Jeremy Fletcher's Blog

Women Bishops – After Tuesday

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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.

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