Comments: Women Bishops: yet more news and comment

Paul Roberts' article - suggesting that the assenting dioceses meet to petition for dissolution of the current General Synod, sparking a new election sounds pretty good; but would it actually work?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 11:45pm GMT

Paul's idea may have merit but perhaps it is the House of Laity that needs an election - don't know if that is possible - or even desirable. I understand thare may be some discussion in the GS House of Laity about what to do.

But then I am GS clergy, voted in favour, and don't want to fight another election just yet!

Posted by Charles Read at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 10:52am GMT

To quote Colin Coward:
"So long as the Church of England goes on trying to accommodate these people, so long will we get nowhere, mission and evangelism in the Church will be fatally constricted, the majority in the country will turn its back on the Church (they already have) and it will continue to shrink and become ever more irrelevant to the country and unable to reveal God’s infinite love in creation. That is the real scandal of our age."

The real scandal is that "these people" might just be right and the demise of the Church in England be due to the others who feel suitably enlightened. In fact it is worth asking which churches are growing and why.

Posted by Ian Montgomery at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 1:24pm GMT

One thing that everyone seems to have forgotten when comparing the voting last week with the voting by the dioceses is that the Measure was amended twice in the intervening period.

Synod did not vote on the same wording that was considered by the dioceses.

I'd just like to put that on record.

Posted by Jonathan Edwards II at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 8:43pm GMT

I am quite astounded - we talk about the due process of the Synod but because we don't like a decision made in one of the Houses we call for another election for that House so it can change its mind. It is unbelievable. There was no call for a new election when in 1992 the legislation for women bishops passed and no call for new elections in the house of clergy when the Archbishops' amendments failed by 5 clergy votes. Sadly this just shows how desperate the proponents for women bishops are to see the opponents removed.

Posted by Philip at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 9:30pm GMT

There is some evidence that churches with gender mixed leadership are growing. Large evangelical churches lose people out of the back door as quickly as they get people in the front door - usually because after a while people get disenchanted by the hard-line stances e.g. re. women. Some of these women end up as ordinands 10 years later - I know because I've taught lots of them and they go on to minister in ways that draw people to Christ.

Posted by Charles Read at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 9:59pm GMT

Picking up Ian M's comment - I remember 20+ years ago talking to a Flemish bishop whose church was experiencing a surge in membership. He feared that it was not conversion, nor re-awakening spirituality, but an expression of Flemish nationalism.

If you're acquainted with the concept of the 'emigrés a l'interieur' in mid-late C19 France, you can see a huge upsurge in ultra-traditional practices of faith as a reaction against (eg) what was happening in the papal states. Scrupulous religious practice and ultra-conformity to the minutiae of Vatican I were de rigueur. But it didn't last.

It's possible to see ultra-conservatism in the same light as the flight from modernism and the 'Syllabus of Errors' culture - which foundered. And the experience of ultra-conservative evangelicalism in the US hardly gives cause for optimism that this is the way forward.

Gives a great feeling of 'contra mundum' identity does membership of an extreme group - but it doesn't seem to be much more than a gesture of despair.

Posted by david rowett at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 10:18pm GMT

In the light of the above comments by Jonathan Edwards II respect should have been shewn to the 44 dioceses by allowing them to vote again on the significantly amended amendment; for - as he so perceptively points out - this was not what they discussed and voted upon.
Whatever plot the Archbishops' Council is hatching and whatever form of words they come up with must surely - after discussion at the July meeting of the General Synod - be passed down again to the 44 dioceses for further discussion and a due voting process carried out.

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 11:27pm GMT

At Diocesan Synods (I am a member of one) my recollection is that we voted on a Measure which was almost identical to the Measure before General Synod. Some Dioceses passed following motions asking the House of Bishops to look again at the provision for those opposed, which they did, producing initially the amendment which was rejected in July this year, and then producing an amended amendment - suggested by a woman priest - which was in the Measure just voted down, and which slightly strengthened the expectations placed on a Diocesan bishop in providing alternative episcopal oversight for petitioning parishes. Apart from this, this Measure was not substantially different from that before Diocesan Synods, however, so it is not really accurate to say that this is not what we discussed and voted on. The process of amending and re-amending the Measure was done quite openly and with a lot of discussion, much of it here, so I don't think it is fair to suggest, as I think Father David is doing, that this Measure we have just voted on was not discussed fully at all levels in the church. The end result in the House of Laity did not reflect the overwhelming view of Houses of Laity in Dioceses.

Posted by Anne at Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 8:24am GMT

Surely, Anne, all 44 dioceses voted on the Measure prior to it being watered down and before the "respect" amendment was added? An amendment to the amendment which many hailed as the salvation of the Measure. Alas, salvation came there none and we are left to salvage something from the wreckage(who knows what) of this mega-omnishambles of the Church's own making!

