Andrew Brown’s Blog on Women Clergy and Bishops

The female priests issue threatens to envenom parish politics

A conservative crew wants an independent enclave within the Church of England, with its own money, ministers and discipline

A female priest with her congregation

A female priest with her congregation. Photograph: MarioPonta/Alamy

The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, used to say that the Church of England was a bulldozer with the engine of a lawnmower, but I prefer to think of it as a diplodocus with the digestion of a rabbit. (This zoological diversity is surely what’s meant by Anglican comprehensiveness.) Two small pellets have now emerged from the House of Bishops‘ deliberations about women.

One restates an almost incomprehensible distinction between the legal authority of a bishop (which may be delegated) and the theological authority, which may not. This would make more sense if the conservatives thought that female clergy had any theological authority at all.

The second appears to be a mere piece of tidying up: parishes that want a male priest are allowed to specify the grounds on which they want one.

What do these matter? Two bloggers have been quick with interpretations. Miranda Threlfall Holmes, whose piece demanding no changes at all we published on Saturday, put up an embarrassing blogpost comparing the bishops to a particularly disgusting man who had gouged his wife’s eyes out and then kept her in the house for 12 hours to stop her getting medical attention.

She has subsequently taken down the post, which she now callsintemperate. I think she has been spending altogether too much time caring about Anglican politics.

Alan Wilson, the bishop of Buckingham, is much less excited. He points out that the numbers involved are tiny: about 2% of the church’s electoral rolls or 0.06% of the population. He writes:

“Is the Church going to remain a discriminatory organisation, with a thinning theological figleaf to cover its vulnerability? Truth compels me to say, probably yes. In Brer Rabbit terms the old deal was that the buses were not segregated, and as long as the whites who believed in segregation on biblical grounds sat at the front, they could kid themselves that there weren’t blacks at the back of the bus. This has now been modified. The driver can soon be black, and those who believe in Biblically based separate development can either stare out the window sideways or comfort themselves that they only have to look on the back of the driver’s head. This scheme could well be a way to bring women bishops onshore from places like Oz, New Zealand, Canada, and the US. That’s progress, I suppose. Intellectually, it’s not quite desegregation. But do not underestimate the power of evolution. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if Evolution didn’t work.”

He also puts a gloss on the second rabbit turd which is sociologically shrewd:

“If people want a male because the Eucharist must be celebrated by someone who shares Jesus’s biological gender (if not his Jewishness or Beard), they get a Real Man of the Eucharist. If, on the other hand, they believe that God Made Woman not to hold any authority over men in Church (unless an Archdeacon or Supreme Governor), then what matters isn’t the Eucharist, but that women don’t preach to other men. In effect these latter want a proper male preacher, having often in past times had an Oxbridge blue in some Manly Pastime.”

However, I suspect that this underestimates the Manly Pastime crew. They are determined to set up their independent enclave within the Church of England, with its own money, ministers and discipline. We have seen that most recently in Southwark. There the breakaway crew are offering to fund anyone who will sign up to their credal statement, the “Jerusalem Manifesto”. If this change passes into law, they will interpret it to mean that they can (and will) demand assent to that from anyone who ministers in their parishes. That promises to envenom parish politics wherever it is considered.


This article from Andrew Brown’s blog, in the Guardian, has pertinent comment about the current situation in the Church of England after the recent amendments of the Draft Proposal to be put before the July General Synod – meant to debate the Ordination of Women as Bishops in the Church of England.

As Andrew seems to suggest, the main objection to having women as bishops seems mainly to protest against the ontological notion of ‘authority’ of women over men in the Church. For the Anglo-Catholic conservatives, there is the further problem of  women being, for them, incapable of sharing the priesthood of Christ, by virtue of their gender difference. These two aspects of a woman’s seeming disqualification from priestly ministry would naturally affect ( for the dissidents) a woman’s role as either priest or bishop (overseer).

A former suggestion by some in the Church of England was that the protesters against Women in Ministry could be given a separate identity from the rest of us; by allowing them to form what would become, in the C. of E., a ‘Third Province – separate from both York and Canterbury. However, the fact that both conservative Evangelical and conservative Catholic minorities in the C.of E. could join together in their discrimination against Women in Ministry, may not provide sufficient ‘glue’ to unite them in a single Provincial unit, Still, it might make an interesting provisional experiment. They would probably require two bishops – one ‘Reform’ style and one from the ‘Forward in Faith’ (male-only) gated enclave.  

UNITY, any one ?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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