Thinking Anglicans

WATCH responds to Tom Wright

Statement from WATCH (Women and the Church) in response to the Bishop of Durham’s recent comments appealing for further delay in consecrating women as bishops

The Bishop of Durham has suggested to his Diocesan Synod (21 May 2010 at that the Church of England should delay moving forward with the proposed legislation to allow women to be bishops and engage in further theological debate.

WATCH welcomes the Bishop of Durham’s clear support for the ordination of women, but takes issue with his call for delay. As Bishop Tom himself said in his address, the move to the ordination of women ‘has been debated and decided by the whole church meeting in solemn conclave’. Bishop Tom has himself long argued that ordaining women is right according to the Bible.

‘There can be no excuse for delay now. Calling for more theological debate is simply a delaying tactic, and betrays those women and men who have been working and praying for women’s full inclusion in the Church for so long.’ said Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall Holmes – Chaplain and Solway fellow of University College, Durham and member of General Synod.

The Church of England has been discussing this issue for nigh on a century, and Florence Li-Tim Oi, the first Anglican woman priest, was ordained in Hong Kong in 1944 when there were no male priests available to serve the people behind enemy lines in China.

The General Synod of the Church of England has been formally debating this issue for over thirty years. In the 1970s General Synod voted that there was no fundamental objection to the ordination of women. Also in the 70s General Synod debated a motion calling for women’s ordination as deacons, priests and bishops. It received a simple majority, but narrowly failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required in each house. The theology of women in the Episcopate has continued to be explored and debated since then. General Synod has now voted three times, in 2005,2006 and 2008, that it is right for women to be made bishops. Let no-one say that this decision is a hasty one.

“Most people in the Church of England just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. They want to see a church focusing its energies outwards rather than constantly wrangling over internal arrangements to suit the minority opposed to women priests and bishops”, said Rev Rachel Weir Chair of WATCH.

The legislation that General Synod will be voting on in July makes substantial provision for those who still wish to reject the ministry of women. A parish will still be able to vote to have only a male priest. If a female bishop is appointed to a diocese, any parish in that diocese will be able to vote to reject her ministry and instead insist on having a male bishop to do things like confirmations in that parish. Anyone who wishes to avoid the ministry of women will still be able to do so.

WATCH would much prefer to have had simple legislation which just made women bishops on the same terms as men. However, we are prepared to accept this compromise position in order to see the leadership of our Church fully open to women as well as men.

WATCH looks forward, with the vast majority of the Church of England, to seeing women as bishops alongside their male colleagues as soon as possible: even if the General Synod votes to proceed in July, this will not be until 2014. Let it be no longer.

Sally Barnes, WATCH Media Officer 07759343335 or 0208 731 9860
Hilary Cotton, WATCH Campaign Co-ordinator: 07793817058
Miranda Threlfall – Holmes WATCH and General Synod Member: 0191 334 4116

Notes for Editors

WATCH (Women and the Church) is a voluntary organisation of women and men who are campaigning to see women take their place alongside men without discrimination and at every level in the Church of England. This requires the removal of current legal obstacles to the consecration of women as bishops. WATCH believes that the full equality of women and men in the Church is part of God’s will for all people, and reflects the inclusive heart of the Christian scripture and tradition.

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Father Ron Smith
14 years ago

The response of WATCH to the retiring Bishop of Durham is, to my mind, still far too accommodating to his desire for a ‘pause’ in the episcopal ordination of women process. It would appear that Bishop Tom has made his influence known to, and brought to bear upon, the Palace of Lambeth. If, indeed, the ABC and the ABY are preparing an amendment to the motion which would have allowed women’s episcopal ordination – to the effect that ‘it may be a good idea, but not just yet’, this might point to Bishop Tom’s influence over them. Let’s hope that… Read more »

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