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 8:58am GMT

Ian Montgomery, thanks for reading my blog and commenting above. You wrote:

"The real scandal is that "these people" might just be right and the demise of the Church in England be due to the others who feel suitably enlightened. In fact it is worth asking which churches are growing and why."

You believe the real scandal is that “these people” are right and people like me who “feel suitable enlightened” (subjectively in your opinion, I suspect) are wrong.

There are many forms of growth, numerical, spiritual, personal, leading to growth in maturity, wisdom, compassion and a passion for justice. Jesus didn’t seem to be much concerned with growth in numbers but far more concerned for personal and social transformation.

Assessing Christian success on the basis of growth in numbers is a potentially fatal distraction. Some of the comments above show that there are a minority who supported the vote to defeat the current legislation and demand a further revision of the legislation that provides them with what would effectively be a separate or schismatic group within the Church of England.

I don’t think that’s where the Spirit is leading the Church, and to continue to argue for stronger provision for those opposed to women bishops will deepen the crisis and provoke a split which the majority have been very generously and patiently trying to avoid.

Posted by Colin Coward at Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 9:22am GMT

Anne is quite right to point out the substantial discussions which took place in the dioceses and their expectations of the House of Bishops.

I just wonder whether the Synod voting would have been any different had the bishops not amended clauses 5 & 8, and subsequently if such weight had not been placed on the word 'respect'.

In any case these thoughts are now just reflections.

Posted by Jonathan Edwards II at Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 10:39am GMT

Further to my reflections above a letter in the Times by a number of lay voters says:

'They say they were prepared to vote for the July 2010 version of the Measure with a clause referring to “theological convictions” of those requiring alternative oversight, had the Bishops not lost their nerve and decided under pressure from “senior women” to reconsider their proposed “helpful” clause.'

It is quite clear that the amendments made between diocese voting and Synod voting significantly affected the outcome.

Posted by Jonathan Edwards II at Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 10:51am GMT

The original measure, however, Fr David, on which the Dioceses voted so clearly, seems to have felt less "generous" to those opposed than the one we voted on in the end. That was why the HoB amended it. Yet the original measure still passed resoundingly in the Dioceses.

Personally, though, I don't regard the place we are now in as an "omni-shambles". While it is painful, I think it has simply revealed the reality of the situation. There is no way to square the circle in this issue. No clever wording in the legislation can make it workable for women to be regarded in perpetuity as both ordained and not ordained in the same Church depending on who is looking at us, as is the case at the moment.

After the HoB amendment in the summer I told my bishop that I had come to my "Rosa Parks" moment. I had sat down on the bus, and I was not moving to the back or putting up with having my orders cast into question any more. (I am not a "senior woman" by the way, and have no ambition to be a bishop; I am entirely happy as a parish priest, but the way in which the women bishops' measure was being amended would have perpetuated the officially sanctioned doubt about all our orders which we have lived with for the last 19 years - the whole of my ordained ministry). If the legislation wasn't going to pass unless women accepted provisional status as ordained ministers in perpetuity, then it was better it didn't pass. At least that is honest.

Posted by Anne at Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 7:11pm GMT

At least that is honest.

Yes, I understand your position. Methodist ministers too might feel the same way about their orders cast into question do you think?
And I understand that one as well. And, being honest like you, Anglo-Catholics trying to preserve historic order within the Church catholic find themselves in the ironical situation of having their orders regarded as null and void by Romans etc. etc. You know you are a priest I'm sure...and so do Anglo-Catholics...regardless of what others may think. That is what matters, whatever others may say.

Posted by Neil at Friday, 30 November 2012 at 5:57pm GMT

The difference is that Methodist ministers don't find their orders cast into question by other members of the Methodist church, and Anglo-Catholic priests are entirely recognised as priests by other Anglicans. It doesn't matter to me in the slightest that the Roman Catholic church would not recognise my orders, (any more than they would recognise the orders of a male C of E priest,) but it does matter, personally and professionally, that my orders should be recognised as valid across the board within my own Church. Canon A4 was written for a reason - it is unworkable in the long term if priestly orders are not recognised in the same way across the same church. It is akin to having women police officers who only have powers of arrest if the criminal concerned considers them to be proper police officers. Canon A4 provides an objective measure of whether or not someone is a priest - that they have been ordained in a valid ordination service. It was a position which, if memory serves me right, the C of E came to after the chaos and bloodshed of the Reformation and it seems to me to be a wise position.
We might like or not like, agree or not agree with a particular priest. We might choose to go to their church or not. But if we call into question whether they are ordained or not on the basis of whether we personally think they ought to be priests, we might as well not bother with ordination at all - it will simply become a subjective matter something which is in the mind of the beholder - and that will destroy priesthood completely in the end, leading to splits and more splits as people get ever more picky about what they consider to be the correct doctrine or practice a "proper" priest should follow.

