The House of Bishops of the Church of England met yesterday and today at Lambeth Palace and considered the implications of the General Synod’s recent rejection of legislation to enable women to become bishops. The House had the benefit of participation in its discussion of the Very Rev Viv Faull, the Venerable Christine Hardman, Dr Paula Gooder, and Mrs Margaret Swinson, who had all previously served on the Steering Committee or Revision Committee for the legislation.
The House expressed its ongoing gratitude and appreciation for the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England, and its sadness that recent events should have left so many feeling undermined and undervalued. Effective response to this situation is a priority on which all are strongly agreed.
The House acknowledged the profound and widespread sense of anger, grief, and disappointment felt by so many in the Church of England and beyond, and agreed that the present situation was unsustainable for all, whatever their convictions. It expressed its continuing commitment to enabling women to be consecrated as bishops, and intends to have fresh proposals to put before the General Synod at its next meeting in July.
The House will be organising an event early in 2013 at which it will share with a larger number of lay and ordained women – in the context of prayer and reflection – questions about the culture of the House’s processes and discussions, and how women might more regularly contribute.
In order to avoid delay in preparing new legislative proposals, the House has set up a working group drawn from all three houses of Synod, the membership to be determined by the Archbishops and announced before Christmas.
This group will arrange facilitated discussions with a wide range of people of a variety of views in the week of February 4th, when General Synod was to have met.
The House will have an additional meeting in February immediately after these discussions, and expects to settle at its May meeting the elements of a new legislative package to come to Synod in July.
For any such proposals to command assent, the House believes that they will need (i) greater simplicity, (ii) a clear embodiment of the principle articulated by the 1998 Lambeth Conference “that those who dissent from as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans”, (iii) a broadly-based measure of agreement about the shape of the legislation in advance of the beginning of the actual legislative process. These concerns will be the focus of the working group in the months ahead.
The House endorsed the view of the Archbishops’ Council that the “Church of England now has to resolve this issue through its own processes as a matter of great urgency”.