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?


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)

Women Bishops – What I think I think

June 16, 2012 § 9 Comments

There’s a convention in cricket reporting that goes something like this. At the end of a day where there was great progress by the batsmen followed by a clatter of wickets at the end, the summariser will say: ‘if you’d told the captain at the start of play that England would be 300 – 6 he’d have probably accepted it quite happily’.

If you’d told supporters of women bishops in 2009 (when this measure started its progress) that in July 2012 we’d be looking at the current legislation, would they have been happy with it? There is no ‘coordinate jurisdiction’, no ‘society model’, no spelling out of matters of lineage or sacramental assurance. There is a requirement for all parishes to acknowledge that the diocesan bishop has the legal authority to delegate that ministry to another bishop, and a requirement that a parish wanting alternative ministry should receive that only according to their expressed theological convictions about the ordination of women.

None of what is in the legislation before General Synod in July changes the situation on the ground with regard to the provision of ministry to and within parishes which object to the ordination of women. We have lived with this division since the Act of Synod in the 1990s made provision for parishes to ask for another bishop. But the amendment made by the House of Bishops clarifying that a ‘requesting’ parish should be offered a bishop in line with the ‘theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women’ expressed by the parish has lit the blue touch paper, and I’ve been taken by surprise by this. « Read the rest of this entry »

So where are we on Women Bishops?

March 6, 2012 § 6 Comments

March 2012 finds us waiting and wondering. The February Synod is past, the House of Bishops meets in May, and the final votes on all of this take place in July inYork. After the debates last month I think I’m hopeful. But I’m worried too. There is more than one knife edge on which we are balanced. 

I’m hopeful because I think those who are looking for safeguards can find them in the Measure and its Code of Practice. I’m worried because those same people don’t seem to think so, and in February pinned their hopes on something – legislation rather than code and ‘coordinate jurisdiction’ rather than delegation – which I don’t think would do what they think it would. And I’m worried that those who are actively for the Measure are being polarised the other way, and that language about ‘discrimination’ just enflames things. It’s quite possible that a nudge towards the opposers might not be enough for them but too much for the supporters, and elements of both could vote against – the nightmare scenario. 

On balance I’m on the hopeful side. Here’s why. 

We were assured more than once in Synod that the combination of a Measure and a Code is much stronger than an Act. It’s all about language and perception. Just because there is a measure and a code doesn’t mean that they can be changed on a whim, and all Bishops will be bound by them. Just because it’s a Code doesn’t mean it can be disregarded like some ‘codes’ (eg the Press) people know about. The fact that each diocese will have an individual Scheme which enacts the Code and Measure code doesn’t mean that they will be radically different from each other, but rather that these things will be worked out locally and appropriately. A bishop will be a bishop, and it is structure rather than quality which will be different locally – just as it is now. Some dioceses (like my own) have no need of ‘flying’ bishops, some do.

 But those opposed are worried that the seemingly ‘softer’ language of Code, Scheme and Measure meanthat provision for them will not be robust. I don’t think this is so, but it’s hard to prove.

 It was very good to have an illustrative Code of Practice to help the February debates. Before it was released traditionalists could wave a blank piece of paper around and say that they could not trust something they knew nothing about (and one of my friends did just that). The only way they could be safeguarded was by law. Specifically they had to have what the Archbishops proposed in 2010 – ‘coordinate jurisdiction’. How, they said, could an objecting parish guarantee that they would be looked after by a bishop they could trust? How could they receive the ministry of a bishop ‘delegated’ by a diocesan whose orders were in doubt? Hence the desire to have a bishop whose authority came via the Measure, and not directly from the Diocesan Bishop, so their jurisdiction would be coordinate rather than delegated.

 In the debates, and since, traditionalists made it clear that to vote against coordinate jurisdiction was to vote against their place in the C of E. I couldn’t see how this worked, for a number of reasons. Even with CJ the Diocesan Bishop is the Diocesan Bishop, losing none of their powers. If CJ is required because of doubt about the orders of the Diocesan, how could a ‘safe’ bishop’ share his ministry with them, and how could a parish accept that their diocesan was indeed their diocesan? In the debate we were given various examples of CJ – Cyprian in the third century, the Archbishops ofCanterburyandYork. Archbishop Sentamu even said that Diocesans are suffragan bishops of the metropolitan bishop. But every example quoted  depended on mutual recognition of orders – indeed they need such recognition to work. The version of CJ being asked for depended on orders being publicly shown to be in doubt. 

My other concern was that CJ was only about legal delegation. The Code and Measure make clear that a parish making the right kind of request will receive an appropriate Episcopal ministry. The Diocesan Bishop is legally bound to enable this, and will remain the diocesan. I could not see that the Diocesan Bishop could be separated from their legal role in enabling ministry across their diocese. People asking for CJ were asking for the Diocesan to be divested of powers which are only legal, not sacramentally Episcopal. 

In the House of Bishops introduction to the Code of Practice, and in a speech in the debates, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan offered a distinction between the derivation of episcopal authority and the delegation of episcopal powers. A bishop delegated by a ‘doubtful’ diocesan bishop does not have their ministry ‘tainted’ or called into question. What ever the nature of the orders of a ‘doubtful’ bishop they are legally the diocesan, and even CJ accepts this. Therefore they have the legal ability to delegate episcopal ministry. 

Synod, in rejecting a call to ask the House of Bishops for CJ seemed to accept this. If the House were to give us something slightly more developed about this I think it could work. That’s my hope. My worry is that the language is so polarised that the nuances of this are lost behind ‘delegation bad – CJ good’. I don’t think CJ worked theologically anyway, and as such it became a bit of a fig leaf. But for some it’s a secure fig leaf, and the stronger garments of skin with which God replaced the fig leaves don’t look good to some. To accept delegation is not to have to accept sacramental orders, only legal power. But it doesn’t sound like that. 

In his speech the Archbishop of Canterbury also indicated that there was a genuine concern that the Measure and Code were not clear enough about the theological nature of objections to women bishops (and to those bishops who had themselves been ordained by women or who ordained women), and were not clear about what sort of male bishops were able to be offered to traditionalists. I hope that the House of Bishops will be able to make things clearer. It is not just about male and female, and there will be male bishops who are objected to as well as female ones. Some further delineation of the theological matters under question would be good. And if that flushes out some underlying beliefs about ‘sacramental assurance’ and the ‘pedigree’ of ordained ministers then so much the better.

 So: I think February’s debates have moved us on. The House of Bishops gave us some words about delegation and derivation which should preserve the consciences of those who cannot accept the ministry of women as bishops, or of men who ordain or have been ordained by women. Coordinate jurisdiction was, I think, a blind alley, and a Code which makes very clear how a diocesan can be a diocesan and joyfully enable the ministry of a bishop acceptable to certain parishes without compromising that ministry sacramentally will be a welcome step forward. That Code is very nearly in existence.

That’s the hope. The worry is that caricaturing on both sides will continue. And, though the figures have consistently shown a majority way in excess of 2/3 in favour, the composition of the Synod is such that it could be very tight in July. So we’ll need to listen to each other. I just hope we listen to what’s underneath the words, and not set up false oppositions, and fig leaves which blow off in the wind. 

The only body which can propose amendments to the Measure is the House of Bishops. The debates in February were a way of influencing their debate. Synod, reasonably conclusively, asked for more of the same, not a revision in favour of CJ. What the House can do is flesh out sections of the Code and give us a commentary to show how this works theologically. They can also demonstrate how a Measure, Code and Scheme are robust, binding and long-lasting, so that it is not just objectors now but in the future who are guaranteed their ‘honoured place’. If they get this right then we will be able to enact what everyone says we want: to move on, together, and do some mission. Amen to that.

General Synod Report Feb 2012

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Synod members report to their Deaneries. Here’s what I’ve written for mine:

There is now a variety of ways of finding out what General Synod debates and decides. Via the Church of England website you can listen to the debates as they happen, and there’s a record of business done at the end of each day. All the Synod’s papers are made available too, so as long as you can get an internet connection you can hear and read everything that the Synod does. The easiest way is to type ‘General Synod’ into Google, but the exact address is

When I stood for election I promised to do a blog, as live as I could make it. It’s impossible to be in every debate, but I try to update people about what’s happening, as it happens, and you get some of my comments too. When Synod is on have a look at , or just type ‘Jeremy Fletcher’s Blog’ into Google. I put other things on it as well.

So…there’s not as much of a need to do a detailed report to Deanery Synods as there was – you have the tools to find things out yourselves, and many of you do. Edited highlights then follow.

Question Time is a good way of taking Synod’s temperature, and there was great anger about a reorganisation of the Education Staff, replacing two officers who cover children and youth with one officer with a different title. Doesn’t look good, even if the reorganisation might bear some fruit.

There was debate about Women Bishops on three days. Much of this was technical stuff, to make sure that the legislation fits in with other parts of church law and the Canons. The substantial debate was about the ‘Manchester’ motion. Dioceses had voted overwhelmingly to accept the Women Bishops Measure, but some had passed another motion to invite the House of Bishops to change it a bit – mainly to enable a Bishop ministering to a parish unable to receive the ministry of a woman (or certain men) to be enabled to do this by law and not by delegation from the Diocesan Bishop – so-called ‘coordinate jurisdiction’.

All the Synod could do was to send a message to the House of Bishops – we could not tie the Bishops’ hands. In the end we narrowly agreed not to ask for coordinate jurisdiction, but to ask the Bishops to take what they had heard and find a way of assuring the objectors to Women Bishops that their place in the Church of England is secure. I remain hopeful that this will happen, but the final vote in July may well be very close.

We’d made a mess of Parochial Fees last summer. We came to an agreement this time. Wedding fees (the statutory ones) will go up substantially (but will still be the cheapest part of most celebrations), and we made sure that burial fees (which were going to be reduced substantially) were at least the same as they are now. The new way of doing fees means that they can be set well in advance, so we did 2013 and 2014 as well.

We had a debate about Assisted Dying (after a report by an ‘Independent’ Commission which was almost completely positive about it), and affirmed the value of life and the key role of palliative medicine. We heard about the situation in Nigeria, tidied up the Clergy Discipline Measure and the funding of the Diocese in Europe, wondered whether a Deacon could be an Archdeacon (we said no), and heard about a new body to coordinate and support development and relief across the Anglican world – the Anglican Alliance for Relief, Development and Advocacy.

Government changes to Higher Education Funding have had a devastating effect on ordination training, mainly due to academic institutions charging ordination trainers higher fees to validate courses. Moves are being made to reduce the number of institutions which do this validation – indeed looking for one single validating body. This will be complicated. We also discussed the reform of the House of Lords (not that we can affect very much at this stage), and the church’s role in Health Care Chaplaincy.

It was a busy time, as ever. We meet again in July, and though there will be lots of other things to discuss, it will be Women Bishops which will be the focus. Your prayers please!

General Synod Thurs 9 February

February 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Morning lovelies. Less media interest on us today, obviously, but some important stuff. We’re talking about Additional Eucharistic Prayers for use when children are present. All the speeches have been wildly positive – and those of us in the Liturgical world will remember that there have been calls for this kind of material for twenty or thirty years.

The only issue will be now be whether those who want to make further detailed changes will do so using the clunky ‘recommittal’ process. Hope not.

And we didn’t…and the Prayers will go to the House of Bishops. The point I liked in the debate was that others apart from children might benefit from the prayers – like the deaf community, and I hope the House of Bishops will listen carefully to that and perhaps change the Note at the front to reflect it.

I’ve come out for coffee, so am missing some legal business which relates to Women Bishops but does not, I hope, affect the substance of the debate.

« Read the rest of this entry »

General Synod February 8 2012

February 8, 2012 § 6 Comments

Good morning all. I left you abruptly yesterday, so you didn’t hear about the debates and discussions I myself missed. Synod rejected a call from the Diocese of Chichester that a Deacon could become an Archdeacon, and heard about a new way of the Anglican Communion being involved in matters of relief and development – a body called the Anglican Alliance for Relief, Development and Advocacy.

I was however present at the service at Westminster Abbey which expressed repentance for the expulsion of presbyterians in 1662 (which led ultimately to the formation of what is now the United Reformed Church), and hope for continued closer working between our denominations. It was well done and spoke much. I was also sitting right underneath a pulpit in the Nave which is said to have been occupied by Cranmer. Special indeed.

Today Synod has worshipped together in Communion (with the theme of Seeking Guidance from the Holy Spirit and with a fabulous reflection from the Archbishop of Canterbury about seeking God’s future, not our own), and heard from the Bishop of Durham about the  situation in Nigeria.

Nick Baines has blogged profoundly about Nigeria here – Im sorry I wasn’t present.

« Read the rest of this entry »

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