Let us make the best of things – let us progress (towards women in the episcopate)

Tomorrow the executive of WATCH (Women and the Church) meet to decide on what their official response will be to the amended measures regarding the legislation on women bishops. 

Last year as I journeyed through discernment and selection for training for ordination I joined WATCH, and therefore was invited to take part in their consultation prior to meeting tomorrow. This evening I have belatedly told them what I think. I am a great believer in being open enough to say publicly what I say in private, especially on an issue of public interest, so for what it’s worth this is an exact copy of what I’ve sent to WATCH:

I have probably left it almost too late, but in case it’s not, here are my simple thoughts on the issue of whether WATCH (and those elected to General Synod) should support the Measure regarding Women and the Episcopate, as amended last week by the House of Bishops.

I write remembering I am the daughter of a (now long deceased) MOW member who attended the Service of Thanksgiving at Ripon in 1994 for the original 1992 vote for the Ordination of Women. I also write as a Reader, recently recommended for training for ordination, which I look forward to starting in September.

I have read, or in some cases re-read, a whole variety of blog posts [helpfully summarised by an “opinionated vicar”] expressing different viewpoints, and your helpful information sheet. There are concerns over theology, taint, legal precedent, and other things largely too complicated to understand the nuances of. Sadly they have made no difference to my pragmatic and probably simplistic request:

Please support the measure, as it stand, amendments and all.

Women have spent thousands of years making the best of things; frequently making the best of what others (often but not always men) have decided for them and over them. I am certain that we can do it again.

We believe in a God who is omnipotent and omnipresent. He is bigger than our mortal theological debates and legislative process, thankfully. If this measure is passed, he will be able to work through the faithful and wise women that many of us see as being called to join the episcopate alongside their male counterparts. I think we will be amazed at what a difference that will make to the Church of England, to people’s view of it, and to their willingness to give the message of the Gospel it proclaims a serious hearing.

If WATCH, which is perceived (wrongly I know) as a women’s organisation, stand against this legislation with arguments that are as labyrinthine as the amendments and the measure itself, we will make ourselves, and the church to which we are called to serve, a laughing stock in a nation that is already struggling to take us seriously.

I know that all of you will have worked for years to bring this opportunity about, have spent years in study and theological debate on the issue, whilst I am a new member of WATCH, coming in mid-life towards ordination. But please, don’t turn aside now from what we believe God is calling the church to be – a place that is (more) inclusive of gender and therefore a better representation of the God who created us all, male and female. We will only make such progress, by making the best of what will only ever be a cobbled job (because male and female, we’re all human, all place our human failings into every sentence we construct).

If the measure is not supported by WATCH and therefore not passed at General Synod (and yes I believe the link is that strong), it will be a retrograde step, and damage both the future ministry of women and possibly the future chances of seeing women in the episcopate in the Church of England.

If this measure is passed at General Synod (with the support of WATCH) then that will be progress. It will mean that the Church of England will become a slightly better representation of what Christ came into the world to achieve, through the grace, love and forgiveness that we will continue to receive from the cross and proclaim to the world.

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About ramtopsrac

Church of England Priest, child of God, daughter of the New Forest, wife and mother.
This entry was posted in life, ministry, theology - how God fits in and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Let us make the best of things – let us progress (towards women in the episcopate)

  1. vahva says:

    Well said sister!

    I’ve been trying to work out what I think over the last few days. I think I’ve come to the same conclusion as you – I think we shouldn’t put up any more objections and let these amendments through – the alternative is waiting many more years before we see women in the episcopate. Thanks for sticking your neck out!

