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.

Women Bishops – The Next Step

November 12, 2011 § 5 Comments

York Diocese voted on the Women Bishops Measure today. Each House was in favour (Bishops 3/2, Clergy 25/14, Laity 42/8). We also voted on a ‘following motion’: to ask General Synod to ask the House of Bishops to amend the Measure ‘in the manner proposed by the Archbishops ofCanterburyandYork.’ We passed this by 62 – 24, with 6 abstentions.

I spoke against the following motion. I had voted against it at General Synod, have discussed it widely, and listened carefully. It was always going to be interesting speaking against it in a Diocesan Synod which values an Archbishop who spoke strongly for it. But the contrary arguments needed to be put. It looks like General Synod will have another look at the following motion in February, and I need to listen some more, so here’s where I think I am.

People who are against the consecration of women as bishops need the assurance that appropriate Episcopal ministry will be guaranteed to them. This ministry must come with ‘sacramental assurance’ (i.e. that the hands laid on the bishop in question at their ordinations as priest and bishop were themselves in the historic tradition, and that said bishop has not done anything to compromise this). The wording in the Measure simply speaks about a ‘male’ bishop, and it’s obviously not about gender alone. However, no scheme is going to offer an unacceptable bishop, and I don’t think this argument alone is enough to demand a change in the Measure.

Opponents also dislike the use of the words ‘Letter of Request’ when asking for such Episcopal provision. But there are letters and letters, and these ones have the force of law. So no need for change there either. « Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Church of England a Coffee Chain?

November 10, 2010 § 7 Comments

Bishop Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, is one of the ‘flying’ Bishops who has announced his resignation and intention to become a Roman Catholic and join the ordinariate. I wish him well: he has been a formative influence on me from the moment, 22 years ago, that we evangelical theological students at St John’s Nottingham had to go and learn what would happen if we were to say Mass at a neighbouring anglo catholic parish and he taught me how to genuflect. We shared ministry in Southwell Diocese. We debated Prayer and the Departed for Praxis once. We had time together on the Liturgical Commission, particularly on the Daily Office Group. I’m glad that he’s one of the ‘authors’ who signed my Common Worship book at the end of the Commission’s work on it. His is a decision I fully respect. His Pastoral Letter is here.

He’s being quoted this week as to some of his reasons for going, and it’s this I want to think about. He’s worried that there are too many versions of the C of E, and likens it to retail chains which need to preserve their brand image. He says (to the Telegraph)

If Costa Coffee, every time you went to a branch, did something different and you didn’t know what the product was, they would go out of business.
We have got to the stage now in the Church of England where there are so many different products that you don’t know what you’re going to get.

The interview seems to suggest that it’s flavours of worship which are assumed here, though it alaso mentions the fact that some churches will have women priests and some won’t. Well…if it’s about worship style then we are in no different a position now than we were years ago – right back to the 1870s when permission was given to do other services as well as the classic BCP ones, and even before that when some started getting ‘high’ under the influence of the Oxford Movement. It would have been very hard, a century ago, to say that the C of E was as unified in its ‘product’ as Costa is now. The Liturgical Commission of which Andrew and I were members made quite a lot of the fact that our worship was not uniform, but had ‘family likeness’. Some of us think it’s a strength.

If diversity is a problem, then I wonder what the effect of the Ordinariate will be on the Roman Catholic Church. Take the home life of priests for example. There are already some Roman Catholic priests who are married – those who have converted from the C of E, for example (of whom my ecumenical colleague in Beverley is one). But there will be loads more in the ordinariate, Andrew among them Have a look here at an amazingly powerful RC view of what this influx might do to the standing of the celibate priesthood they are joining.The ex anglicans in the ordinariate will be straining at the uniformity of the way priesthood is practised inthe RC church, won’t they?

And what about uniformity of worship? What can a faithful RC worshipper expect when they go to an ordinariate church? Here’s the relevant bit of Anglicanorum Coetibus, helpfully provided by the excellent St John’s Sevenoaks Blog:

II. Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

In other words, Anglican liturgies (suitably tweaked and approved) will be OK. Won’t this mean that an RC, looking for their familiar product, will find it a bit changed? A Common Worship Eucharist with a priest whose wife and children may well be in tow doesn’t do much for the uniformity of the chain.

I’m sure that Bishop Andrew’s thinking is a lot more subtle than that: I have personal cause to be grateful for his fine mind and pastoral generosity. And I wish him nothing but good things. But I think that the diversity of the C of E is one of our strengths, and I’m not sure that the kind of uniformity Andrew seems to be arguing for is as good as it’s cracked up to be. If it is, then an influx of anglicans doing anglican stuff in the RC fold might be more complicated than he might wish.


Replacing Bishops

November 9, 2010 § 3 Comments

The Dioceses Commission is doing an in depth study of the Yorkshire Dioceses, and will report in December. One of the bits of speculation is that Bradford Diocese might be amalgamated with, say, Ripon and Leeds. There’s a follow up to it, with links to the original article, here.

The reason to do the study is to see whether we can streamline things, save money, do mission better, etc. An analogy would be the Lincolnshire Police Force, which is getting rid of its internal divisions and stripping out some duplication of senior officers. The killer statistic in the C of E is that, in 100 years, the number of stipendiary priests has halved and the number of Bishops has tripled.

The resignation of three serving Bishops surely gives an opportunity to do some nifty footwork and save a post. The Bishop of Fulham is a suffragan, working across the Diocese of London among parishes and people opposed to women in priests orders. Quite a luxury for a single diocese to have someone like that.

And Fulham is within a Province which has two Bishops (Ebbsfleet and Richborough) whose only role is to minister among those opposed to women in priests orders. Now, the grand total of parishes who have made any kind of resolution about this kind of thing is just under 1000. Only 363 of those have petitioned for the oversight of a ‘flying bishop’ (figures are here).  A good number of those are in the Province of York, where the Bishop of Beverley looks after them.So the south has a lot of provision for the people who need it.

When you take into account that the temporary arrangements being made to care for the ‘resolution C’ parishes in the Province of Canterbury involve three current Bishops, two of whom are suffragans in southern dioceses, you have to wonder whether the two PEVs have to be immediately replaced, and whether there absolutely has to be another Fulham too.

Why not save at least one post? Why not designate the serving suffragans in Chichester and Exeter as acceptable Bishops for the resolutions parishes in their own and neighbouring dioceses. Have Fulham (if a Fulham there must be) to do the same not just for London but for other agreed dioceses. And have one PEV for the rest.

The whole of the C of E is looking to make staffing cuts. My own parish has lost a full time stipendiary post this year. Dioceses are looking to save, and Yorkshire Dioceses may well be given options to reorganise which will involve a reshaping of episcopal roles. So why not use this opportunity to reshape a particular kind of episcopal provision? Surely it can be done in such a way as to assure that constituency that they have a place in the future of the C of E? And surely that constituency would understand that it’s not personal?

On being “fascist”

October 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

I listened very carefully to Bishop John Broadhurst this morning on Sunday on Radio 4. I wish him well on his journey, and applaud his determination to carry through his intention of joining the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the year. I know someone who, not quite as prominently (but in a feature article in the national press) said he would do the same six years ago, and is still in the C of E. So good for Bishop John in declaring that, when you have said you are going todo this, you have to do it.

I love the sound of his voice, and, as ever, when he is being positive about the gospel, about the necessity of unity in the Church and about faith in Jesus Christ, then I can stand up and cheer with the rest. And I can understand that the highly charged atmosphere of a Forward in Faith gathering can allow some things to be said which would sound inappropriate in other settings – so I was prepared to put his “fascist” comments in context.

In the interview he did indeed qualify them. But his explanation made it all the more personal for me. It wasn’t the whole of Synod which acted in a “fascist” way, he said, but the House of Clergy. Presumably this did not include the 85 clergy who voted for the legislation he wanted, but only those who voted it down. That is me and 89 others. I blogged about my reasons for voting against here and none of them were “fascist” as far as I can tell. In fact I reckoned that a church such as ours needs grace rather than law to make it work at this level, so my intentions were about not imposing will but rather offering the opportunity for generosity. I do understand that this is not how it feels to those who feel discriminated against, but those who would have a legal solution imposed on them against their will can equally say they are being treated in a dictatorial way.

Bishop John then compounded it for me by saying that the General Synod has been going downhill for 15 years. Guess when I joined?

There is, of course, serious stuff here. I deeply hope that we can get to a solution which preserves the C of E in its breadth and depth, and which facilitates further ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholics (and many others).

I don’t think we’ll do that when people like Reform and the Catholic Group can confidently predict exactly how people will vote in two years time. That’s more like North Korea, isn’t it? You can state a firm intention, and your policy and opinion on something, and then find that what is proposed has actually moved on and requires you to think in a different way. People change their minds.Except when they are instructed not to.

So: I don’t think I’m a fascist, Bishop John. And I don’t want Reform and F in F and the Catholic Group to determine how people vote as if they were in a dictatorship either.

I hope that the Roman Catholic Church in its ordinariate form is a lovely home for Bishop John (who will be a Bishop no more, and he was very good on that in the interview). And I hope that those of us who are left can sort out something which shapes the church to do what we are really about.

Synod thoughts from afar

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

So I’m back on General Synod. I’ve been on before, and I do have an idea of what I’m letting myself in for. Thoughts? A bit of trepidation, but I’m actually looking forward to it. That surprises some people. Sometimes the Synod can tie itself in knots in the depths of some complex legislation, and sometimes it seems that we are talking about a particularly sophisticated piece of deckchair realignment when there’s really a big iceberg to avoid.

But…the legislation keeps our church well ordered, and does make a massive difference on occasions. As an example, the change to marriage law has allowed people with a living connection to a parish church but who don’t live there any more to get married there much more easily than before. It’s made quite a difference to us at Beverley Minster, and lots of couples this year have been grateful for it. That legislation was being talked about the first time I was on Synod, so it can take quite a time. And I can remember all sorts of debates – about Fair Trade, Youth Justice, Fresh Expressions, Climate Change, the Media – where we have touched on deep and essential things for our world.

So what will the next five years be like? We will have to address all the usual complexities of an institution like the Church of England, and first up is something about the conditions of service of the clergy. I hope we’ll ensure we have some serious debates about the environment, about mission, about deployment of our resources, about justice and the ‘Big Society’ (and if the church isn’t a big society I don’t know what is). But the matter which will matter to the media will be Women Bishops.

My first hope for this debate is that we conduct it in a way which will reveal above all that we are Christians and we should love and serve each other, especially when we disagree. Last July’s marathon was almost always conducted in a profoundly respectful way, only let down by stuff on the fringes. It doesn’t help when a Bishop calls the action of the Synod “fascist”, and there is unhelpful stuff on the other side too.

The Church of England accepted years ago that there would be women bishops, and the argument now is about how, not whether. The sharp point of disagreement is whether those who could not be under the ministry of a woman bishop should have an alternative provided by law or by a code of practice. It sounds like a finicky thing, but is at the heart of whether we are a church which depends on law or grace. I’d prefer a code of practice, so that a woman bishop would choose to make provision for opponents. Many of those opponents want the woman bishop to be constrained by law to make that provision.

Some reports about the new Synod are suggesting that there enough opponents of women bishops have been elected to vote down all the legislation. That would be a ‘nuclear option’. I really hope that we’ll be able to vote in women bishops in a way which allows those who oppose them to be able to stay in the Church of England. I hope that the Synod can demonstrate a way of disagreeing within an atmosphere of love and respect. I can say what I would prefer to happen (grace, not law; code, not statute), but if a decent law could be drafted which preserved all the rights of a woman to be a bishop while honouring those who can’t accept her, then I might be able to vote that way.

The most important thing a Synod member does is to listen and to vote. The Spirit does work through complex legislative processes – if not then I wouldn’t be there. It will be an interesting five years, and I trust we will do the most important thing: shape the Church to bring the Kingdom of God near to our neighbours, our society and the whole world.

Forward in Faith and Women Bishops

July 15, 2010 § 5 Comments

Yes, I know, there’s almost nothing new to say about F i F and what it thinks about women bishops. But the Bishop of Fulham has released a statement which made me think. You can read it in full at Thinking Anglicans

In it he says this:

the abolition of the PEVs is proposed, which will leave our constituency in an intolerable position. All we would be allowed under the draft Measure as it now stands is access to a male bishop, whose own beliefs need not coincide with ours. That is sexism writ large.

There’s been quite a lot of this: not only are there to be women bishops, but the status of the bishops designated to care for those who cannot in conscience receive the ministry of a woman bishop cannot be guaranteed.

The Measure does indeed simply talk about a ‘male’ bishop (well, it’s not going to be a woman, is it?). But it also talks about the ability of a bishop to state that he will not ordain women, and talks about a Code of Practice which will make the kind of episcopal ministry which F i F want perfectly clear.

Two things here:

1. John Barton’s point in the debate on Saturday: it is in no one’s interest to designate F i F type parishes to the care of someone that parish does not recognise as acceptable.

2. John Broadhurst, the Bishop of Fulham, is not a PEV. Unless I’ve got it utterly wrong, he’s exactly the kind of Bishop envisaged by the Measure – someone designated locally rather than by law to provide ministry across a diocese (and in some other places too). The Bishop of Whitby does the same kind of job for the Diocese of York, so we don’t see an enormous amount of the Bishop of Beverley round here. No need – there’s a nominated Bishop who passes all the tests.

If I have got it wrong then I’m sure someone will tell me. If not, then John Broadhurst can’t moan about the loss of PEVs if he has proved for some years that they aren’t necessary. Operating under a Code can work, can’t it? Ask the Diocese of London.

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