Tuesday, 3 October 2017

WATCH response to Mawer report on Sheffield

WATCH National Committee response to the Independent Reviewer’s Report on the Nomination to the See of Sheffield

The national committee of WATCH has now had time to read and discuss Sir Philip Mawer’s review into the nomination of +Philip North to the See of Sheffield and his subsequent withdrawal. We note Sir Philip’s conclusion that there were no villains, however there was a serious lack of forethought. It is clear that the question of whether the new bishop would be able to unequivocally affirm the ordained ministry of women was not widely discussed. +Philip was led to believe that the diocese was prepared for his appointment and was therefore placed in a difficult position when it became clear that many had serious questions about how this would work.

His reaction to the genuine questions and fears of the women clergy of the diocese shows his lack of understanding of how undermining his inability to fully affirm women’s sacramental ministry is to those who continue to minister in a church which cannot quite accept the equality which the wider society now enshrines in law. It seems incredible that nobody in the central Church of England appointments or communications departments thought that this would be a contentious appointment requiring sensitive pastoral work within both the diocese and the wider church.

The review highlights the need for more theological thinking about the five guiding principles. It also makes suggestions about the Crown Nomination Committee and the appointment process which can be picked up by the ongoing review of that process. WATCH’s response to the Sir Philip Mawer’s review and his recommendations is published below:

WATCH National Committee response to the Independent Review Oct 2017

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 4:16pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

There's an interesting phenomenon going on with Philip North, and also Martin Warner. In both cases, it is constantly claimed that women clergy in their areas have their ministry fully affirmed. In neither case have I heard any allegations to the contrary, so I have to believe this is true. However, neither man has satisfactorily explained their beliefs in a way that allows the rest of us to understand why they do this. Do they believe something which is either different to or more nuanced than the beliefs claimed by FiF? Or are they politely pretending they think women have a valid ministry?

Based on what I hear about his ministry, I suspect that if Philip North were able to satisfactorily articulate his beliefs, he'd be a diocesan bishop as soon as a post became available. Until he does so, the likes of WATCH are right to be very suspicious.

Posted by: Leon on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 4:43pm BST

"It seems incredible that nobody in the central Church of England appointments or communications departments thought that this would be a contentious appointment."

Well, yes. It does seem incredible, doesn't it?

Perhaps they knew full well it might be contentious, but were hoping to slip it by the diocese regardless.

All part of the Archbishops' plan to present the Global South with the CofE's "most orthodox" bench of bishops "since WWII."

Global South? Or English North?

Which deserved greater consideration, in this Sheffield appointment?

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 5:14pm BST

"How undermining... to those who continue to minister in a church which cannot quite accept the equality which the wider society now enshrines in law." This could be said equally by those who have genuine theological objections to the ordination of women, especially as the 2014 Measure is enshrined in law. Physician heal thyself... and all that.

Posted by: Will Richards on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 5:19pm BST

I have read the WATCH report with great interest and hope others will, in particular within the senior staff in any Diocese. I am also interested that Leon has never 'heard any allegations to the contrary', that the ministry of women is fully affirmed in Blackburn and Chichester. May I suggest he tries talking to ordained women in both episcopal areas? The stories which come out of Chichester, in particular, are heart-rending. Sir Philip Mawer has done a good job with his report, but in their comments, WATCH says, "WATCH continues to be very concerned that this report, which describes events in which the views and role of ordained women and laity in parishes was so significant, gives so little space to these groups. For example, twice as many men as women were included in those consulted or who sent in their views. There is a real challenge in ensuring that those with stories to tell are given space in which to tell them, and are able to feel safe doing so." Women are not an 'issue'. They are not a 'problem'. To be continually 'discussing women' objectivises them and denies them their God-given identity. In exactly the same way as discussing 'the gay issue' objectivises people on grounds of their sexual identity. Please remember that in other situations discrimination on grounds of gender or sexuality is ILLEGAL. No wonder the church is irrelevant to the vast majority of young people in England. Please will the House of Bishops now take up the challenge set out by Sir Philip Mawer, together with a chosen cohort of women, as there are still far too few women who are officially members of this group.

Posted by: ANNE on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 5:25pm BST

Would differentiating 'is' and 'ought' be helpful?

One might believe (rightly or wrongly) that women should not be ordained priest (or bishop), yet accept that those who have been ordained priest (or bishop)have been validly ordained - even if one wishes that such ordinations would be stopped at some point.

Or alternatively one might make a distinction between validity and regularity - with the opinion that the ordinations were irregular, yet still valid.

Now that's what could be thought, but would this go anyway to reassuring women clergy or male supporters of women's ordination?

Posted by: Adrian Judd on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 6:45pm BST

"There's an interesting phenomenon going on with Philip North, and also Martin Warner. In both cases, it is constantly claimed that women clergy in their areas have their ministry fully affirmed. In neither case have I heard any allegations to the contrary, so I have to believe this is true."

The same, pretty much, was said of the late Bishop of Europe. I think that FiF bishops have learned to love, respect and work with Christians they disagree with... Unlike WATCH who, like most 'liberals' it seems, continue to claim moral superiority and to deny non-liberals any equal right to be "wrong".

Posted by: RevDave on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 9:02pm BST

Adrian, how could it help? If it helped then ordained women would be selfishly concerned only with their own, individual status rather than have a Christian belief in the equality of others.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 9:16pm BST

A good statement from WATCH. I'm so glad that they pointed out the false equivalencies inherent in the Mawer Report. Also, that he spilled a lot of ink on men and hardly any on women, thus, the concerns of women were not given nearly enough voice.

The "independent report" needed more independence, along with a female co-investigator/writer.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 11:43pm BST

"Unlike WATCH who, like most 'liberals' it seems, continue to claim moral superiority and to deny non-liberals any equal right to be "wrong"."

WATCH doesn't say anything of the sort, and neither do most "liberals." We have simply pointed out the disparity in power when a non-ordainer is a diocesan (or archdeacon, apparently). Conservative parishes can have alternative oversight, but women who aren't viewed as sacramentally legitimate by their boss is a different matter.

Non-ordainers are in the minority. CoE has found ways to serve those minority parishes. No one is "entitled" to be a diocesan, and that is ultimately what this is about - conservatives feeling entitled to continue disrespecting women from a position of power. They still have a place in the church, despite their discriminating inclinations that would be illegal in secular society. There is no respectful way to discriminate or to say that your orders are legally, but not sacramentally, valid. It's offensive and damaging. So somehow CoE has to find a way to include the anti-women people, without giving strength to their offensive position.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 at 11:57pm BST

It's quite clear from this who now wears the trousers in the contemporary C of E.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 5:40am BST

Oh yes, RevDave, how terribly intolerant of them not to tolerate discrimination.

Posted by: Jo on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 6:32am BST

The allegedly discriminated against have now become the discriminators.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 7:43am BST

Jo wrote "Oh yes, RevDave, how terribly intolerant of them not to tolerate discrimination."

Dear Jo and Cynthia, FiF and the ConEvos do look up to many Women of God, and they have many women in ministering in their churches and parachurch organisations. And in reality the FiF bishops are much better examples of "good disagreement" than the WATCH folk!

They respect women, treat women as equals, even those who are 'sinners', and they hold up women as much as men as examples of Christian faith, godliness and service. It's just that they don't appoint women to officially ordained positions. Are you really incapable of accepting a man that does this as head of the church?

Posted by: RevDave on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 1:07pm BST

"It's just that they don't appoint women to officially ordained positions."

Dear RevDave: perhaps you should let us women decide whether or not we think we are being treated as equals. Obviously, the women of Sheffield didn't see it your way.

Am I "incapable of accepting a man as head of the church?"

Seeing that men have led it for a long time, that's a pretty silly question. It isn't either/or, it's both/and. I am incapable of accepting a non-ordaining bishop at this time. When the church is 50-50, female-male bishops, at all levels, ask me again, I might feel differently when women actually are treated equally.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 5:31pm BST

Congratulations to Watch for a very balanced and thoughtful report. They truly have a prophetic role in a Church which is woefully slow to learn. Listening to the voices of those outside the centres of power doesn't come easily to the dear old C of E - how unlike Jesus.

Re. Martin Warner, I have heard nothing from Chichester but have my own stories of him from his time as Bishop of Whitby (suffragans in York being similar to diocesans elsewhere). Some women had no problems with him, others of us did. He very definitely undermined both me and my ministry there and I still bear the scars.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 5:39pm BST

"The allegedly discriminated against have now become the discriminators."

Re: Allegedly - the numbers and history speak for themselves.

Re: becoming the discriminators - WATCH, the women of Sheffield, and countless bloggers are asking the question that needs to be answered. It only has to be answered at the diocesan level, but it must be answered. How do girls and women flourish with a non-ordaining bishop? The lack of empathy for that crucial question is disturbing.

Father David, I treasure the sacraments as much as you do. How does it work when a diocesan bishop doesn't believe that my wonderful female priest is administering valid sacraments? And what message do girls receive when they live under that belief system? When all is 50-50, perhaps the non-ordaining position won't be so harmful.

There are only 2 female diocesans in 42 dioceses? And you call Sheffield discrimination?

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 5:42pm BST

It would be interesting to have some actual critique of the content of this response other than the mere fact that it was produced by WATCH. Which of the questions it raises, for example, is it not possible to raise in a spirit of "good disagreement" or "mutual flourishing"? Note also that the Mawer report barely mentions WATCH as actors in the Sheffield events. But wouldn't you expect an organisation like WATCH to respond to the report?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 5:51pm BST

Yes, I'm sure the conservatives in Blackburn & Burnley who referred to my then parish priest and her colleagues as "priestesses" did so with the utmost respect. When I encounter these perfectly spherical non-discriminatory discriminators we'll talk. There is no "just" to the claim that half the population are not capable of receiving all the sacraments.

Posted by: Jo on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 7:31pm BST

"It's just that they don't appoint women to officially ordained positions."


"Officially ordained"? As opposed to all those unofficially ordained people who have such power in the Church hierarchy?

Heaven forbid that a woman should officially outrank a man.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 3:51am BST

Congratulations to Watch on a thoughtful and balanced response. The Church of England seems still unable to hear the voices of those away from the corridors of power. Imagine how different - and how much better - the 'independent' review could have been if it had been conducted by Mawer plus, say, Tina Baxter and Elaine Storkey?