Posted by Anne at Friday, 30 November 2012 at 7:58pm GMT

Thanks Colin Coward for responding to my comment. Two more observations on my part.

Having grown up in English Anglican Evangelical circles, I still value my roots and see so much good there. I do not regard them as insular nor separated from the mainstreams of life. However I do believe that the mainstream of English life has moved considerably. On my now rare visits I find a secular society that is aggressively anti religion. Sadly too I find in many cases a church that has accommodated itself comfortably with first modernism and then increasingly post-modernism. Meanwhile the more evangelical Anglicans have increasingly stood out in their quest for biblical holiness as a part of being Kingdom of God people. To use the title of a once favorite book - it is to be a stranger in a strange land.
This question of the counter cultural role for the Christian in a post Christian culture is a deep one with many facets. I would highlight the fundamental issue here as one of not letting the tail wag the dog. The Church MUST follow God and not be dictated to by society. In that faithfulness there is these days a much more visible gap between Church and society, especially where evangelical Christians are concerned.

My second observation - somewhat prompted by the scatalogical piece by Giles Fraser is that it is easy to pillory Evangelical Anglicans and in this case too the traditional Anglo Catholic ones. They are however a minority in the C of E who have had a valued place. Their role will either be preserved by making good on the promises made when women were to be ordained to the priesthood - of they will be forced out as TEC did with the comparable groups in the USA. Sadly both Giles Fraser's article and the reneging on solemn promises made in the early nineties do anything to engender trust. Your use of the expression "these people" rang all the wrong bells.

Posted by Ian Montgomery at Friday, 30 November 2012 at 9:25pm GMT

Anne - Thanks for this. I think you are entirely right in your analysis that there is a danger of pickyness leading to splits and more splits etc. Neither side is going to abandon the CofE and will have to live together (co-exist) in the future. So let's pray that there will be a spirit of generosity on both sides so that this may be possible.

Posted by Neil at Friday, 30 November 2012 at 11:44pm GMT

Ian wrote "of they will be forced out as TEC did with the comparable groups in the USA."

No one was forced out of TEC USA. Huge efforts were made to accommodate a big tent. When it was clear that nothing short of institutionalized misogyny and homophobia would be acceptable, our people started voting their conscience and the chips fell. Several years later, we can report growth in 33 of our 100 dioceses and a significant robustness, especially an energetic return to mission. My diocese and parish are growing, we are liberal with awesome female priests and we do same sex blessings. The schisms are hurtful, but what we have now is liberation and that has freed us to share the love of Christ in the world.

It is really worthwhile to consider what liberation might look like. And what it might mean to the CoE for people to really vote their conscience, rather than strive for a "unity" that is not likely to actually happen. We found that separate and unequal doesn't work. Why repeat it?

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 4:54am GMT


Having spent over thirty years in TEC I have the experience to differ. The Tent of TEC has become progressively smaller and the attitude narrower and intolerant of firstly doctrinal disagreement and latterly for any kind of dissent. The canons have been flagrantly misused or abused in the cause of an inclusivity that is in fact not inclusive but rigidly exclusive. Hundreds of clergy have paid the price and thousands of communicants now communicate elsewhere. I too am now part of a diaspora that need not have happened - though God is putting it to good uses.

Posted by Ian Montgomery at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 12:36pm GMT

Ian M, if you grew up in English Anglican Evangelical circles, then it is not surprising that you did not find TEC congenial. The CofE has been a very broad church; TEC is less so, and is a more liberal church, with a greater emphasis on using reason in interpreting scripture.

It is unfortunate that some in the TEC wanted to blackball people who wanted to be ordained. Some wanted to put a sign over TEC seminaries saying "straight men only."

Naturally the TEC majority had no truck with this.

No one was forced out. But some authoritarians have trouble believing that they can be disagreed with legitimately. Some people insisted on their own narrow view of ordination--straight men only--and those people left when their view was not obeyed.

In other words, some people thought that the "wrong" people were being let in to the church's leadership. But the priesthood is no one's private club.

Lastly, to mistake momentary flourishing as God's endorsement is wrong. For God's "good uses" do not include intolerance and bigotry. Lots of institutions founded on immoral principles have had initial membership successes. Consider the Ku Klux Klan.

Posted by Jeremy at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 1:47pm GMT

I must object to the comparison by Jeremy that to be an Anglican Evangelical may be akin to membership in the KKK. It is bad enough when people blithely throw out the words bigot, misogynist and more. Where is the civil discourse?

Beside Jeremy knows nothing about me. I protest.

Posted by Ian Montgomery at Sunday, 2 December 2012 at 5:34pm GMT
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