Thinking Anglicans

WATCH says "Time to Move On!"

WATCH (Women and the Church) has today issued this Synod Briefing Statement.


Where we are now – Anglican women in ordained ministry

The Church of England depends on its women priests. Twenty years ago (11.11.92) General Synod voted to ordain women as priests. Today we have over three thousand women ministering in parishes and others in chaplaincies in hospitals, prisons, schools and universities. One in three priests is female and almost 50% of new ordinands. Four of our cathedrals have female Deans and there are 26 female archdeacons active in the leadership teams of dioceses.

There have been women bishops in the Anglican Communion since Barbara Harris was ordained in 1989. Since then 34 women have been consecrated in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Cuba, South Africa and the USA. In all these provinces of the Anglican Communion, no legal provision was made for those who oppose women in ordained ministry. Other provinces as varied as Scotland and the Sudan have opened the way for women bishops but not yet made a first appointment.

The discussion so far…

GS voted on a motion to ordain women as deacon, priest and bishop in 1978 – it lost. We have been discussing this issue ever since – for a whole generation.

The present legislative process began in 2000. Since then there have been 3 major church reports, regular debates in Synod and fifteen months of detailed drafting work. All the dioceses in the country have been consulted and at every step of the way support for this legislation to enable women to be bishops has been overwhelming: 42 of 44 dioceses voted ‘yes’ – with more than 75% of all votes cast in favour.

The provision for those opposed in the draft legislation

One reason for the overwhelming support for this legislation is the generous support offered to those who are opposed.

Under the draft Measure any parish can request a male priest or bishop on the grounds of their theological conviction and these convictions must be respected. This will be backed up by a Statutory Code of Practice with legal force. Some people say that this is not enough, but it is as much as can be given without seriously damaging the Church – and 29 dioceses voted against further provision being made.

This is a compromise for everyone

The draft ‘Measure’ is a considerable compromise for those in favour of women bishops. There will be parishes where women will be barred from serving as priests, and women bishops will have to delegate to a male bishop where the parish requests it. Nowhere else in the Anglican Communion has provision been spelled out in law at all – things have been worked out through building relationships ‘on the ground’. Most of WATCH’s supporters would much prefer to have seen this sort of arrangement in the Church of England too. But we have compromised so as to make space for those who are finding this change difficult.

Voting ‘yes’ for this would also be a compromise for those opposed because the legislation does not give them as much reassurance as they would like.

The 20th November

On Tuesday 20th November, General Synod will have to consider “The Measure” as it stands. Nothing can be done to amend it now without starting all over again.

Some, from both sides, want to wait in the hope of getting something better, but to do so would be incredibly destructive. Another 10 years going over and over the same arguments would cripple the Church’s credibility and mission. It would also deprive the Church of the skills and wisdom of women bishops. To waste our time and talents in this way would be quite wrong.

Despite our concerns that this Measure does not do enough to eradicate discrimination from the Church, WATCH is praying that Synod will vote ‘yes’ on 20th November. This is far from the perfect Measure for women, but it is what has been negotiated after years of consultation amongst those of all perspectives. A ‘yes’ will enable women bishops to be appointed whilst allowing that those who disagree to have a respected place within the Church of England.

Time to Decide!

‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’ Ecclesiastes 3:1

There is a time for discussion and a time for decision. Twenty years after the vote for women’s ordination to the priesthood, and twelve years after we started exploring this issue in detail, it’s time to decide – time to move on.

The Reverend Rachel Weir Chair of WATCH said “This week we have been celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the vote for women priests. We pray that next week, Synod will complete the work that was started in November 1992 and vote for women bishops.


  • Jeremy says:

    “There will be parishes where women will be barred from serving as priests, and women bishops will have to delegate to a male bishop where the parish requests it.”

    Exactly. These are the outrageous results of this cobbled-together compromise.

    If you want to cleanse the Church of England of the sin of misogyny, giving it “respect” is a very bad start.