  2. Thanks for post – I’m not a WATCH member so haven’t submitted anything. I understand the desire to take what we are given and make the best of it. But my head still worries about the illogicality of the position the CofE has got itself into, as I blogged the other day. http://revdclaire.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/women-in-church.html

    I still don’t know the right answer, and suspect there isn’t a right answer, or even a path of least harm – to those who entered the CofE before women were ordained, to women who are called by God to ordination, to the church, and to God’s purpose for the church. To ordain women and then allow people to deny the validity of their ordination is wrong. To trample over those who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women is wrong. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I am trying to work out what the CofE will look like in twenty years if the amendments are passed – and what it will look like if they aren’t. If they are passed, then the structure remains illogical and enclaves are perpetuated. If not, then I suspect that there will still be women Bishops in twenty years time, but I’m not sure of the costs to the different parties involved.

    “Thy will be done”

  3. layanglicana says:

    My conclusions are the same as yours, and I have also made them known to WATCH. I do very much hope and pray that they will decide on the course of action you propose. Many will speak against it, including the woman parish priest whose comment on my own blog post on the subject has attracted a large number of readers (many more than on my own post!). You may like to read what she has to say, and the reason she is against allowing the Measure to go forward:
    http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2012/05/30/episcopal-ministry-the-effect-of-the-amendments-on-the-church-of-england-as-a-whole/

  4. UKViewer says:

    Have to agree. As I see, any measure passed is better than no measure at all.

  5. I think it is better on balance to go ahead with the legislation as it now stands, though I wish the bishops had left it as the dioceses approved it, and not done any tinkering. My anxiety is that, as amended, it is now more obviously discriminatory, and therefore will not get the Parliamentary approval it needs to become law. Parliament can only pass Measures, not amend them.There have been several warning shots on equality grounds already from those who will have the duty of piloting it through Parliament.

  6. davidkeen says:

    I’m not arguing for yet another pressure group here, God forbid there’s too many already, but it strikes me that if WATCH are the only group ‘representing’ supporters of women bishops, then a large body of opinion isn’t going to be heard as well as it should.

    My other worry is that the CofE has reached such a pitch of internal distrust that nobody is prepared to leave anything to human goodness anymore, every theological position must be tightly legislated on to prevent people skipping round it. I fear that lobby groups make this worse, by pushing for things to be enshrined in certain ways and threatening dire consequences if this doesn’t happen. Tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  7. I’ve reluctantly come to the same conclusion as you Reader in Writing that it is better to let the legislation go ahead in spite of its obvious problems. Who knows what God will do? I’ve been thinking about the lessons of the history of women in higher education, women’s suffrage etc. What has been achieved in such fields has usually been done piecemeal, with much compromise (and hurt) involved. Tortoises move slowly but get there in the end – see my post today here http://nancysblog-seeker.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/women-bishops-and-lessons-of-history.html
    I’ve included a link to your excellent post. I’ve pleased to have discovered your blog for the first time.

  8. Thank you to all of you who have written to WATCH to express your views, so far there has been a tremendous response and a significant number have been from non – members! Discernment is likely to take some time as WATCH is fully aware of the long term consequences of any decision it takes, and they are taking your views very, very seriously, so please keep those responses coming. I have been collating them this week to forward to the committee and it has been more than a full time job! The last email went through at 2am this morning in time for today’s meeting. I wish I could share with you the wit, wisdom, careful consideration and huge concern those letters express. Rachel, Layanglicana, I had the joy of reading yours and Clare – it’s really not too late to send something.

  9. In response to Reader in Waitings comments, please can I just ask one thing? Please can we be less quick to assign responsibility for the Legislation’s potential failure, or the fallout on WATCH?

    It is erroneous to assume that if the legislation falls in July, it will be entirely WATCH’s responsibility. Before WATCH is castigated in advance for any failure of the WB legislation to pass, it is worth reminding ourselves that It was far from certain that the legislation would have commanded the necessary 2/3rds majority in the House of Laity, even though 42/44 Diocese approved it, even before the last minute changes that have unnerved just about everybody.

