24th November 2012
Okay, well, my thoughts are very much a work in progress and others have surely voiced them in their own way already, but for what it’s worth …
Essentially I think that this is a very significant tipping point. It was just so shocking to be in the public gallery and witness the result of the vote. The feeling of devastation was palpable. The message to women – lay and ordained, within and beyond the Church – is unequivocally negative and deeply undermining.
The claim that this was all about the provision not the principle rings pretty hollow to me. People had had 12 years, since the motion was first proposed, to say what they wanted about the provision – and everything had been said. Nothing new was voiced at Synod on that issue, absolutely nothing. The Legislative Drafting group had heard it all before via several hundred submissions from groups and individuals, and had bent over backwards, and backwards again, and backwards again, to find the best possible way forward for everyone. So to hear people in Synod promise that if the Measure was defeated they would get round a table and talk about finding a solution – as though the debate had only begun on Tuesday – then tell the media afterwards that there was ‘no provision’ for those who cannot accept women bishops, was just astounding.
At the end of the day the circle can’t be squared. Conservative evangelicals who believe that women cannot be in authority over men (and this is NOT what most conservative evangelicals believe, it’s the view of SOME people from that tradition) will never accept a Measure that allows a female diocesan bishop to delegate authority to an alternative bishop. For them the authority is still delegated, and delegated from a woman, so it’s not satisfactory. Anglo Catholics (again it’s only some Anglo Catholics) who do not believe it’s possible for women to be ordained at all are also asking to be kept more than one arm length’s away. Both positions require a ‘church within a church’ – and that’s just not Anglican and not the CofE. It doesn’t work that way. It never has.
Meanwhile this has exposed serious issues with our governance structures because 42 out of 44 dioceses voted for the Measure, but the General Synod voted against. 75% of laity on Diocesan Synods voted in favour, but in General Synod only 64%. That doesn’t stack up. Especially as the Measure had been amended between those votes to offer more provision for those who are against.
I don’t know what we do about any of this but I do know that women clergy are getting sympathetic handling in the media, and many, many messages of support from those to whom they minister, from people across the world, and from lay men and women want to say ‘not in my name’; that there’s a spirit of incredulity and shock, some very deep anger and hurt, but overall a renewed conviction that whatever a minority may think, we are called to serve God in the three-fold ministry of the Church and that until we are able to contribute as bishops the CofE is impoverished and less than whole – as some bishops have so eloquently said.
Finally I am astounded at the resilience and faith of so many I know who have simply got out of bed every morning since the vote and got on with the job that they do so well, serving communities up and down this nation with their usual spirit of generosity, wisdom, commitment and grace. And that will not stop, ever. And we are not going away, or leaving the Church we love to a minority who seem to care for only certain parts of it. In the spirit of Anglicanism and because we are called, we will stay.
There has been much outpouring of reason and emotion since Tuesday on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. This was a comment of Rosemary’s on Facebook, which I felt at once should not be left to disappear under subsequent layers. She kindly agreed to let me put it here in the form of a guest blog post. Thank-you Rosemary.
The illustration is by Simone Conti via Shutterstock.
Thanks to Thinking Anglicans for this article by : “Mail Online Marie-Elsa Bragg ‘I’m still proud of our history in the women’s ministry’: Melvyn Bragg’s curate daughter on how it feels to be stuck in the middle of the bishops debate.
It shouldn’t surprise those of us experienced in the ministry of women in the Anglican Communion in other parts of the world, that women like Marie-Elsa and Rosemary – both women clergy in the Church of England – should have elected to remain faithfully (despite their disappointment at the recent refusal of General Synod in the C.of E. to allow for the ordination of Women Bishops in that Church) at their tasks of ministry to which they have been called by the Lord of the Church.
As the Church around the world celebrates the Kingship of Christ (Sunday next before Advent) we will soon be moving towards the Feast of the Incarnation of Jesus, born of a woman, whose dedication to her Son has been pivotal in his mission to redeem the world.
In the same Image and Likeness of God – as fellow women and nurturers – these priestly women will remain faithful to their call from God to nurture God’s children in the parish churches to which they have been assigned – despite the fact that their ministry seems not to have been affirmed by the very people and institution they have elected to serve.
God bless the women clergy of the Church of England for their fortitude in adversity!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand