Is God waiting for the C of E? (Reviewing Maggi Dawn’s ‘Like the Wideness of the Sea’) #womenbishops

2013-03-03 21.02.40 (w)I read Maggi Dawn’s ‘Like the Wideness of the Sea – Women Bishops and the Church of England’ yesterday.

That tells you for a start that it’s not a very big book – I’m not that fast a reader, especially when I want to give some thought to what I’m reading. If like me you’re a busy ordinand it also shows you that it’s not a difficult read, and worthwhile fitting in among the studies.

There are three main chapters to this little gem. They seem to me to be loosely themed around that Anglican cord of three strands attributed to Hooker; scripture, tradition (or you might term it also ‘history’), and reason/experience (what I think Maggi describes as ‘participatory knowledge’).

I was particularly interested by Maggi’s association between the concept of ‘reception’ (in this case of women priests and a detail of the existing legislation I had a only a sketchy knowledge of) and the story of the Wisdom of Gamaliel in Acts 5. Maggi’s solution to the impasse that has the Church of England adrift in the middle of ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner‘ seems a simple one; is it really the light at the end of the tunnel that offers the hope of journeys with God in a new land?

I remember back in 2010 thinking that the Archbishop’s amendment at that stage in the legislative process was helping to obscure to the imaginative, vital and prophetic voice of the church and those who minister with it. It is clear that situation hasn’t improved, and our voice isn’t getting any louder. I guess what worries me is if it really is as simple as Maggi suggests (and I want it to be), why has this solution not been thought of before, and what stands in the way of this being the solution that is being worked on right now?

I came late to the detailed history of the movement towards the ordination of women, despite my mother’s strong opinions and work for this idea. Maggi’s discussion of the theology of waiting within the scope of this history (Chapter 2) was very helpful. I was most profoundly struck by this, and her moving personal testimony in Chapter 3 of the damage that can be done by waiting to individuals and is being done to the Church’s ‘prophetic power for change’. To read of the extreme behaviour that some have exhibited towards Maggi Dawn was humbling – she, as many others, bore the cross of rejection for too long, to Yale’s gain and our loss.

As I recommend the book to anyone remotely interested in the situation that the Church of England finds itself in over women bishops, Maggi has left me with the very strong idea that she is right, and that God is waiting for the Church of England to pull it’s finger out, and make a clear and simple decision one way or t’other.

Bryony Taylor and Steve Taylor and Andy Goodliff have also written reviews.

Will Diocesan Bishops meet their clergy before #HofB meet? #synod

What to me is now a rather poignant carving, in the choir of All Saints Church, Cuddesdon

At approximately 5.50pm last Tuesday night (27th Nov 2012), the Right Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, climbed into the pulpit at All Saints, Cuddesdon to preach to the massed ranks of ordinands and their newly resident community of nuns. He looked at his watch, and commented that it was a week, almost to the hour, since General Synod had made a big mistake.

Then, with Rt Revd Michael Perham the Bishop of Gloucester (who was presiding at Eucharist) looking on, Bishop John apologised. He apologised on behalf of the General Synod for making a mess of things over the issue of female bishops, and specifically for making our lives as ordinands, and our ministries in curacy, even more difficult than it is already.

He went on to explain that in the days immediately after the General Synod vote, he had met with 50+ of the 250ish female clergy of his diocese, to try to share their pain and hear their immediate responses.

With the news yesterday that the Archbishop’s Council have this week

recommended that the House of Bishops, during its meeting in a fortnight’s time, put in place a clear process for discussions in the New Year with a view to bringing legislative proposals before the Synod in July

I was set wondering as to whether all the Diocesan Bishop’s will be holding such meetings with their clergy before the House of Bishop gather to consider the next synodical steps in this painful journey.

So last night, with the help of Twitter, I discovered the details I list below.

You may well be able to add to this, and if so, I would invite you to please ‘comment’ the details below, so that those who might not have such meetings planned in the near future, and/or whose Diocesan synods meet this weekend, can have a clear picture of where they fit into the pattern of communication and care provided by the Bishops of their Diocese, to those affected by and concerned about last weeks vote.

  • Durham, St. Albans, Oxford, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Southwark have met with clergy already, in some cases only with the female clergy, though in the case of St Albans all clergy/readers/laity have been asked to write with feedback
  • Bishops in Sheffield were meeting their clergy last night
  • Dover/Canterbury is holding a Eucharist and discussion on Saturday 1st Dec, which is open to all, not just clergy
  • Ely Bishops are hosting Eucharist, coffee and discussion on Saturday 1st Dec
  • Exeter are meeting Monday 3rd December
  • St Edmundsbury and Ipswich meet on 5th December
  • Southwell and Nottingham on 6th December
  • Liverpool meet (with only the female clergy) on 6th December
  • Chelmsford is hosting a Champagne breakfast (not sure when)
  • Gloucester is meeting all clergy next week for Eucharist, with lunch provided for discussions with female clergy aftewards
  • Coventry has planned a gathering for early December

Among the additional comments I received on Twitter last night were the following:

  • disappointment that not all these meetings are open to all clergy, some are just for the female ones
  • in those diocese that have already had meetings, the ‘diary clearing’ by Bishops that enabled them has been much appreciated.

Rising to the bait of double standards? #feminism #ABC #Remembrance

I’ve spent the evening catching up on various blog posts and in doing so I’ve realised that I been mentally arguing both for, and against, being seen to stand up for what I think, though the subject matter has varied.

First up, I was reading up on what exactly is understood by Christian Feminism in a post by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes. I found her explanation really helpful, but wondered about the need to constantly rise to the bait of people who either (a) don’t think through what they’re saying, or (b) are being deliberately provocative to get a rise out of ‘the opposition’.

In the midst of this there’s a conversation going on via Twitter about the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently the Daily Telegraph’s word is good enough to count as an announcement of reality for many. Really, shouldn’t we wait until Lambeth Palace, Number 10, or Buckingham Palace make an announcement before passing comment and second-guessing a judgement on the brave man who will clasp what some might regard as a poison chalice? Aren’t we rising to the media’s bait if we don’t?

And then I read my friend Claire’s post on Remembrance and wearing badges – wearing as I did so:

  • 2 Twibbons on my gravitar (one for women bishops, one for the Royal British Legion),
  • 2 wristbands on my arm (one RBL, one in memory of the Royal Marine whose funeral I helped lead two years ago),
  • and a RBL poppy lapel pin that can be seen on my collar when my coat is on!

And so I realised that perhaps I was suffering a severe case of double standards! I want to be seen to be supporting certain things, yet I am unwilling to speak out against what I do regard as the misplaced understandings of others, whilst also griping about those who wish to close as soon as possible, an uncomfortable chapter of uncertainty in the church.

Or am I? I wonder if it’s a personal thing.

You see, I’ve never been particularly aware of the remarks or assumptions that people make about things I believe are important. Perhaps it’s because I don’t think very quickly, or I share with them a certain shallowness of thought. Usually it’s others who get upset on my behalf about things that might be said about me, or about the Christian faith I share, or how I am called to live that out. I prefer to ‘be’ and ‘do’, rather than speak – unless of course I’m in a pulpit or on this blog!

And though the next Archbishop of Canterbury will I guess be my Managing Director in the long term, or perhaps because of that, I’m not too keen to speak before being spoken to on that subject.

But over the last couple of years, the marking of Remembrance Day and the issue of women bishops, have become more deeply personal. Adam’s funeral turned out to be a huge turning point in my ministry, as I’ve talked about before. And as a woman now training for the priesthood who is finally coming to terms with the inheritance my mother left me, it seems right to care about the future nature of leadership in the church I am called to be a priest in.

