I think that women should be eligible to be bishops in the Church of England, that this is a natural corollary of women’s priesthood, and that it should happen sooner rather than later. As one of the promoters of the ‘Priests for Women Bishops’ petition, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
So why do I find myself so unmoved by the Rochester report? I should be caught up in a exchanges about the theology, the principles, the options. I did try to give the report serious consideration when it came out last week, but it was a very busy week, with lots of not-quite-prepared teaching to be done, and I found my emotions far more caught up in the outcome of the US presidential election than in the reading of several hundred pages of CofE prose.
That the report has been produced means that the issue is being taken seriously, and I welcome that, of course. The timetable for the debate is being respected, and there is no attempt, so far, to lose ‘women bishops’ in the mire of endless committees. That it is so long speaks of the thoroughness of the working party. It also provides a vivid illustration of the diversity of the English Anglican inheritance: at the extremes we have very different understandings of episcopacy, and we have lived with that difference, as with so many others, for centuries.
Once we move from the extended treatment of episcopacy in scripture and tradition, it becomes a ‘what if…?’ piece of thinking. Scenarios are laid out before us (or rather, are to be laid out before General Synod), actions and consequences suggested. At some level, most people who have any interest in the matter will have already have understood how different decisions might play, and I doubt whether the report will do much to change hearts and minds. It was not intended to.
It is a tool for the synod to use in achieving a decision. Clarion calls for inclusion, for justice, for the wholeness of the church will come from other sources: as will those for the preservation of a particular tradition and pastoral care of tender consciences. And so I return to my emotional focus of last week. I can identify some steps I can take to further inclusion, justice, and wholeness within the Church of England; but that’s a small corner of a world which seems dangerously hostile to such a vision.