    The Archbishop’s statement made it clear that the amendments were made the politically expedient reason of ‘allowing the legislation to command a wider degree of support and welcome’. WATCH, NADAWM and DARC as well as other supporters of the legislation, all made it abundantly clear prior to the HofB meeting that they would be unable to support the legislation if it was amended, that any amendments would be problematic – particularly those that attempted to change the definition of male provision. Therefore, one can only assume that the HofB were hoping to gain more support from those lobbying for further provision, who might otherwise use their influence to cause the legislation to fail. As a plan, this does not seem to have been a huge success, Forward in Faith welcomed the amendments but stated that the legislation still fails to meet their need, REFORM were similarly unimpressed. Neither group have committed to supporting the amended version.

    Now it appears that if WATCH, who as an organisation have campaigned conscientiously and untiringly for decades for Women to become Bishops, fail to support the amendments they specifically asked NOT to be passed, they will be blamed for the demise of the legislation and the subsequent fallout. Rachel says; “If the measure is not supported by WATCH and therefore not passed at General Synod (and yes I believe the link is that strong), it will be a retrograde step, and damage both the future ministry of women and possibly the future chances of seeing women in the episcopate in the Church of England”. It seems to me to be unfair and inaccurate to lay the blame of either legislative failure or damaging the future of women’s ministry at WATCH’s door.

    WATCH does indeed have significant influence and they will be discerning how best to wield it wisely, BUT at the end of the day WATCH won’t get to vote at July’s Synod. General Synod members will vote according to their conscience, regardless of what pressure groups may or may not say. Some General Synod members, not necessarily members of WATCH, will not be willing to support the amended legislation because they see that as equally damaging for the Church and for women.

    The Manchester Report of 2008 summarised the key issue as this:
    How shall we appoint women as bishops in a way that –

    • maintains the traditional understanding and role of bishops
    • leaves space for those who in conscience cannot accept women as priests or bishops
    • avoids any flavour of discrimination or half-heartedness by the Church towards women priests and bishops?
    (Manchester Report April 2008)

    It may be worth asking ourselves if we think that the amended legislation successfully addresses all three issues equally or if the first and last points (arguably as important as the middle) have been neglected to the point whereby supporting the legislation, however much we want Women Bishops, becomes untenable. This is now my own position, for example.

    WATCH has advocated and campaigned for legislation to enable Women to be Bishops for more than a decade. It has taken enormous time, energy, determination, discussion, heartbreaking amounts of compromise just to the legislation this far. They have thrown their not inconsiderable weight (sorry ladies and gents – just a metaphor!) behind supporting the legislation, even though it was discriminatory and represented a significant compromise from the a single clause measure many men and women asked for. If it fails to pass, or WATCH are no longer able to support it, then they too will be heart-broken. They are aware of the very grave consequences to the ministry and mission of the Church of England failing to pass this legislation. They are also very aware of the equally grave consequences of enshrining something theologically and ecclesiologically dubious, discriminatory and dysfunctional which has, after years of debate and thorough scrutiny been proposed at the last moment and cannot be challenged or debated by General Synod. Some, like you, wish to proceed, despite misgivings ( very few seem to think the clause 5 amendment was an improvement), some are so concerned they are willing to pass up what they have hoped for, for so long.

    Regardless of what decision the National WATCH come to today, if indeed a final decision is reached today, it is not a situation of their choosing or making, but one of a limited range of options available to them as a result of the House of Bishop’s actions. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea come to mind. Let’s pray they are granted the Wisdom of Solomon today and the weeks to come.
    Lindsay
    (I am a member of WATCH but these comments are written in a personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the view of the National Committee).

  10. Dear Friends,
    While the “conscience” clause in TEC’s history was intended only for those at the meetings at that time, it somehow became a perpetual clause. Once cause of the rift in TEC was a late 1990s decision to require all Dioceses to allow women to proceed towards ordination. This effectively ended the conscience clause and set gears in motion towards the schism here.
    But the schism was smaller in 2006 than it would have been twenty years earlier because women’s gifts had been richly demonstrated in all orders of ministry including Bishop. However annoying it is, leaving some space for people to die off and be replaced by more enlightened folks was a good path here. At some point, however, patience needs to run out and some schism endured.
    I do pray y’all pass it, even flawed, because the presence of women Bishops will turn the tide in time. Our prayers are with you from this side of the Pond.

