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.

Women Bishops – Where now?

July 14, 2010 § 4 Comments

The simple answer is ‘to the dioceses’. The formal process now requires each diocese to discuss the Measure as agreed by General Synod. When it comes back from the dioceses it is debated again, in each separate house (ie laity, clergy, bishops), and then by the full Synod. The Measure will then have to gain a two-thirds majority in each house before it is sent to Parliament, which will have to approve it all before it becomes law.

So, there is a long way to go.

First reflection: Saturday afternoon’s vote against the Archbishops was not the cataclysmic, church splitting moment it was painted as. Though the pressure was piled on, and however much opponents of Women Bishops tried to make it a vote of confidence in their being accepted in the Church of England, it was no such defining issue. I voted against a formal legal solution and for a solution based on trust and negotiation. When a woman is made a diocesan bishop there will, without a doubt, be a system in place which preserves those who cannot accept it from receiving her ministry. And she should be just as much a diocesan bishop has her male counterparts in the House. Do not believe those reports which said that the vote was against any kind of provision. There will be loads of it, but I hope it will be in such a way as allows a woman to be completely a diocesan as well as preserving the conscience of those who cannot accept her.

Second reflection: the process in the dioceses will be interesting. The noteworthy thing about our two days of debate was that there was a good level of courtesy, the absence of overt bigotry and misogyny, and a reasonable level of debate. There was a bit of theology, though given that we are working 35 years after the debate which said that there is no theological objection to a woman as a bishop, there didn’t need to be that much. There was quite a specialised debate about jurisdiction, office and ordination, and that wasn’t too shabby either. We talked a bit about Church and State as well. And we were reminded that our purpose is mission and the Gospel. Simon Killwick, speaking on behalf of the Catholic Group, was a model of politeness and dignity. He deserves to be congratulated by all sides.

But the level of debate in the Diocesan Synods I have been to is not as good. It would be nice to think that dioceses will be offered a superb briefing which will enable them to set up the debate carefully. But there remains the capacity of a diocesan synod to make a complete horlicks of things.

Third reflection. Everyone standing for Synod in the forthcoming elections will, presumably, have to state where they are on this. And it won’t be enough to say generally that you want women bishops and for those who don’t to have an ‘honoured place’. You will have to define the extent of that honoured place, and whether a woman diocesan should be able to offer that place in her own right or by recourse to a legal procedure.

Fourth reflection. A lot now rides on the Code of Practice which the Bishops are to draw up. Again, I can’t see it providing anything less than opponents of women as bishops will want: the ‘nominated’ Bishops will have to be acceptable, because it is in no one’s interests that they be otherwise. The issue will be the strength of the operation of the Code. The Measure requires each diocese to draw up a scheme: surely this can be made so clear that those who currently feel that their safeguards have been taken away can be made to feel that they can safely remain stay. Though it felt catastrophic to many that Saturday’s vote was lost, there is a long way to go before it can be shown that there is no hope for them. It is not the time to leave.

Fifth reflection. The tone of Monday’s debate was very different to Saturday’s. Lots of people were able to say good things about the ministry of ordained women, and some generosity was shown to opponents. But at two points we went back to Saturday, and the pain expressed by David Houlding and the Bishop of Beverley reminded us that, however generous the ‘winners’ are, the ‘losers’ still feel like ‘losers’. +Beverley loaded a lot onto the statutory provision of financial compensation for those who leave and face hardship, and he got a conclusive answer: not by law. He should not see this as a kick while he is down though: Synod now distrusts a ‘one size fits all’ solution to such things, and prefers such cases to be dealt with at grass roots. Again, just because there is no legal provision does not mean that there will be no provision at all.

Last reflection. I need to talk to a lot of people who feel deeply hurt by the events of the weekend. We need to talk together about mission and ecclesiology and law and grace. If I am to stand for Synod again I need to be able to understand what they are saying. And we have to live in the same diocese too. Though last Saturday was not a cataclysm, the next two years could be a slowly unfolding one. We owe it to each other and the communities we serve not to make it so.

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