwell says:

    Last time I experienced students starting a new church in the 70’s, it was as an offshoot of St Michael le Belfrey, York. They disapproved that Ann Watson should be among the group of Elders making key decisions in the church – because she was a woman! Not all offshoots are progressive – hey ho!

  • Alison Edmonds says:

    I’m so sorry Jeremy, and for all my other ordained friends, male and female.
    I understand the devastation of losing when winning was right, and I hope and pray for a better solution for our Church one day.

    I’m glad you’re staying, we SO need people like you.

  • Carol says:

    Excellent Blog – thank you so much. My prayers are with you all.

  • Please don’t resign from synod.
    I voted for you and I expect you to keep on working towards renewing the CofE from the inside. You are articulate and good at communicating – exactly what synod and the wider Church needs.

  • John Walker says:

    Thank you Jeremy for your honesty and openness in sharing your post vote reflections. May I encourage you to stay in the ‘fray’ – we need you and others like you to continue to work for an equitable outcome. The best is yet to be :0)

  • Clive Billenness says:

    Jeremy, many feel the same pain as you. I sat down last night and considered resigning as Churchwarden for the same reasons, but in the light of day, I have realised that if members of the majority resign because of the actions of a minority, then the majority could reduce and the minority’s voice becomes disproportionately louder.
    It is apparent that in some cases the Synod reps do not represent the wishes of their parishes, and in some cases misled the electorate about their voting intentions when seeking election.
    We need to begin to focus on the 2015 GS elections, to ensure that parishes elect Deanery Synod representatives who truly represent their wishes so that they can elect House of Laity candidates who truly support this principle.
    How can we ensure that we elect GS reps who will not weasel out of support as in one case I know of where a GS rep said “I know I said I supported the appointment of women as bishops but this is conditional as follows……” and clearly had no intention of supporting the motion at this Synod.
    I think the only way is for candidates seeking election to make a standard declaration on their candidate details that “I pledge to support the Archbishop of Canterbury in any proposals that he brings to General Synod relating to the appointment of women as bishops and to vote as he recommends”.
    For now, one Tweeter said after the vote “I shall give a bar of chocolate to every woman priest I know as a gesture of love and support”. I agree. I’m off to the sweet shop this week to buy some bars and it WILL be Fairtrade Chocolate.
    For now, have some chocolate.

  • Alison Fisher says:

    Really helpful – thank you

  • Julian Heaton says:

    Thanks. Wise words. About to chair our deanery chapter

  • Marian Free says:

    In 2004 a similar motion in Australia failed by six votes in the house of clergy. I well remember the feelings of devastation and hopelessness, the sense of abandonment.
    While I agree that it is important to stay, it is equally important to free people to leave – otherwise we run the risk of not truly acknowledging their pain and allowing them the choice to go if it is too painful to stay.

  • Revsimmy says:

    Don’t go. Just don’t.

  • Excellent blog. As a Congregational Minister looking on I felt a certain amount of detachment from this issue. But when one part of Christ’s body suffer we all suffer and my heartfelt prayers are with all in the Anglican communion today. Let us grow in grace and peace and joy together.

  • colum paget says:

    I don’t agree with the synod’s decision, though as I’m not a believer myself (and was brought up catholic) I don’t really have a horse in the race. But I have to pick you up on one thing you said:

    I tweeted yesterday that the great majority in the chamber would vote yes – it turned out to be 72%. Yet the speech count was 50-50. That was a superb example of the majority caring for the minority (I called it ‘grace in action’),

    I’d call this democracy, rather than ‘grace in action’ which implies it was some form of special dispensation which can be given or taken away. The synod was being asked to choose between two competing arguments, and those arguments should be given equal time. I wouldn’t matter if the split was 99% to 1%, the 1% argument should be given equal time to try and sway the majority. Otherwise you don’t need the speeches at all, as if you give time based on the number of followers, the dominant argument will be presented more thoroughly and will always seem better. If you don’t give equal time, then you might as well dispense with the speeches and just go straight into a vote on the basis of what people think when they enter the room. The whole point of the speeches is to lay out opposing viewpoints equally and fairly, enabling people to see the arguments on both sides.

    It’s always disappointing when people make the wrong decisions (from our viewpoint) and I’m in agreement with you that I feel the synod have done so here. However if we believe in democratic systems then we have to accept the result, and not fall back into any form of saying that holding a democratic consultation was a mistake because we didn’t get the result we wanted (we’ve seen a lot of this recently in the US elections).

    At the end of the day the argument for women bishops is one that has time on its side. One day a yes vote will occur, and when it does it will be forever (these things are rarely taken away once established!). The CofE is already light-years ahead of many other denominations in terms of gender equality, and I suspect it will have women bishops before most of the others. This is a bump on the road, but it’s not the end of the road.


  • […] You can see what the Archbishop said here. There’s a very thoughful blog post from Jeremy Fletcher written overnight here. […]

  • Allan Reeder says:

    There’s leaving,… and there’s leaving. When the national level (or even diocesan) proves itself to be irrelevant, then make the most of the local.

  • A bit more than a bump in the road, I think. Let’s pray that something can be built from the ruins. But ruins there will be. I hope others can understand anger as a valid response …

  • thankyou for sharing this amazing and heartfelt blog, which I read with sadness but courage in my heart. Do stay, and that still small voice of calm will help you, me and us all through the next bit

  • Thank you. This is one of the few things that has made me feel better in some way. I guess just because you are sharing my feelings. I don’t actually believe that the vote was lost because of people who wanted a ‘yes’ but voted ‘no’ out of sympathy for others. As you say, only two such people have identified themselves, and I’m afraid I’m rather sceptical about them. Even with this in mind, the vote was still lost.

    I suspect the root of the issue was in 2010, when Simon Killwick and Rod Thomas proudly announced that the result of the synod elections meant they had achieved a blocking minority. They claimed to have achieved 77 votes in the House of Laity. Not bad – just three out in the end.

  • cmstaylor says:

    Thank you. Of everything I have read today I think this comes closest to articulating my confusion, sadness and disappointment. God bless.

  • Well. You’re all very kind. Thank you so much.
    There is work to do. Let’s get on with it. But I must go to sleep first.

  • Thank you…Couldn’t access this on my phone on retreat but people kept telling me how much it had helped. Tonight I understand why…

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