Fulcrum has recently published several articles about the women bishops legislation. Two in particular are worth noting:
Stephen Kuhrt Women Bishops Legislation
Women bishops will, I hope, turn the Church of England completely upside down. My prayer is that its dramatic empowerment of the skills, gifts and insights of women will revitalise the church and change it forever.
As I write this, I can feel waves of anxiety increasing, not just from it opponents but many of those who claim to be its supporters. ‘No, that’s an unhelpful point’, many will say, ‘things will carry on much as they have before but with women simply able to exercise a full ministry alongside that of the men’.
But I maintain the point. My experience, in the church of which I am vicar, is that when women’s ministry is allowed to flourish to the full, the entire atmosphere of a church is transformed. Preaching, pastoral care, sacramental ministry, the occasional offices, the nature of services and, above all, the strategy and direction of the local church are all enriched beyond measure. Various practical reasons can be advanced for this. But at a theological level it is because the male and female both being allowed their full role, is bringing about a much deeper reflection of the image of God and a much greater anticipation in our worship of the new creation. It is this that has brought about the transformation within many local churches that have experienced the full ministry of women.
Where such transformation is now most badly needed is within the higher leadership and structures of the Church of England. I am extremely excited about the impact that women bishops will have upon the leadership of Areas and Dioceses where the gifts and talents of women, at last able to have a more strategic impact, will undoubtedly bring a greater humanity and relevance to the face of the church and care of the clergy.
But the change I expect to be most transforming of all is to that of the nature of the House of Bishops. Reinforced by its representation of only one gender, many within this body are hopelessly out of touch with both parishes and clergy and increasingly characterised by what has been accurately termed ‘delusions of adequacy’.
Hence my distraught response to the fact that it is the greatest symptom of the problem that women bishops will address, that has seen fit to amend the legislation in the way that it has. It is bad enough that the amendments have been made at the eleventh hour and fly in the face of the clear will of the elected General Synod. But where the real problem lies is in this group of men deciding to use their power to ensure that women do not become bishops on the same footing as them.
My strong suspicion is that there are factors at work here that go beyond the desire to safeguard the most obvious opponents of the measure. Those in possession of power are usually very intuitive to danger, and the current set of bishops know that there will be far less places for them to hide if women are allowed to join them as equals. Better to allow women in but with areas of vulnerability preserved to keep them beholden to their male colleagues. From this perspective the amendments are less to do with protecting the minority who oppose women bishops (who would be quite adequately covered by a Code of Practice), than trying to ensure that the impact of this development is kept ‘safe’ and away from changing any more than it has to about the status quo…
Elaine Storkey Women Bishops Legislation
I am on the horns of a considerable dilemma. We are now at the point where it should be possible to admit women to the office of Bishop, and thus to full participation in the ministry of the Church of England. Like so many others, I have become convinced, over the years, that this is the outworking of biblical vision for the church, something I have written, worked and prayed for, hoping that we would know the unity of the Holy Spirit as we moved on together. Each time the issue has come before the General Synod I feel we have moved closer to understanding the key issues. We have discussed them from the standpoint of theology, ecclesiology, pastoral care and mission. We have looked carefully at ways in which we can make provisions for those in the church who remain opposed to women’s full inclusion. We have sent the Measure around the dioceses for their scrutiny and approval. And we have done all this under the bemused gaze of the media, who wonder why on earth it takes us so long and why we don’t get on with it; when generations of convinced but bewildered parliamentarians, eager to ratify this change constitutionally, have been and gone. And now, after two decades of debate, six years of consultation, two years of careful scrutiny of submissions by the revision committee, twelve months of painstaking drafting, more months of discussion in deaneries and parish councils, with diocesan approval finally signed and sealed, and the day of decision fast approaching, I feel I cannot support the Measure in the amended form that it now comes before us.
So how has this sea-change come about? The process must seem odd in the extreme to anyone outside the procedures of Synod. At the end of the final drafting stage, the House of Bishops – an all-male assembly – has met behind closed doors, and brought forward new proposals in the shape of amendments, which cannot now be further amended by Synod. In my twenty-five years on Synod, I have never known this to happen – it is constitutional but unprecedented. It has been left to a group of six people, representing the convocations of clergy, bishops and the house of laity to decide, by majority, whether the amendments changed the Measure presented to the dioceses. It was hardly a representative group, since it included the two Archbishops who were party to the amendments, so the outcome was inevitable. Yet the groundswell of opinion outside that group is that Clause 5 now does change the Measure substantially, however subtly it is worded…