And I'd suggest Elaine Graham be a candidate for inclusion in any theological work on the issue.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 9:31am BST

Mark Bennet asks "Which of the questions it raises, for example, is it not possible to raise in a spirit of "good disagreement" or "mutual flourishing?" which seems reasonable enough - unless you have theological objections to the ordination of women. Then, questions raised in a spirit of mutual flourishing becomes institutionalised discrimination.

As I have said before, I am a supporter of equal ordination (on all fronts) and I find the stance of WATCH and others to be not only mean spirited towards a minority in our Church (especially in the light of the 5GPs), but breath-taking in its capacity to claim how right it is.

There are ways to change the way the Church is. For Anglicans, it is called consensus. This is quite different from the uncompromising demands of campaigns and narrow pressure groups. They may make the most noise, but they do little to build-up the body of Christ or help us discern the mind of Christ in a rounded and generous fashion. The trouble is it takes time - but certain groups want it, and they want it now.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 1:57pm BST

Michael Mulhern It is very odd to describe as 'a narrow pressure group' an organisation whose position is precisely that of the CofE itself - that women and men share equalling in the vocation to priestly ministry and leadership at every level of the church's life. They also fully support the provisions made for the minority who cannot accept the Church's position. I find nothing in their statement that says otherwise.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 3:59pm BST

Stephen Parsons suggests in his most recent blog that a failure to understand the mechanisms , effects, and abuses of power is behind many of our problems. The piece is specifically about the Church's ineptitude when it comes to handling sexual abuse, but he argues (rightly, I believe) that it also applies to issues of gender and clergy vs. laity. Here's a link:

Posted by: Janet Fife on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 5:45pm BST

Michael Mulhern, there's nothing mean-spirited in WATCH's response. The question of the sacraments and how it is that women (clergy and lay) and girls flourish with a non-ordaining diocesan bishop has yet to be answered. And it must be answered before inflicting that on the self-esteem of girls, the well-being of women in general, and the working conditions for female clergy and male clergy ordained by women. There may be perfectly healthy and theologically sound ways to achieve that, but they haven't been found yet.

The problem of including the excluders only exists at the diocesan and ABC/ABY level. It's one thing for everyone to love one another. It's another thing to enshrine the institutional discrimination that the church voted out, and is out of sink with equality laws. It isn't mean-spirited to identify the need to think and pray this through.

You know what's mean? Read the social science on the impact of discrimination on girls and women. Read that first, then let's have a conversation about what's mean. Injustice is exceedingly painful to those of us impacted. Your call is to continue this injustice and pain in a few places for the greater good. The morality and theology of that is highly questionable. Have faith, there's a way through, but it has to be just and healthy.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 8:17pm BST

Of course groups campaigning for justice want to see it as soon as possible, why wouldn't they? Why should anyone be expected to endure injustice a moment longer than they have to?

Posted by: Jo on Thursday, 5 October 2017 at 9:31pm BST

Dear Cynthia, You bemoan the fact that there are only two women diocesan bishops (Gloucester and Newcastle) - that's actually 100% more than there are "non-ordaining" diocesans (Chichester). Had Philip North gone to Sheffield then we would have had equality between the number of women and non-ordaining diocesans.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 5:13am BST

This letter in the Church Times today makes very clear the grounds for concern articulated by WATCH and others about the Mawer report.
"An approximate frequency count of words referring to key people in the Mawer report yields interesting findings. Bishop Philip North is mentioned 211 times. Professor Martyn Percy is mentioned 83 times. The word “women” occurs 144 times, but only 43 of these occurrences refer to actual women.
The majority use of the word “women” is conceptual, as in “women’s ordination”, “women’s ministry”, or “women bishops”. In these instances, the concept is frequently referred to as an “issue”, a “matter”, or a “subject” on which people might take a view or position, either recognising and receiving it, or not. Here the word “women” forms part of an object that is to be considered and does not signify a voice that is to be heard.
The report is written by a man. There are 24 appendices. Of these, 13 are written by men, eight by committees, two are administrative, and one is written by a woman.
As the Americans say, “You do the math,” or as St Matthew wrote, “Let the reader understand.”
Karl Jaspers Lecturer in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality
Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Posted by: David Runcorn on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 8:19am BST

"They [WATCH] also fully support the provisions made for the minority who cannot accept the Church's position" says David Runcorn. Really? So why did they make a special point of intervening as they have in the Sheffield process?

This is not the first time (See St Sepulchre's threads) that David Runcorn has attempted to convince the rest of us that things are not what they seem. But more than that, where do I specifically describe WATCH as a narrow pressure group?

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 8:21am BST

Father David, I understand your point and frustration. But CoE has not figured out how women and girls are to flourish with a non-ordainer. It is not OK to insist that the girls and women in some places have to continue to have their self-esteem assaulted to make an excluding minority happy. It's deeply unjust. I believe there are solutions, I can imagine a handful of scenarios. But I don't see how to reach that promised land without empathy, love, and concern for the flourishing of the women and girls. I have seen you write on behalf of +Jeffrey John in support of LGBT inclusion - or at least gay male inclusion. From my perspective, homophobia and misogyny come out the same. Ideally, being in one marginalized class might provoke empathy for those in other marginalized classes. Perhaps it could also prompt more creative thinking.


Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 9:15am BST

'Had Philip North gone to Sheffield then we would have had equality between the number of women and non-ordaining diocesans.'

Fr David, the female diocesans recognise the orders of those objecting to female priests and bishops, and the validity of the sacraments administered to those in their charge . The 'non ordaining' bishops would not recognise the orders of women in their diocese, nor the validity of the sacraments being administered to many of the laity. How is that equality?

Posted by: Janet Fife on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 9:28am BST

Michael Mulhern - have you read the Mawer report - where does it record that WATCH intervened in the Sheffield process? The trigger reaction to the name WATCH, and the tendency to band voices together seems to obscure the fact that it was people on the ground in Sheffield who expressed concern. It also obscures the fact that the positions taken by WATCH over the years have had themselves supported by significant Synod majorities, including large numbers of people who wouldn't identify with WATCH. My concern now is that by parking views under the WATCH banner, the voices of many others are simply being discounted. The conversation needs to be broadened rather than shut down, and I think that is reflected in what WATCH say and how they say it. A letter from Joanna Collicutt in today's (6 Oct 2017) Church Times makes a related point in some detail. Please read what WATCH actually say - I'd still be interested to know which points you think are off limits in discussions about mutual flourishing and in good disagreement.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 10:38am BST

Janet, as in all things, the final arbiter is the conscience. Once the Bishop of Chichester retires -then all your dreams will come true. It is astonishing how much the Church of England has changed during my lifetime and the speed at which the liberal agenda has altered what was once a church which had far more in common with the two great churches of East and West than it does today.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 11:09am BST

Father David, I agree that one's conscience, before God, must be the final arbiter. However I'm puzzled how you could know what I dream about - the retirement of the Bp of Chichester isn't on the rather long list! Nor would I want to be dismissed as someone with a 'liberal agenda' - there are matters on which I'm quite conservative.

I was replying to your argument about 'equality' with a (hopefully) reasoned argument rather than a personal attack. I could also have pointed out that while women make up over half the population, and the majority of English Anglicans believe women can be validly ordained, Anglicans who don't believe women can be ordained constitute only a tiny percentage. 'Equality' is hardly served by having equal numbers of female diocesans and non-ordaining males.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 11:58am BST

@Mark Bennett, I don't think there are any points which are off limits as far as discussion about mutual flourishing is concerned. I think that's been my point all along. The problem seems to be that some people seem determined to narrow the scope of the discussion to the disadvantage of a minority. And, yes, I have read the Mawer report - including the appendices, which contain an unsolicited submission from WATCH. This, of course, is in addition to the part that some officers of WATCH played behind the scenes in the events on which Philip Mawer reported.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 12:09pm BST

@Michael Mulhern - In what way does WATCH seek to narrow the scope of the discussion? As I see it WATCH wants a discussion. And I'm intrigued as to what part you think WATCH officers played behind the scenes. And as I see it the WATCH submission essentially says that WATCH did not seek to interfere in the Sheffield situation, and that seems to be reflected in the content of the report. If WATCH had not made a submission the presumption that WATCH got more involved than was the case could not have been rebutted.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 2:43pm BST

Janet, far from being a "personal attack", and I would seriously question your assumption in assuming that it was (personally I take the Benn approach in these matters tackle the ball [or the issue] rather than the person; which is a far more constructive and positive approach). I would never knowingly seek to be discourteous but it is clear from what you have written that your obvious preference would be to eliminate all "non-ordaining" diocesan bishops - install more women in top posts and have only male diocesans who agree with the innovation which has seriously removed the Church of England from its orthodox and catholic base.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 3:29pm BST

'Had Philip North gone to Sheffield then we would have had equality between the number of women and non-ordaining diocesans.'

But that's a false equivalence.
We do not have "male bishops" as the majority and standard, and then two minority groups, women and non-ordainers.

According to official CoE doctrine and policy women and men are now fully equal and can both be ordained priests and bishops.
The minority view of non-ordainers is protected. But is not equivalent.

Equality would mean an even number of male and female bishops with maybe 1-2 non-ordaining bishops to protect satisfy Reform and Society churches.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 5:11pm BST

Thank you, David Runcorn, for shining a very clear light on what is deeply wrong with the Mawer Report.

I think the vitriol against WATCH is very telling. When women and our allies band together to finally have our voices heard, it's "mean-spirited," "a narrow pressure group," and interventionist busybodies. David Runcorn points out the shocking reality that the Mawer Report barely includes the voices of women, but someone is angry with WATCH? Good Lord, deliver us!

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 6 October 2017 at 11:28pm BST

No villains but no heroes nor heroines either.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 8:20am BST

@Michal Mulhern Sir Philip Mawer requested a submission from WATCH so to suggest it was unsolicited is incorrect.

Posted by: Emma on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 9:51am BST

Father David, I worded my reply sloppily and I'm sorry for that. I should have said 'personal remarks' rather than 'attacks'.

I think my points about equality still stand. However, I do see that change can be difficult to accept, especially if it's change you don't agree with. I myself feel quite alienated by the increasing emphasis on management rather than pastoral care, Bible teaching and preaching and prophetic ministry - which I hold to be gospel imperatives.

On the other hand, we've made some progress on abolishing the blacklist which clergy could be placed on without reason or notification. We also have a few BME clergy now - though far too few.

As for moving away from the Roman and Orthodox churches, Rome doesn't accept the validity of any of our orders, and the Romans and Orthodox still have major differences. We have at least moved closer to the Methodist church, with whom we have a Covenant and some hope of unity. Though I realise that won't be much comfort to you.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 12:15pm BST

I am generally singing from a similar song-sheet to Father David in terms of this thread. It would be a terrible loss if Catholicism was politically excluded from the Church of England. Catholicism is a huge part of what makes our Church a Church. It is part of the mystery and the grace of our Church that somehow - against the odds - Catholicism and Protestantism have managed to accommodate one another (admittedly with some eruptions of hatred, fear and spite, which is the regrettable down side of being human beings).

I have a high regard for both Erika and Janet, I really do, but I confess I don't accept that 'non-ordainers', because of minority status, should not expect 'equality' of inclusion and full participation in the life and ministry of the Church of England.

In terms of conscience and conscientious belief, I believe we should indeed expect equivalence in the right of belief and the right to participate at all levels of our Church... including as diocesan bishops. Justice does not just pertain to a group because it has larger numbers.

In the case of Philip North, no-one has yet convinced me that there were personal qualities that would have prevented him *serving* men and women alike, and doing it really well.

And I think that would have spoken of diversity, and the Church's willingness to exercise sometimes awkward love. I simply don't agree that he should be disqualified from a role as a diocesan, any more than evangelical conservatives should be disqualified because they don't believe that I am a 'real' woman.

Rather, we should look to the person in Christ, and their personal qualities, and then also we should look to ourselves.

In the context of our Church, although sexism still exists of course, it is fair to say that women priests have (quite rightly in my opinion) become the status quo. That doesn't mean all is plain sailing (it isn't for me either, as a trans female) but it does mean that the Church in its Synod and across the land largely accepts women's ordination. And if 'non-ordainers' are now the minority, and less 'equivalent' in some way, I think that is all the more reason to defend and protect their right of access (like other sincere Christians) to positions at all levels of the Church. (contd)

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 8:58pm BST

Otherwise we start along a slippery slope of exclusion, and the broad church edges towards a sect, which is exactly what (by Grace) distinguished the Church of England from so many protestant movements in the reformation.

The genius (and gracious chrism) of our Church is that love precedes dogma. We should try to embrace diversity of consciences and traditions, and there should be a place for all, at all levels of the Church, if only their quality of love bears the presence of Christ in their interactions and lives.

Women can cope with that interface, and navigate it – backed by the large majority of our Church – just as I can cope with Christians and leaders who dismiss my gender identity altogether. Should I have to? Yes I think so. It’s part of being a diverse church. If I’ve learned one thing as a trans female, it is to take responsibility for the quality of my own life and ministry, and to respect the consciences of people who disagree with my identity. I’ve known some stunning exclusions. I deserved more respect. Even so, I would endure all that for an inclusive, diverse Church. I seek respect. I believe I should in turn respect – not agree, but respect – the consciences of people who don’t believe in my identity. And then... love still has to be worked through and given. It can be very very awkward. Conversely, difference and diversity of views can necessitate grace, and the exercise of love – sometimes painful love – can open our hearts to God.

I sincerely believe women priests should try to find ways to accommodate ‘non-ordaining’ bishops, out of inclusion, and out of diverse community, even though the price may be pain, which is the natural corollary of commitment to each other. Somehow, we have to try to get by. And meanwhile, acceptance of women priests in the Church at large continues and expands anyway. The same, to an extent, is becoming true of trans females. Though it certainly can be painful.

I have known (some) evangelical priests and bishops who in all conscience don't agree with me transitioning... and yet I've also witnessed their kindness, goodness, love... and I can't agree that they should be removed from their positions and everything they try to do with love and fidelity.

Same with a non-ordaining bishop if he is a good, loving and faithful servant of Christ.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 9:08pm BST

Susannah, I think that many catholic clergy and laity in the C of E , whether men or women , would be and are very upset by the assumption that in order to value the mystery of Catholic worship, and catholic theology, particularly the need to engage with the vulnerable and marginalised in the world, it is impossible to believe that women can truly be priests. No one on this thread and has said that women, nor anyone else, will refuse to work with and alongside those who don't think they should be ordained. They do, they always have done, and I am sure they always will. But it feels a lot more like working ecumenically with clergy and others from adifferent denomination when the eucharist cannot be shared and the priesthood of the women is not affirmed, however good the relationships may be. This is the heart of the question for me. And it is clear that a significant number of people in Sheffield diocese, male and female, ordained and lay, did not think that promises of working respectfully with each other were enough. They asked for more explanation of how the relationship could work at this deeper level, and as far as the report goes, were not given a response which dealt with this question, or which even mapped out ways of acknowledging the difficulties.

Posted by: RosalindR on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 11:57pm BST

But Susannah, you haven't explained how girls and women are to flourish with a non-ordaining diocesan? It's damaging and hurtful. There could be co-diocesans, or something like that. You are trying to be inclusive and generous, but the damage on the self-esteem of girls is analogous to that of LGBT teens damaged by homophobic rhetoric and "teachings."

Asking girls and women to suffer so that others can feel good about including the excluders is not quite OK. Also, the theological questions about the sacraments need to be answered.

Posted by: Cynthia on Sunday, 8 October 2017 at 3:29am BST

Susannah I am really struggling with your argument on this one. But if you think women should be able to flourish working under a bishop who does not think they should be there but it willing to graciously work with them - do you not also think that men who do not agree with ordination of women should be willing and able to flourish working under a gracious and supportive bishop who happens to be a woman?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Sunday, 8 October 2017 at 9:54am BST

Susannah, I admire your grace towards those who cannot accept your trans status.

However, as Rosalind says, the majority of catholics in the C of E do not have a problem with the ordination of women, and there is no danger of Anglo-catholicism being wiped out.

Like all women clergy, I have worked with and for those who did not agree with women's ordination, and have done my best to be courteous and get along. But the power imbalance between a diocesan bishop (or a suffragan who functions as a diocesan, as in York) is such that it is deeply damaging, not only to the women priests but to their congregations and parishes. The vicar is the voice for that parish in diocesan decision-making, and if that voice is not being heard on an equal basis, the parish doesn't get fair representation. That's a crude way of expressing some delicate dynamics within dioceses, but it's all I can manage in this forum.

I could give examples of these relationships not working, but TA isn't the place for them. That's the trouble - it's easy to make generalisations, but examples from real experience cannot be shared in open forums. Believe me, they exist.

Finally, the fact that the Church still practices forms of discrimination which are illegal everywhere else is a real hindrance to our mission. It's keeping people from Jesus. That really ought tot worry us.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Sunday, 8 October 2017 at 10:12am BST

Rosalind and Cynthia,

Thank you both, for your replies. I find them extremely challenging. You raise issues I have not confronted, and frankly I seek help with any kind of response.

I think you both probably understand that my motivation is the unity of our Church and the full inclusion of its diverse members. You probably both understand that I believe full inclusion implies inclusion at every level of the Church, even where the beliefs of a group imply reduction of inclusion for another group (women priests, trans females, gay couples etc). I hope you trust that I fully believe in women's ordination etc myself - indeed I believe in the de-construction of the solely 'masculine' version of God. I don't share the views of the non-ordainers. Although not a feminist myself, I believe feminist critique (for example Elizabeth Johnson, herself Catholic) can be powerfully constructive.

Which brings me to the difference between 'some' catholics and 'all' catholics. I fully recognise that many catholic Anglicans accept the ordination of women - and indeed have been supporters of various liberal agenda including LGBT+ inclusion.

Now to turn to your objections - the biggest issue you raise is sharing together in Mass/communion. And I admit, straight off, I hadn't thought that through. To me that is a huge objection, an unthinkable line in the sand. It would be like some fundamentalist telling me I cannot receive the sacraments because I an lesbian or trans. So you have raised a problem I hadn't even confronted. Help me, please: are you saying that a non-ordaining priest would refuse to share the sacraments with a female priest? or that he would not share them if celebrated by a woman? If the first, then I can't support them. If the second, I see a big problem, a terrible affront and diminution. At that point maybe the non-ordainer has to sit out, but I agree that speaks bad things about our oneness. We become confronted by the dilemma of trying to defend the inclusion of those who restrict inclusion.


Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 8 October 2017 at 11:04am BST

This is very very difficult. My key dilemma is what I said to Martyn Percy in another thread. Where does it all end? You call for the exclusion of non-ordainers from being diocesan bishops. Setting aside that I don't regard bishops in a hierarchical light - I see them as servants and facilitators, but I don't attribute them with more authority than others, so I just ignore their views if they don't seem right, "the priesthood of women in our Church is affirmed" whether a bishop believes it or not - where does exclusion end? If I demand that all diocesans who repudiate my gender identity resign? If I demand that all diocesans that think marriage is only for a man and a woman, resign?

If 'resign because of women priests', then resign because of traditional views on marriage, then resign because of disbelief in my gender identity, then resign whenever I disagree with you and feel you diminish my identity and my calling...

The logic drives us towards a narrower and narrower Church, tells diverse groups they're not really included, that their inclusion has exclusion zones, and ultimately adds pressures for schism, for sectarianism. We are One in Christ. That's why I believe the sacraments should always be shared. Because although we are diverse, we have a unity in Jesus Christ.

I believe in unity in that diversity. I don't want to be part of a Church that is 'puritanical' in its liberal values. I believe that humans are diverse, and Christians are diverse. I believe we hold together - including the hurts - because we love. Because amor vincit omnia. To me, it is the GAFCON people who want to exclude. I don't think we should join them in that dogmatic boundary setting.

I know you don't want to exclude non-ordainers: you just don't want them to be our bosses. You rightly say that their views contribute to an assumption of masculine leadership, with all the implications for girls' self-image and confidence (Cynthia, you have been repeatedly strong in your defence of girls and the socialising processes they go through - I give ground to your experience on that - I am female, but that doesn't make me identical with all women, or able to speak for all women, I was never socialised as a girl, I was socialised with male privilege.

(conclusion follows)

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 8 October 2017 at 11:07am BST

And yet, in a Church like TEC or SEC or CofE, where women priests are a status quo, and acceptance of them is a dominant view... do we have enough space and grace for inclusion of conflicting views in the episcopate? Does everything have to be neat, does everything have to be perfect, or is community the place we grow through finding love for one another in our differences?

The Mass/Holy Communion thing is the biggest challenge and problem for me. If a priest or a bishop refused to let me share communion, because I was lesbian, I would just think 'f**** you'. I would have to pray for them, I would have to seek mercy for my hatred, but they would have crossed a line, and their 'authority' would be risible. We are not God's gate-keepers.

I see the Church of England like a kind of traditional patchwork quilt of the English countryside - not like these vast open fields of sameness that are increasingly the norm. I think we need to live together with mess, with awkwardness, with quirkiness, with variety.

And over all that, the desperate need for grace.

Please clarify the sacraments issue? Do you have a problem if a visiting bishop sits out the sacraments when you are presiding? Or couldn't you just let him be Johnny-No-Mates and carry on? Or are you saying that it's *you* as a women priest, who is refused the sacrament he presides over? Because *that* would be unacceptably exclusionary.

I find this thread fascinating, difficult, troubling, and I find myself defending the presence of beliefs I don't hold myself. It is an awkward position to be in. More importantly, there is the issue of the impact on people's formation, the impact on innocents, just like homophobia hugely impacts young people at school.

I feel profoundly conflicted in this debate.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 8 October 2017 at 11:09am BST

Susannah, I appreciate the honesty of your struggles. Non-ordainers do not believe that women are actually priests and that the sacraments are valid in their/our hands. To have a boss who doesn't admit that you are valid is highly problematic. Further. for those of us who are Anglo-Catholic, a bishop is more than a facilitator and servant. The priests can address the theological problems easier than I can.

As for socialization, yes, it's a really big deal to have an authority figure, who represents God, who doesn't hold your being and existence as equal. Who holds you as somehow diminished, defective, less capable, less loved, etc. That is the message that girls receive in such settings. And there's a lot of social science about the damage. So I'm not making it up when I say that including excluders at the diocesan level is dreadful for the health and well-being of girls, vulnerable women, as well as women clergy. The feel-good tolerance that you and others yearn for, would be at the expense of this population. And they/we have suffered enough.

You are admirably honest. I strongly suspect that growing up with male privilege is way different. I treasure the perspective that you bring. In this case, considering the situation for girls, and growing with the analogy to homophobia, may reveal a path that is more just. And if we can hold onto that justice, and insist on girls flourishing, perhaps it will stimulate the creative juices required to be truly inclusive and tolerant of the excluders.

I'm not sure how helpful it is to look at TEC. We call our priests and elect our bishops. So conservative parishes and dioceses can call conservatives. Typically, we have enough churches so that people can choose the liberal one or the conservative one. This self-selecting mechanism is messy but works fairly well. There's a tension because we aren't uniform. At the national level, we are very liberal, at the local level, there's a lot of variety. I can't imagine CoE living with such a freewheeling system, and being the established church adds more wrinkles. CoE is overly concerned with "unity" over and above justice. Which is why I hammer the justice part. CoE leadership, and instruments like the Mawer Report, speak in the abstract and talk about "issues" rather than people, often acting like each "side" has equal value when one "side" inherently devalues women. This way of looking lacks empathy for those who suffer from being devalued. Once the empathy is there, I believe a solution will follow.


Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 9 October 2017 at 6:18am BST

Susannah, I really value your sharing of your own wresting with the contradictions and tensions between our visions of a church seeking to model the love and justice of the Kingdom of God, and the messy rules, structures and power imbalances (to name a few characteristics of human institutions) in the C of E at the moment. I don’t think I can really go much further into the conversation in the context of this blog because it feels as though we have got to a point where we would need to sit down and talk and listen face to face. So my hope and prayer is that you can find someone near you who might be able to continue the conversation.
You asked about communion. As far as communion goes, those clergy and congregation members (but led by clergy) in the group with which Philip North aligns himself do not believe that women are truly priest (or are so unclear about whether they are truly priests that they consider the “safe” thing to do is to treat them as thought they are not) and so they will not receive communion when a woman has presided, they ask to be ordained as priests in separate ordination services where the consecrating bishop is a “safe” bishop who has never ordained a woman (and some are now starting to ask if they can be ordained deacon separately but not all bishops go along with this) . And soon after 1993 they started to refuse to receive communion when a bishop who had ordained a woman as priest was presiding. So they exclude themselves from sharing communion in most contexts (eg diocesan and deanery gatherings) where we are trying to build community and mutual respect/conversation etc, I find this painful because I consider sharing in the eucharist as putting myself in a place where Christ can heal such brokenness, not as a place where I need to keep myself pure and “safe”. But that is my view.
An individual who comes to a church where a woman is presiding at a eucharist and chooses not to receive communion for any reasons is exercising a personal right to choose how to express his/her spirituality and theology. It is painful for women when they know that this is why a congregation member will not receive communion but many have lived with this graciously and continue to do so. It is part of their calling. But the context is very different when the bishop who shares “the cure of souls” with all parish priests for everyone in their parish, and thus gives them authority to carry out their ministry, is known to be unsure whether they are truly a priest. This view means he is unsure whether they can truly preside at a eucharist, offer absolution or give a blessing. This undermines both them, their congregations and the ministry they offer to all. For some, the personal relationships with such a bishop will outweigh the lack of spiritual affirmation; for others it doesn’t matter how good personal relationships are – they still feel deeply undermined at a very deep level.

Posted by: RosalindR on Monday, 9 October 2017 at 12:00pm BST

I too feel we have got to a place where it would be most useful to do some sharing and listening in person. Unfortunately that cannot be.

But Rosalind is right that our communion has been impaired. I have been at a diocesan clergy conference where there was a separate eucharist for those who did not agree with the ordination of women. Many dioceses have a separate Maundy service for these people too. In one deanery I was in a FiF church held a special eucharist to which all the deanery male clergy were invited, but none of the female clergy. Clearly the issue here was that even with a non-ordaining bishop presiding, the FiF members did not want to receive holy communion alongside female colleagues. (These incidents have occurred in different dioceses - not Blackburn or Chichester).

I don't have an issue with people who do not take communion at a particular service, for whatever reason. That is between them and God. I have also acquiesced in arrangements that ensured a person could receive communion from a male priest rather than me. But when the separation occurs at an official and organisational level, and female priests are barred from even being present, our Church is seriously damaged. I frequently want to ask, 'What is communion about? Isn't the point that we are having communion with Jesus? How can we declare we won't share his table with fellow believers?'

Posted by: Marcella on Monday, 9 October 2017 at 5:09pm BST

'Typically, we have enough churches so that people can choose the liberal one or the conservative one. '

Cynthia, I'm not of course a member of TEC so take this observation with the grain of salt it deserves, but I wonder if your urban situation may be colouring your vision just a little here? Certainly here in the western end of the Anglican Church of Canada, we have many small rural parishes where, if people didn't care for the 'flavour' of the church in their community, they would have to drive a very long way for an alternative. What do i mean by 'a very long way'? Well, when i was the rector of Valleyview in northern Alberta, the next parish to the west (Grande Prairie) was 60 miles away. Fox Creek was fifty miles south but it was the second point in my own parish. High Prairie was fifty-five miles northeast of us. Those were the closest alternatives.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Monday, 9 October 2017 at 11:36pm BST

Marcella, I don't know where in the world you are, but I am very concerned that there should be "a Diocesan clergy conference where there was a separate eucharist for those who did not agree with the ordination of women." Unless, perhaps, the Diocesan Bishop was a woman. However, your comment that a FiF church held a special eucharist to which the deanery male clergy were invited, but not the female clergy reminded me of an induction some years ago when the new Incumbent who is, I believe, a member of FiF, though the church (i.e. the church members) do not all share his views, who said that the Area Dean could not invite the women clergy of the deanery as he "would not have women dressed up as priests in his sanctuary". A number of male clergy in the deanery were so upset by this, that the subsequent invitation which went out to ALL clergy in the deanery, did not invite anyone to robe. But sadly it did not make for a happy collegial atmosphere at the service. I also had reservations about the use of a personal possessive pronoun to describe parts of a parish church which is there for all residents of the parish, but I am probably being too 'precious' about it. Thank you everyone for your very interesting contributions to this particular debate. Each contribution has enabled me to think more deeply about Sir Philip's report. Thank you.

Posted by: Anne on Tuesday, 10 October 2017 at 6:06pm BST

Anne, there were not female bishops in that diocese. As I recall, there were no women taking part in the main eucharist, either.

Tainted? Moi?

Posted by: Marcella on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 at 10:12am BST

Tim, my view is likely very urban. In rural areas, especially out West (where we both live), the distances to the next parish can be huge.

I've heard from rural friends about different "models." There's broad church where "we just don't talk about divisive things." And in some areas where there's been division, sometimes a faction, like liberals, link up with other churches, such as Lutherans. In the US, folks are also quick to change religions, so a low-church liberal Episcopalian might go over to a liberal Methodist, UCC, etc., church. It could be that some are hard pressed to find a liberal outpost. It plays out really differently, so it's hard to generalize. A lot of LGBTQI people move to urban areas, but the situation for women can be way different.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 at 6:25pm BST

Cynthia - you're right, my experience was that some people found the solution by changing denominations. Having said that, when I moved to the city in 2000 I was genuinely amazed when someone told me that in city parishes, when a new priest arrived it wasn't unusual for 30% of the people to leave in the first two years. They have lots of other Anglican options in the city.

Mind you, in rural areas I think churches tend to be more middle of the road, rather than being theological/political 'niche' churches. I certainly took that seriously when I was a rural priest - it was my responsibility to make the parish as accessible as possible to people who were coming from different points of view.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 12 October 2017 at 12:00am BST
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