Because these things are personal, I want to be recognised for caring about them, so I wear the appropriate badges, and hope they have integrity with who I am and what I care about.

So I go to bed wondering at the badges that Jesus might have worn, and realise that by speaking up, and standing out for what he knew to be right, he gave us possibly the most recognised badge of all, the cross.

I wear one of those as well, but it’s unlikely to cost me my vocation as it has others their career!

The Sepulchre Experience – The women’s tale

Will you light a candle for the women at the sepulchre? (Minstead Church, November 2012)

For the open day celebrating ‘Life and Lives Lived’ at All Saints’ Minstead, my father was asked to select a reflection on the sepulchre to leave out for people to read. He didn’t. Instead he was inspired to write this retelling of the Gospel which seems to echo something of what Rt Revd Steven Croft has said, and which concludes with what I pray may be a prophesy:

We had no rights. Our laws were strict. As girls we were under the control of our fathers. When we married, which was expected of us, control passed to our husband and we became his property.

As an eldest child we did not inherit our father’s estate; that would pass to our oldest brother. Single women, or those widowed, rarely got the respect they deserved. Women took no part in our religious ceremonies. The rite of membership, that of circumcision, was inscribed in one of our early scrolls, and so as women we were excluded. (Genesis 17:10)

This exclusion was accentuated at the Temple where we were confined to the Court of Women which was nineteen steps higher than the Court of Gentiles, but fifteen steps lower than the Court of Israel. We were still further excluded by Temple rules which viewed the rhythm of our feminine biological clocks as something unclean.

Some few of us made successful lives of our own and because we had not married, were sometimes classed together with the street women who plied their trade. We moved on era by era until we heard of a new prophet who was travelling around Galilee. He had healed several of us and also cured Simon’s mother of fever.

He told how he had been sent by his Father, our God, to fulfil the ancient scriptures. We believed, and so were given a new beginning to our lives as women. We came out from the shadow of the Temple and the old restrictive laws and became empowered to serve fully in the new freedom of his Church.

Our friend Luke recorded many of these wonderful times in his account of the life of this Jesus who had grown up in Nazareth, and you read them as Luke 8:

After this Jesus travelled from one town and village to another proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. They included Mary (called Magdalene), Joanna the wife of Cuza who was Herod’s steward, Susanna, Salome the wife of Zebedee, and many other women. These women helped support the men out of their own means.

This Jesus was both remote and yet intimately close; a presence like no other man. He spread the news that the Kingdom of God was among us, all were welcome and that we as women were fully part of it.

So many folk came to hear him and took to his new Way of living that the priests felt threatened and fabricated charges against him. We were at his ‘trial’, a mockery of justice.

They were afraid that the freedom, justice and equality Jesus preached as a fulfilment of Scripture would diminish their power base. The Roman governor Pilate could find no fault in him. He did not listen to his wife Claudia when she recounted her dream, but bowed to pressure from the priests and allowed our friend Jesus to be crucified.

A group of us stood there by his cross, totally bereft. With us were Mary his mother and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome, and Mary Magdalene. The soldiers realised he had died and so we were spared the final agony of seeing his bones broken.

‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’ Station XIII from All Saints’ Basingstoke

As the Day of Preparation drew to a close, Joseph from Arimathea gained Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body to the tomb he had bought for himself. Nicodemus had brought embalming spices and together they completed the rituals and sealed the tomb with a large rock.

We had lost him and were leaderless. We all feared were were being spied on, so observed the Passover; but before dawn the next day one of us went to the tomb and in amazement found the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. She ran and told the others. Several of the men went back with her, looked and went away in great sadness not knowing what to believe. But she was drawn in her own grief to stay in the garden and find a closeness to him in that place where his body had rested.

Through her tears she saw a man she thought was the gardener who asked the reason for her grief. She could only reply, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know what they’ve done with him.” In a voice she never expected to hear again he spoke her name, “Mary,… tell the others I will meet them in Galilee.”

He had chosen one of us, his women companions, to carry to the world the message of his Resurrection. In that brief moment he confirmed that his Church was one without discrimination between the sexes. Years later his apostle Paul put it like this when he wrote to the Galatians:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But those fruitful years were short and generations of women were once more marginalised, until in your time a degree of enlightenment dawned and our sex can again live the Resurrection Day experience of being called by name to serve in his Church.

By the time you read this, the last barrier may have been removed, and we will have received his final blessing of complete equality with our fellow male believers.

Michael Clarke, 20th October 2012

He and I are supporting the Yes 2 Women Bishops Campaign. Can you?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T the House of Bishops

By jove, I think they’ve got it!

At least, I hope and pray they have. The House of Bishops that is. “It” being wording which will allow the mission and ministry of the Church of England to move on, and those women with the appropriate calling to be ordained bishop. It now rests with the General Synod who meet (if I understand correctly) in November (14th-16th), for the specific purpose of voting on the legislation to enable bishops to be of either sex.

I wanted to give myself an easy reference point of the final wording of Clause 5(1)(c) and the comments that have followed today, as a means of thinking through my own reactions.  For what it’s worth, they’re shared here:

Press Release from the new CofE Media Centre – short, clear and positive in how it reads. I get the impression the House of Bishops really want this matter voted through and the world to move on. May that prayer be answered, and may we who are members of the Church of England show them the respect they deserve for listening to the simple words of a woman, and deciding that they give us the best chance of earning us the belated respect of the nation.

Lay Anglicana hailing the wisdom of the Revd Janet Appleby (General Synod member) whose suggested rewording of the much debated clause received the “overwhelming” support of the Bishops. The dubbing of the Clause as the ‘Appleby Amendment’ should stick – in all senses. The post also leads to the thought that the onus for the move towards a general acceptance of ‘bishops’ as being either male or female, will rest firmly in the hands of local lay people, if the Appleby Amendment is accepted.

The Opinionated Vicar has highlighted today’s notable silences.  WATCH have in fact written to members last night noting their “disappointment that the House of Bishops today decided not to withdraw Clause 5(1)c” and saying they will “consult with our members and others” before deciding their public position. As a member, I publicly ask here and now that WATCH support the Appleby Amendment.

From their different point of view, Reform‘s silence thus far may well be for the same reason, and should thus be commended.

Peter Ould points out that “to respect a position means one has to not just recognise it but also take it into account when responding to it”. For some that may be hard work, but there are few things that are fruitful, that do not require tender loving care and hard graft, so if the General Synod votes the whole legislation through, let us be prepared to make respect a reality.

Thinking Anglicans as usual were the first to offer space for people to comment on the text of the House of Bishop’s statement and the Archbishop’s podcast which followed it. The comments on the post are of particular interest as they offer a range of viewpoints. I guess that my reaction to some of these is that now is the time for the game of semantics to end, and let’s hope we don’t need the lawyers to get too involved.

There may well be other comments made in places I haven’t noticed and in the days to come, especially since the Appleby Amendment came too late for the Church Times paper edition. Their website gets the ball rolling with Paul Handley’s item, which I presume is free to view until next week.

But by that time, I shall be concentrating on other things, but still praying.


Humility required in the name of equality

As my previous post on the subject of the legislation enabling women to be selected and ordained to the episcopate suggested, I (like thousands of others) was not impressed with one of the House of Bishop’s amendments to the legislation previously voted for by 42 out of 44 diocese of the Church of England.

But I was also deeply concerned by the thought that women I know and admire, both priests and/or General Synod members, would prefer the amended legislation NOT to be passed rather than be passed in it’s revised form, which increases the appearances (and possibly the fact) of discrimination that will be retained in the legislation. I can understand why, but it troubles me.

I have watched with interest in the last few days as first the Diocese of Salisbury, then Gloucester (with their Bishop’s address here), voted for the amendment, or the legislation in it’s entirety, to be revoked. In both cases this was done with the support of the relevant diocesan bishops!

Today, WATCH (Women and the Church), have created this on-line petition asking for the amendment in which the House of Bishops appeared to create a two tier system of bishops to be withdrawn. I have signed it this evening, as a “Reader/Ordinand”, with the following comment:

The Synodical system of the CofE supported by the majority of those who debated and voted, the legislation originally tabled regarding women bishops. The House of Bishop’s amendment to Clause 5(1)c, seems to have made more overt the discrimination retained in the legislation, to a level that many supporters of women bishop’s find intolerable. It has also shown the leadership and legislative process of the CofE to be flawed, reducing still further the limited respect it holds both within the church it seeks to lead, and in the wider community.

Please withdraw Clause 5(1)c, so that we can proceed swiftly to witness the long-over due opportunity of having our most able women appointed to the episcopate in a way that enables their relationship with their colleagues and the people of the church to exist on an equal footing to that of their male counterparts.

I believe that this course of action, this step of humility by the House of Bishop’s, will enable the legislation to be passed, and thus give all those engaged in ministry within the CofE encouragement to concentrate their energies more fully on our calling under God to expand his Kingdom on earth, and glorify his name.

If you feel able to sign the petitition, whether as a Anglican, a Christian of any denomination, or indeed an agnostic or atheist who supports the equal rights of women to positions of leadership, please do so.

If before doing so, you want to read some other reflections and viewpoints on what is a complicated subject, I can recommend the following links: Lay Anglicana today and previously; the (new look) Church Times (which may be subscribers only); WATCH’s ‘statement of concerns’; various Thinking Anglicans links (and the comments thereon) including here, here and here.

From what I can gather through some of these links, there seems to be no previous example of such an amendment being withdrawn, but Christians believe in a God of miracles, and there is always a first time for everything!

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.

My letter to members of General Synod @GenSyn #Synod

Dear Member of General Synod

I don’t normally write to those I don’t know about matters of concern, but as a General Synod representative I hope you don’t mind me contacting you regarding the forthcoming debates on Women Bishop’s, particularly as they pertain to what has become known as the ‘Archbishop’s Amendment’.

I have no idea of your own personal views on this subject, but as a lay minister in Diocese of Winchester I hope you don’t mind me sharing with you my concern that Synod may opt to try and change the proposed legislation from one which seeks to delegate powers of future women bishops, to one which would transfer powers from women bishops (and others).

Of particular concern is the fact that trying to amend the legislation in this way would delay the process of enabling women to become bishops still further. The legislation would need to be referred to the diocese’ again, but the evidence of voting in the diocese’ is that the amendment would not get the support it needs to return to the General Synod, and thus the extra time used would be wasted, as the process would then be no further forward that we are now.

The reality of the situation seems to be that the legislation currently before General Synod is the “best” compromise possible. I would encourage you therefore to at least abstain from the vote for the motion put forward by the Diocese of Manchester (to seek a change to legislation towards transferred powers), and to feel able to support the motion of the Diocese of Southwark (which asks Synod to request the House of Bishops not to amend the legislation further).

My thanks for taking the time to read my short request in the knowledge that you will give the matter fair consideration.


(This letter has been sent in person to General Synod members who I know, or who live in my area.)

If you don’t understand what this refers to, please try reading some of these

  • links here (now a NEW post from the Church Mouse – he and I posted almost simultaneously on the subject, but he’s cleverer and gives a full explanation of the situation),
  • here (WATCH – Women and the Church)
  • here (an old, somewhat tongue in cheek summary from Revd Lesley of why some people don’t want women bishop’s – which led me to ask for better links for the Anglo-Catholic view, which good Twitter friends obliged with.)
  • So for sensible explanations of the Anglo-Catholic viewpoint please read what Forward in Faith say (thanks to @TheRevdDr) and this from @EdwardBGreen.