  • Jean Mayland says:

    Bravo to the WATCH statement I hope and pray that with all its faults the Measure passes.

  • Gary Paul Gilbert says:

    Given that New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Cuba, South Africa and the USA do not make legal exceptions for those opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops, it is a bad precedent for the Church of England to enshrine discrimination into its canons.

    Those opposed to equality would probably be happier in other religious bodies.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    According to Lindsay Urwin we have not waited long enough !

  • Rosie Bates says:

    Whilst part of angry me wants to say ‘No,No,No’ to the present proposals – what a crying waste this could be? I believe love casts out fear and anger and have faith in what certain women waiting in the wings can do in the eye of the storm facing the C of E on many levels. The very women we might wish to delay for a more favourable climate are those who have the grace and guts to openly address the major problems in the disaster zone. They will I believe get on with the rescue operation in communion with the heavenly host. They will in God’s good time be enabled to work together with those who can also clearly see why the ship appears to many Christians and enquirers to be going down. They already possess the prayerful skills to deal with discrimination in many areas of the life of this church. They are better supported now, with many with whom they may seek advice and pray. It’s Jesus on the stormy seas, so we have to try walking on the water to him.’ Plunge in!’ I say, however chilling this may be at times. We are only hoping to carry passengers to the safety of a shore and if we expect our journey to be entirely safe and comfortable then we are heading in the wrong direction and are in for a drowning of sorts anyway. The opposition have shrunk in the eyes of many intelligent Anglicans and the wider Church – indeed, anyone who has a thought or, dare I say it, a prayer, for those who experience attacks from bigoted, lazy minded individuals and authorities. Supporters of the quest for Women Bishops are accused of not understanding the Bible when we spend many fruitful hours contemplating it’s contents. We don’t wish to take it literally to support sinful stances. God forbid! We may reflect on how many times the early saints were prevented from making a journey. Let us not allow the unholy prevent- ors to prevent this journey as it is of God, in my prayerful opinion.

    This gem of inspiration isn’t in the Bible – I wonder why?! “If you bring forth that which is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you.’ RB

  • John says:

    Yes, Laurence. This man/person/bishop may be restricted in his thinking, but he’s still struggling, by his lights (however unreconstructed we adjudge them) to stay in the C of E, which is where – oh, so obviously! – almost all of his like want to remain. So we should accommodate them to the best of our being. They’re not blackmailing us: they’re trying to hang on in there. Have compassion for them.

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    John thanks – but I don’t even know who you are !

  • Jeremy says:

    “So we should accommodate them to the best of our being.”

    Not if the accommodation makes the C of E a laughingstock to the rest of the country.

    Let’s not indulge in squeaky-wheel thinking.

    There’s the vocal minority within the church. And the silent majority, ten times larger, outside the church.

    Which should an established church worry more about?

  • Rosie Bates says:

    Yes we should accommodate them. How else are we permitted to journey with each other in a transforming, transparant, Spirit filled manner? We presume too much about the will of God if we do not make reasonable holy space for each other.

  • Jeremy says:

    I’ll respond on the practical level and the theological level.

    On a practical level: We live in a fallen world. If we’ve learned anything from the past two decades of international Anglican politics, it is that bullies run roughshod when allowed to do so. Therefore, do not allow it.

    Going along to get along has its limits. In this world of ours, it can be self-defeating. The reign of God is not here yet. We wish it were otherwise–that turn the other cheek could rule the day–but we know that it does not. The lion does not yet lie down with the lamb.

    So let’s not delude ourselves on this point. Especially let us not imagine that the Church is what it is because reasonable holy spaces were made for heretics. The Church is what it is because, 1700 years ago, an emperor converted.

    Let’s not delude the anti-WO people either. It is in their interest, too, that the CofE achieve clarity. Do not give the anti-WO people the false hope that their error has any chance of surviving long-term. Stop deluding them as well.

