Full statement from the Bishop of Gloucester
It has been a bleak few days for the Church of England. A failure to approve the legislation that would have allowed women to be bishops has made a sad finale to the archiepiscopate of Dr Rowan Williams, whose visit to our diocese in July was such a high point in our diocesan life. It has also created a major problem for his successor, Bishop Justin of Durham. It has undermined the sense of value of our church’s more than three thousand women priests. It has puzzled our society and brought ridicule upon the Church.
People have been saying, understandably, that the Church of England is in crisis. At a certain level that is true. The General Synod has acted foolishly and its leadership has been undermined. There is a huge repair job to be done in our relationship with our society as well as within the church. But, at another level, we are not in crisis, for, as many have said, the real Church of England is to be found, not in synods, but in parishes and other communities, where Christian ministry to the people of our nation goes on being effective in churches and schools, in pastoral care and in the fulfilment of our mission. The irony is that we would be unable to fulfil that ministry without the women clergy of our church.
It is important to say today that the church has not rejected the ministry of its women clergy. In the Diocese of Gloucester more than 95 per cent of our Diocesan Synod voted in favour of the legislation. In the General Synod 74 per cent voted in favour – I wish it were 100%, but 74% is much more than enough. The responses I am receiving to this vote from ordinary Christians give evidence of the fact that the church has received the ministry of women, values and affirms it and wants to see that ministry extended to include episcopal ministry. The ministry of ordained women has been a huge gift of God to the church.
What the church has done is to fail to pass legislation that made generous provision for those unwilling to accept this development. And, of course, there are questions that now have to be faced. Is the church’s exemption from equality laws defensible? Does a system that requires 2/3rds majorities in three separate houses place the bar too high? Can it make sense for members of the Synod to be permitted to vote entirely contrary to the view of their diocesan synod? It is really important to keep a welcome place in the Church for those who are unhappy with the idea of women bishops, but they must not hold the Church back, undermine its mission or make it a laughing stock in the mind of the nation.
The more immediate question is how we may find a way forward more speedily than over the cycle of a whole new General Synod. I don’t know the answer and I would be suspicious of anyone who thought they did at this stage when we are all still so “raw” after the reverse of this week. But the mood of our leadership, and indeed the mood across the church and the nation, is that a way forward must and will be found without haste but with urgency. I ask you to pray for all those who will be starting conversations about that very soon. I ask you to pray also for those clergy who have experienced this vote as a painful undermining of their ministry. Above all pray for justice, peace and reconciliation in the church.
It has been a difficult time, “grim” as the Bishop of Durham put it, but I have found myself repeating with quiet conviction those wonderful words of the Lady Julian of Norwich – “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” I do believe that.
Posted by Peter Owen (T.A.) on Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 10:21am GMT
One can only hope and pray, with Bishop Michael & Lady Julian, that eventually, in the Church of England, “All shall be well; All manner of things shall be well” – on this vital matter of the Ministry of Women in our ‘Mother Church’ in England. As the House of Bishops meets in December – in response to the failure of the draft Measure – the eyes of the English-speaking world will be upon the next step to be made by the (male) bishops.
Hopefully, it may not prove as disastrous as that of the amendments made to the original Draft Resolution that might have made it through the General Synod. Only a movement made towards the equality of Women and Men in ministry, surely, could meet the real needs of the Church of England at this time in its history.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand