Church Times Report on Women Bishops’ Progress – (or not)

Women bishops: a lot of ground for the Synod to make up

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 24 Aug 2012 @ 12:40

 Click to enlarge

In the balance: several dioceses have yet to hold further consultations

CONSULTATIONS over women bishops have been progressing slowly, it emerged this week.

Legislation to permit women to enter the episcopate is due to return to the General Synod at an extraordinary meeting in November. Before then, the House of Bishops has to decide what provision for traditionalists it will put in the final draft legislation, if any.

Last month ( News, 27 July), the steering committee proposed seven possible options in relation to clause 5(1)(c), the amendment inserted into the legislation by the House of Bishops in May, which prompted angry protests and led to the adjournment of a final decision when the General Synod met in York earlier in July.

Today is the deadline for responses to a consultation document about the options, which was circulated to Synod members by the secretary-general, William Fittall.

By Wednesday, only about one member in ten had responded. The General Synod Office reported “more than 50” submissions, the “great majority” from Synod members, but also some “from individuals and others from groups”. There are 477 Synod members.

Such a low response will make it difficult for the House of Bishops to ascertain the mind of the Synod when it meets to discuss the Measure on 12 September, although several dioceses are planning their own consultations later.

This week, Synod members expressed preferences for four of the seven options.

Keith Malcouronne (Guildford) said that the diocese’s representatives had met earlier in the month and had “collectively recognised that Option 2”, simply deleting clause 5(1)(c), “was a non-starter if we wish to see the legislation finally approved in November”.

A majority of the diocesan representatives favoured Option 1 (retaining the clause) “as providing the most provision of the options now open at this late stage of the process”, he said. He cited the speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury in July, in which Dr Williams explained that referring solely to the maleness of the bishop and no other criteria could suggest a willingness to accommodate misogny. Mr Malcouronne, and others within the diocese, have suggested additional changes.

The Archdeacon of Nottingham, the Ven. Peter Hill (Southwell & Nottingham), said that the Bishop had arranged to meet representatives in late August to discuss the paper. Archdeacon Hill was “desperate to see women in the episcopate as soon as possible, but also to keep everyone on the C of E bus in some sort of comfortable seat”. He believed that Option 7, which suggests that the Code of Practice would give guidance on the procedure of selection, is “the most deliverable route politically . . . largely because it knocks out theological conviction in favour of pastoral and sacramental practice”.

Christina Rees (St Albans), who formerly chaired the campaign group WATCH, said that a meeting with her diocesan was planned for 4 September. Her preference was Option 2, deleting 5(1)(c). The clause “opens the door to endless wrangling”, and “puts a very dark cloud over women’s ordination“.

A “silver bullet” could not be found, she suggested, because there is “nothing that can bridge the gap between those who think either women shouldn’t or cannot be ordained . . . with the views of people who say ‘of course women can be ordained’.”

Option 2 is also favoured by GRAS. On Monday of last week, it warned: “The Church of England risks finding itself in a position where people who long to see women and men as bishops together will vote against the Measure, because the compromises it makes would be too damaging to the Church and to our theology of the place of men and women in creation.”

A Chester Synod member, Canon David Felix, expressed unhappiness that no meeting had been convened with his diocesan bishop. He said that the introduction of 5(1)(c) constituted a “constitutional crisis”. The adjournment in July had given the Bishops a “bloody nose”, but “they still can’t accept the bloody nose they have been given.” Not producing a code of practice until the legislation was decided was “politically . . . a disaster”.

The Canon Chancellor of Exeter Cathedral, the Revd Andrew Godsall (Exeter), said that he had invited all General Synod representatives, including the Bishop, to a meeting in early September. There was a “real willingness from people to speak across different traditions”, he said.

As a member of WATCH, his preference was for Option 2; but he also had a “certain amount of sympathy” for Option 5, which would build into the provision a reference to the “suitability” or “appropriateness” of the person selected to exercise ministry. It would also refer to the process of selection, involving consultation with the PCC. He is “very optimistic” about the Measure’s being passed – “but not at any price”.

Emma Forward (Exeter) supported Option 1. “We should ask the Bishops to stand firm on clause 5(1)(c), especially the understanding of ‘theological convictions’ contained within it. Surely we all want an outcome that will honour those of a traditional integrity, so that future generations can thrive. The Church of England is always better together.”

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” The Church of England risks finding itself in a position where people who long to see women and men as bishops together will vote against the Measure, because the compromises it makes would be too damaging to the Church and to our theology of the place of men and women in creation.” (G.R.A.S.)

This statement by the membership of GRAS is symptomatic of those in the Church of England who fear that, with the passage of the Ordination of Women Bishops Measure – which includes the House of Bishops’ Amendment to clause 5 (5/1/c) , the entire Measure may not be passed by the November special meeting of the General Synod.

However, the way forward is not clear – especially in the light of the fact that only 10 per cent of Synod Members have responded to the request for input into the process for any revision of the H.o.B. proposal to actually be put to the Synod.

One would have hoped that the furore caused by the introduction of the Amendment proposed by the House of Bishops at the July Meeting of Synod would have been of sufficient notice to the bishops that Synod was not happy with their interference with the process formally agreed to at the previous Synod, which would have provided an agreed ‘Code of Practice’ . under which a Woman Diocesan Bishop would be requested to consider the provision of her choice of Male Bishop to afford episcopal ministry to parishes in her diocese that did not accept her episcopal ministry – on the grounds of their view of its invalidity on account of her gender. 

As if this were not a step far enough to be imposed on a Woman Diocesan Bishop, the H.o.B.  Amendment would bring in legislation that would take away her choice of a male bishop to exercise episcopal ministry in her stead on her diocese. She would be allowed no say in the matter. Such legislation would compromise, for ever, the local jurisdiction of a Woman Bishop in her own diocese. One can hardly blame women clergy for balking at this inhibition.

All of this, to other provinces like ours in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which have accepted the priestly and episcopal ordination of women for many years now, seems like a return to the   ethos of endemic patriarchalism – a situation which hardly meets the real needs of the present-day mission of Anglican Churches around the world.

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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