    So much for practicalities. On a more theological level, let’s unpack this notion that “We presume too much about the will of God if we do not make reasonable holy space for each other.”

    Come now. Is it really “presumption” to say that men and women are equal?

    Could it really be the will of God that men and women are _not_ equal?

    Is there really room for theological doubt on this point?

    Should a corner of the church really be allowed to continue to think that there is room for doubting that men and women are equal?

    In summary, if making reasonable holy space for each other is really the test, then the squeaky wheelers have had nearly 20 years to pass this test, and they have failed. After all, just how “transforming, transparent, and Spirit-filled” has the flying-bishops scheme been?

    Now the anti-WO people want the entire CofE to “respect” their discrimination indefinitely.

    If not a heresy, misogyny is a sin. What exactly is reasonable or holy about respecting it?

  • primroseleague says:

    Jeremy, I really don’t know why I’m rising to it, for it’s truly all over for us bar the shouting, but will you please get it into your head that it’s not misogyny. OK, we might have been badly led, and the case might have been made terribly by our “leaders” for the last 20 years. But it’s not misogyny or equality.

    Men and women are absolutely equal – I flew yesterday on a plane with a woman pilot. I’ve fought in war with female comrades on the front line (in the navy, so our front line is a little behind the lines compared to the army where it’s still illegal in the UK). I just believe on a reading of scripture that they can’t be priests. Others disagree. But it is scriptural, and to bring misogyny into it is an unworthy slur on many decent people whom you happen to disagree with. And a fair one on a minority of a minority – and I just wish, as a 31 year old, that the argument on both sides for the last few decades had been allowed to reflect that, rather than a reduction to absurd caricatures of both positions.

  • Erika Baker says:


    I shouldn’t really wade into this, but I would like you to understand that to liberals, it looks precisely like misogyny. And the reason for that is that there is outstanding pro-women theology out there. It’s not a barmy idea but a well thought out theological principle. Therefore, it cannot be dismissed lightly.

    And many liberals believe that it is not theology that shapes our outlook on life but that it is our outlook on life that determines the theology we can deep down believe in – provided the theology isn’t barmy and can be dismissed lightly.

    And liberals look at the “traditionalists” and cannot get their heads round how you can genuinely believe that God created men and women as equals but decided that the priesthood is reserved only for those with male genitalia. Really? We think. God is THAT small and narrow minded? When there is no argument other than “God says” that makes this remotely credible?

    And so one group of people believes that women can be astronauts and doctors and that they can lecture at conferences and work at universities, but when it comes to church they must not “teach” men.
    And another group of people believes that women can be astronauts and doctors but that, for some reason, ordination doesn’t “stick”.

    And liberals believe that both those views are so obviously laughable that nothing but prejudice can be at work.
    You disagree, I know. And I respect that (strangely, I actually do). But please, do not think that you will ever be able to convince anyone who does not already agree with you that anything but misogyny is at play here.

  • Jeremy says:

    “[W]ill you please get it into your head that it’s not misogyny…. I just believe on a reading of scripture that [women] can’t be priests.”

    Ah, but why do you read scripture that way?

    Or do you really think that when you interpret scripture, you do not bring your biases to the text?

    1 Timothy 2:12 says, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.”

    Did this give you any difficulty when you served in Her Majesty’s Navy?

  • Primroseleague says:


    None at all -I’m Anglo catholic not con evo so it’s nothing to do with headship and more, as Erika correctly deduces, worry that ordination doesn’t stick for the purposes of the sacraments.

    The problem, of course, is that exactly the same can be said for you – why do you read it the other way? As with everything in life, two people can use the same information to arrive at two different conclusions.

    I post rarely on this forum, but i’ve said before that I really want it to be possible, I just go to the altar in my own parish doubting that it is. I accept that may well say more about me than our deeply good female parish priest.

  • Jeremy says:

    I read it the other way because for 20 years I’ve received communion from women priests with nary a qualm.