  11. ramtopsrac says:

    Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this thread. It has been a fascinating and thought provoking read this evening.

    Lindsay, thanks for bringing me some clarity that perhaps I had missed, even when tweeting from my phone earlier today, when I couldn’t easily read the full transcript of what you’ve explained here.

    Yes, I agree on further reflection of what you say, that the HoB are to a great degree culpable if the measure is now not passed at General Synod. I’m not inclined to believe it was a deliberate ploy to scupper the measure, but perhaps their lack of insight into how their amendments would be received shows just how much women are needed in the House of Bishops.

    However, would there be some truth in the idea that for the ‘blame’ for such failure to be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the HoB, as many of those who support women bishops as possible should vote for the measure, however bitter the pill?

    Reading back through today’s tweets and comments here, I have realised two things

    a) As a Reader (currently) I am in a ministry which has reached a maturity (since women were accepted as Readers in the early 1970s) that means I have thus far experienced little sexism. Having said this, I would be unable to take a part in some forms of ministry in the neighbouring parish in our group, despite the willingness of their incumbent. I’ve never let it bother me – God has given me plenty of opportunities to discern my vocation on home turf. He is also able to work through others to speak into that community. I’m not sure it matters that they are almost all male (currently). In other spheres (including connected with our Cathedral) I’m not aware of the discrimination that people like Claire have perhaps experienced. Perhaps that is something I may encounter more overtly as an ordinand or curate.

    b) The more I read, the more I fear that the amended measure will not get the required 2/3 majority votes that it requires in all three houses of General Synod. What do we, as members of the Church of England, then say to those who stand on the sidelines and laugh at our lack of democracy, the integrity of our Bishops (who are fighting for their right to remain in the House of Lords) and the Gospel of hope we proclaim?

  12. I too am frustrated by the process, but as I am not a member of any Synod, have little say. I too think that the way courts enforce codes of practice elsewhere, the HoB changes won’t change anything in practice but will perhaps change the perception within and without the Church.

    I really do think the Measure should be passed, with or without these amendments. I know a number of formerly anti-ordination of women people who, having experienced women’s ordained ministry, now support it and are indeed pro-women bishops. I do hope and pray that some others who are still anti-women bishops will experience women’s episcopal ministry and be turned round likewise.

    I note the impenetrable press release referred to the Bishops maintaining a stream of suitable male priests and bishops to minister to those who are unable to accept women’s ministry. Whilst I agree that such provision may be pastorally necessary, it will be important that candidates meet the same criteria as every other.

  13. Thanks Rachel, I’d want to avoid scapegoating Bishops either, blame games are so rarely constructive. I think I simply wanted to say that there are many many factors that will influence the final outcome and we are all likely to contribute something through the things we say or do, so we need to avoid saying it is so and so’s fault (be that WATCH or FiF or REFORM or General Synod members), if the outcome is not what we hoped for. I’d like to think our Bishops did indeed have the best intentions of producing something that would improve the legislation’s chances, and I continue to hope that they will remain committed to finding a way through the current impasse. I’d also reiterate that it may not have got the necessary 2/3rds even before this situation arose.

  14. LF Buckland says:

    With such interesting and well-expressed comments it is almost invidious to add anything..but! The Church is admirable in its compassion for liminal minorities:whether ageing remnants preferring 1662, or providing for those who in conscience cannot accept women Bishops. I am struck by the fact that women priests were a matter of concern to a number of people who, having experienced their ministry, now support them wholeheartedly.
    If it was found possible to proceed with that radical step of Ordaining women – despite caveats – how can it remain difficult to complete a logical (and desirable) process, by welcoming women Bishops.
    The shame is that there could be any further delay.

  15. Pingback: Humility required in the name of equality | A Reader in Writing

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