Thursday, 22 November 2012

Women Bishops: reaction to General Synod vote

In yesterday's pre-scheduled post I wrote that I would tell you my reactions to the outcome of  the vote in General Synod on the women bishops measure. 

On Tuesday I followed the debate on the live audio feed. When the vote count was announced I stormed out of my study, stamped into the kitchen, banged the pots and pans as I began to prepare supper while trying to tell my husband how I felt. Words did come rather loudly out of my mouth but really I felt speechless. I was devastated. Had I been wearing a clerical collar I might have symbolically cut it into little pieces. 

This is what I wrote on my personal Facebook page that evening
"It is a very long time since I have felt so upset and so angry and so very very sad - all at the same time." 
Many others, men and women, inside and outside the church have experienced similar reactions. I was encouraged by the message posted by John Pritchard,  Bishop of Oxford on our diocesan website on Tuesday evening. He wrote this:

'I am deeply saddened that General Synod did not feel able to pass the legislation allowing women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England. I fear for the mission and credibility of the Church in our land at a time when neither society at large nor a clear majority in the wider Church of England will understand why the legislation has been rejected. I am also immensely sad for my many able and gifted women clergy colleagues whose ministry richly enhances the life of the Church and for whom this decision will be such a kick in the teeth. I very much hope there will not be resignations in the heat of despair. We need to believe there is still a way forward. Clearly we all need time to be exhausted and to stand back, but I’m sure that time cannot last long if we are to have any chance of regaining the confidence of the nation.' - Bishop John
20 November 2012

Thank you Bishop John and a number of others who have sent encouraging emails to women priests in the Oxford Diocese. At times of crisis it's good to be part of a family that actually does practice love and holds to gospel hope.

I have to recognize that some people are actually pleased and relieved about the decision. With some of them it is because they cannot on grounds of theology, tradition or prejudice, accept female bishops. With others it is because they do want female bishops on grounds of theology but not at any cost.

My view is that some cost has to be borne and we need women bishops in the Church of England as soon as possible. I really thought this could be achievable now. It seems that it is not and I am deeply disappointed, not only for those women who have obvious giftings as potential bishops, but for the sake of all women as well as the mission of the church. What message are we now as the Church of England giving about the role of women in society? What message are we giving about how God sees women? Are we also human, made in God's image, or not?


Photo: my own of sign outside Church House, Westminster, taken January 2012 



9 comments:

  1. I read this post with interest.

    Although I stopped going to Church a few years ago, I do keep up with the news, and on this occasion my thoughts did turn to some mates who are female clerics in the C of E.

    I wrote to one such friend yesterday - and I said that even though this must be a huge dissapointment, I'm sure good things will come of it!

    It's not hard to see the Zealots being isolated as a result of this. And there has been huge support of the idea to women Bishops from outside the Church. So it will happen. I'm sure!

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    1. Thanks for commenting 'onlydadsbob'. I took a look at your website - onlydads seems to be providing useful support for single fathers. I am sure that the Church of England will have women bishops eventually, but the process of getting there has been incredibly slow and painful. I suppose this is partly because no-one in the church wants to eject those with whom they don't agree. We want to keep "the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace" as next Sunday's collect prayer puts it. My fear is that attitudes could become more hardened and the wrangling over legalities more painful which does not help in sharing Christ's gospel of love for all people. I hope your friend was encouraged by your message to her. I'm interested in why people stop going to church - some drift and some make a definite decision. What was your reason?

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  2. Nancy, I'm with you in believing that some cost will have to be borne for this to come to pass. There will always be those who cannot accept this development and if we can be generous in allaying their fears without pandering to rank prejudice against women clergy, I truly believe it will happen before very long.

    The Governing Body of the Church in Wales is now looking at the question again 4 years after the first Bill for the ordination of women as bishops was defeated in the House of Clergy (as was the first bill for the priesting of women). This time there is a greater will to consider those who cannot accept women bishops and I think that when a second Bill is introduced it will have a much better chance of passing.

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    1. Perpetua - but I'm wondering if generosity in allaying fears of those opposed is actually just another way of pandering to prejudice against female clergy. It will be interesting to see what happens in Wales - perhaps the Church in Wales will get there first, hopefully with a simple single clause measure as in most of the other churches of the Anglican Communion that now have female as well as male bishops.

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    2. Nancy, it was a single clause Bill (or near enough) which was defeated last time. This time they are definitely looking at including some degree of pastoral provision in any new Bill or an associated Bill, though the details have yet to be worked out. We'll see.....

      Speaking personally, I can see the difference between theological conviction about women's ministry and a kind of misogynistic prejudice against women and am willing to respect and provide for the former but not the latter.

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    3. A link to a BBC news item about the situation in Wales.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-20422929

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    4. Perpetua - thanks for the link and your clarification about situation in Wales.

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  3. I know that my own reactions immediately after were shock, anger and sheer lack of understanding of how this could have happened.

    With time and space and some prayer and reflection and by reading others posts and blogs, I'm probably at a half-way house of acceptance it's has happened, but annoyance that Synod can be so stuffed with traditionalists that they are able to hold the majority to ransom.

    Reform of synod is needed and Vic the Vicar has made a suggestion about reform on his blog which makes imminent sense. Just have the Council of Bishops and a Council of Clergy and all decisions are passed to Diocesan synods for ratification or amendment or review. The majority decision, synod by synod to be endorsed by the two houses.

    It would make diocesan synod a much more influential place and would remove the quadruple layers that currently exist. And save money.

    But, engagement face to face between all sides on a sound theological basis for the episcopate which, includes women, needs to be developed that all can subscribe to. No compromise, fudge or half-way houses. A Woman as Bishop must have authority within her diocese, without dissenters or alternative oversight.

    This will have implications for how we cope with diversity of tradition, but if we engage with grace and love with those we disagree with, I'm sure that God will give us a way forward.

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  4. UK Viewer - I agree that reform of Synod is needed. I don't agree with Vic the Vicar's suggestion about how. I would keep the 3 houses in General Synod which is the only body outside Parliament able to make law (subject to Queen's consent). I think the problem is in the undemocratic way in which the House of Laity is elected, making it easy for it to be hijacked by well-organized minorities. A better way would be to introduce some form of universal suffrage for election of House of Laity representatives, e.g. give every person on the electoral roll of parish churches a vote.

    There has been endless face to face engagement on the issues over the last 25 years and more. People with deeply entrenched positions do sometimes change their minds, but I don't think the church can afford to wait for that. We need women as well as men in the episcopate as soon as possible. The compromises agreed to by the majority are as far as those in favour of women bishops can go - and too far for some. With the failure of the compromise measure I have come to the conclusion that a single clause measure is what now needs to be fought for. This does not necessarily mean ejecting those who can't accept this.

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