    You might think that in this, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem. I rather think, however, that once the situation on the ground changes, people become much more comfortable with the change. Which may have been your experience at the parish level. Ex ante and ex post are very different vantage points.

    Theologically, I don’t hold much truck with sacramental-assurance doubt. To me that position smacks of the Donatist heresy, with a misogynist twist.

    The Catholic position is that what ensures sacramental effectiveness is not the minister, but God.

    The Church of Rome has erred in the past–see Galileo–and by refusing to ordain women, it is erring now. But it will come around eventually, as soon as the culture-church gap becomes too great. I give it 20 years after Italy has its first woman prime minister.

  • Rosie Bates says:

    This is one story of how we begin to Re–Member for we are going to Graceland!
    Part 1

    We constantly struggle with the temporal and the eternal and all our fussing and fighting has to come to terms with the truth of this passage from Isaiah 45.9-11

    ‘Woe to you who strive with your Maker,
    earthen vessels with the potter!
    Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”?
    or “Your work has no handles”?
    Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you begetting?”
    or to a woman, “With what are you in labour?”
    Thus says the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
    Will you question me about my children,
    or command me concerning the work of my hands?’

    21 Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together! ………

    I was fortunate to have a fairly front row seat at the historic 1992 Synod when the vote was so narrowly in favour of women being granted the right to priesthood. Also fortunate to be seated next to my accountant husband! At one point I felt overcome with the responsibility of the divisive nature of my personal ambition and that of our supporters. I had witnessed and listened to the suffering of many, both supporters and opponents. I left the chamber and looked out at the landscape of the various symbolic church buildings from Dean’s yard. My Catholic heart felt heavy. It seemed to me at the time that I had been brought to a place of unknowing and abandonment and the words of T.S Elliot came flooding into my mind.

    ‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’
    So I returned to the chamber prepared to accept anything as the will of God, despite the fact that I had previously believed we would scrape through. I waited without hope for I knew for certain that I could not hope for anything that was against God’s will.

  • Rosie Bates says:

    This is one story of how we begin to Re-Member for we are going to Graceland!
    Part Two Isaiah 45.9-11
    ‘Woe to you who strive with your Maker,
    earthen vessels with the potter!
    Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”?
    or “Your work has no handles”?
    Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you begetting?”
    or to a woman, “With what are you in labour?”
    Thus says the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
    Will you question me about my children,
    or command me concerning the work of my hands?’

    21 Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together! ………

    My spiritual experience enabled me to suffer much with those who doubted my right to this blessed priesthood. However, in terms of the Anglican Communion we are no longer in the same position today. The Church of Ireland, I am Irish, knew that it was not theologically sound to bar Priests from becoming Bishops and the integrity of their decision was commendable. However, they were in a completely different position in many respects. It is time for the Church of England to move on with as much grace as we can muster, even with the remaining clause which may not prove to be such a difficult clause when we see how it eventually works out by Grace alone. With whom are we women in ‘labour’ is the big question. God Almighty would be my Catholic, prayerful response. This work in progress has a good enough ‘handle’ in my opinon.

    The term ‘provisional’ springs to mind.

  • Jeremy says:

    From the Telegraph, after the synod’s decision:

    “There will now almost certainly be calls in Parliament for the Church of England’s exemption from equality legislation — effectively allowing it to discriminate against women by barring them from becoming bishops — to be removed, opening the way for women to bring a legal challenge.

    “If successful, it could lead to women becoming bishops without any of the arranged safeguards for traditionalists agreed by Synod.

    “Opponents of the ordination of women bishops said they would now sit down with Bishop Welby to try to find a way forward. But under the Church’s rules, the no-vote has effectively killed off the prospect of women bishops for another five years.

    “Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour minister, said: ‘This means the Church is being held hostage by an unholy and unrepresentative alliance of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics.

    “‘This will add to clamour for disestablishment, there is even talk of moves in Parliament to remove the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act.'”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *