The Tablet Blog
Hurt and hope in the Church of England
Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh is an author and Anglican priest in the Church in Wales
23 November 2012, 9:00
The scuppering of Tuesday’s vote on women bishops in the Church of England by a tiny minority leaves many Anglicans wondering whether we are still the Church we thought we were. Anglicanism grew out of a spirit of hospitality. It was this spirit which informed the Elizabethan Settlement. Since then, the via media, or ‘middle way’, has served as a beacon of hope for people who maintain only a tenuous hold on the Christian faith. This same spirit of graced hospitality, so much in evidence during Archbishop Rowan Williams‘ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, might yet be the means of recovery for a Church which until relatively recently had learned to live with difference, and not only to live with it, but to allow difference itself to contain the promise of new growth. Perhaps, now that we have unexpectedly found ourselves in a very dark place, mired down by difference as a result of our failure to finish what we started in regard to women’s ministry, we shall begin to see the beginnings of new growth, a new gestation of the common love envisaged by Richard Hooker and Elizabeth I.
Theirs was a vision of a Church capable of holding together extreme opposites in such a way as to enable the Church to work not just for its own good, but for that of society. It kept the Church together and it kept it moving. Anglican life depends on a continual and conscious dynamic re-engagement with the life and love of God. What we saw on Tuesday was a Church which seems to be grinding to a halt because it cannot connect, in its own life and relationships, with the divine love and movement which has sustained it so far. It has become mired down in arcane tradition or biblical hermeneutics which no longer make Scripture meaningful for many people today.
The Church of England will not see the Bill for the Consecration of Women to the Episcopate brought up for reconsideration until 2015. That gives it three years to reflect, pray and begin to re-engage with the movement of the Holy Spirit, in which the grace needed for reconciliation and new growth is to be found. Meanwhile, the Measure for the Consecration of Women to the Episcopate in the Church in Wales, which was defeated by three votes in 2008, is due for reconsideration next September. The Church in Wales could yet give the lead. If it does, it will be acting as a prophetic witness to the rest of the Anglican Communion, not because it will have triumphed where others have failed, but because the measure will only succeed if it comes with a genuine will for reconciliation on all sides. As with the Church of England, it is the minority who are holding up the process.
It is always darkest before dawn. For the Church in Wales, as for the Church of England, these are dark times but potentially fruitful ones. We have all been badly hurt because what hurts in England also hurts in Wales. In England, some may already be living with regret for how they voted on Tuesday and turned an overwhelming majority into defeat. Others will be angry and grieving for women priests and their supporters, and for the wider Church, because what happened to the Church of England undermines people’s faith and so weakens the whole Church of God. On the other hand, this could also be a time of extraordinary renewal, a chance for all Anglicans to begin again, to find a way of practising that ethos of hospitality which inspired its life to begin with and which will restore its credibility in the world of today.
“Meanwhile, the Measure for the Consecration of Women to the Episcopate in the Church in Wales, which was defeated by three votes in 2008, is due for reconsideration next September. The Church in Wales could yet give the lead. If it does, it will be acting as a prophetic witness to the rest of the Anglican Communion, not because it will have triumphed where others have failed, but because the measure will only succeed if it comes with a genuine will for reconciliation on all sides. As with the Church of England, it is the minority who are holding up the process.” – Lorraine Cavanagh –
If the Church in Wales manages, next time around (in September 2013), to agree to Ordaining Women Bishops, this will be an amazing coup for the Church in Wales. Being independent of the Church of England – with its own provincial status in the Anglican Communion – the Welsh Anglican Church may well lead the way in this important matter of defeating misogyny and sexism among the clergy and bishops. Now wouldn’t that be really something? The Church in Wales did not become independent for no reason.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand