Stephen Kuhrt Women Bishops Legislation
Women bishops will, I hope, turn the Church of England completely upside down. My prayer is that its dramatic empowerment of the skills, gifts and insights of women will revitalise the church and change it forever.
As I write this, I can feel waves of anxiety increasing, not just from it opponents but many of those who claim to be its supporters. ‘No, that’s an unhelpful point’, many will say, ‘things will carry on much as they have before but with women simply able to exercise a full ministry alongside that of the men’.
But I maintain the point. My experience, in the church of which I am vicar, is that when women’s ministry is allowed to flourish to the full, the entire atmosphere of a church is transformed. Preaching, pastoral care, sacramental ministry, the occasional offices, the nature of services and, above all, the strategy and direction of the local church are all enriched beyond measure. Various practical reasons can be advanced for this. But at a theological level it is because the male and female both being allowed their full role, is bringing about a much deeper reflection of the image of God and a much greater anticipation in our worship of the new creation. It is this that has brought about the transformation within many local churches that have experienced the full ministry of women.
Where such transformation is now most badly needed is within the higher leadership and structures of the Church of England. I am extremely excited about the impact that women bishops will have upon the leadership of Areas and Dioceses where the gifts and talents of women, at last able to have a more strategic impact, will undoubtedly bring a greater humanity and relevance to the face of the church and care of the clergy.
But the change I expect to be most transforming of all is to that of the nature of the House of Bishops. Reinforced by its representation of only one gender, many within this body are hopelessly out of touch with both parishes and clergy and increasingly characterised by what has been accurately termed ‘delusions of adequacy’.
Hence my distraught response to the fact that it is the greatest symptom of the problem that women bishops will address, that has seen fit to amend the legislation in the way that it has. It is bad enough that the amendments have been made at the eleventh hour and fly in the face of the clear will of the elected General Synod. But where the real problem lies is in this group of men deciding to use their power to ensure that women do not become bishops on the same footing as them.
My strong suspicion is that there are factors at work here that go beyond the desire to safeguard the most obvious opponents of the measure. Those in possession of power are usually very intuitive to danger, and the current set of bishops know that there will be far less places for them to hide if women are allowed to join them as equals. Better to allow women in but with areas of vulnerability preserved to keep them beholden to their male colleagues. From this perspective the amendments are less to do with protecting the minority who oppose women bishops (who would be quite adequately covered by a Code of Practice), than trying to ensure that the impact of this development is kept ‘safe’ and away from changing any more than it has to about the status quo…
Another surprise is this article on the ‘Reform’ web-site – from the Revd. Stephen Kuhrt, as a parish priest in the Church of England – on the subject of the effect of Women as Bishops in the Church.
Fr. Stephen’s fears are expressed in this way:
“ It is bad enough that the amendments have been made at the eleventh hour and fly in the face of the clear will of the elected General Synod. But where the real problem lies is in this group of men deciding to use their power to ensure that women do not become bishops on the same footing as them.
Fr. Stephen goes on to say that the Amendments to the draft Measure – which was voted in by the last General Synod and approved by the large majority of the subsequent Diocesan Synods – has now been amended by the House of Bishops, in a way that impinges on the authority of a Woman Bishop of a Diocese. What was agreed to in the General Synod original Draft – was to operate on a ‘Code of Practice’; where a female diocesan, on being petitioned by a parish for ‘alternate episcopal oversight’, had the right to choose the Male Bishop who would minister in her stead in such a parish.
Under the Amendments to that Draft Measure, a Woman Diocesan would be forced to accept the Male Bishop chosen by an outside authority to minister in her diocese by enforced ‘Delegation’ and under his own authority, not the Diocesan’s.
If this Amended Measure were to obtain a majority of votes in the July General Synod, this procedure would be enshrined in the legislation, thus discriminating against a Woman Diocesan. Effectively, this would introduce a two-tier Episcopate in the Church of England – in a manner quite at odds with any other Province of the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand