Via Media or Bridge over Troubled Waters?
I love this cartoon. These men are treading so carefully towards the gap. Will they fall over under those heavy weights? They don't even look at each other. What will they do with their rocks? Hurl them at each other? Drop them? Or close the arch? Co-operate together? Create a bridge over the water, so people from different sides may safely cross? This image captures for me the place the Church of England has reached over women bishops. I'm feeling hopeful. I think that at last there's a real possibility of the episcopate of the Church of England including women as well as men, given a willingness for a little more movement all round.
Back in July 2010 my post 'Shark-filled chasm' was a response to reactions following the vote in the Church of England General Synod in favour of the draft legislation about women as bishops. There had been compromise by those in favour and those against - the gap had narrowed but was still deep and as Canon Sue Booys put it was "full of sharks".
A lot of processes, prayer and discussion has gone on since then. Much water has flowed under the incomplete bridge across the 'chasm'. Or is it a gentle stream? A few days ago, in Treading carefully over women in the episcopate I wrote about the meeting of the House of Bishops in Oxford on 12 September to reconsider the amended clause 5 (1)(c) which shocked many and satisfied no-one. Well, they met and I was delighted to hear that they had overwhelming voted in favour of an alternative wording suggested by Janet Appleby, a priest and member of General Synod. The C of E press release on this is here. You can hear what Archbishop Rowan says about this development in this podcast.
A number of bishops have issued positive pastoral letters supporting the decision, for example this one. As far as I know there is not yet any formal response from Watch, Reform or Forward in Faith.
It is a compromise position, but probably the best that could be hoped for in the circumstances. What will happen in November, when General Synod meets for the crucial vote on the matter, remains to be seen. Will there be respectful bridge-building? Will a good foundation be laid for the ministry of all people in the church to flourish?
Come, Holy Spirit, fill your people.