Sunday 11 July 2010

General Synod and women bishops - is the Holy Spirit calling the church to adulthood?

My laptop expired yesterday before I was able to blog. Initially I felt depressed and began to panic - how could I get online, and what was I going to do here at Synod if I couldn't report on events as they unfolded? Then I told myself to calm down and that it wasn't the end of the world. Maybe it was God's way of telling me that I wasn't here to blog but simply to be present, alongside my friends on General Synod for whom the next 2 days were going to be stressful and momentous.

Thanks to my partner's laptop, I am at last able to come online and read reactions to yesterday's debate, having attended the Eucharist in the Minster this morning and a WATCH meeting at lunchtime. The effect on me of my laptop crashing is not to be compared in scale with the effect of yesterday's vote on those who either oppose outright the opening of the episcopate to women or can live with it only if a woman-bishop-free space is created for them on their terms.

I think there is a similarity in my emotional reaction, however, with those who were distressed by yesterday's vote. Thirty minutes after my laptop crashed, I was able to pause, engage my adult self, and say, okay, this is where I am, deal with this present reality. I calmed down and resumed life without laptop.

Yesterday afternoon, some Synod members began to have Anglican tantrums, wanting to terminate the debate until they felt better, walking out when this was refused, discussing how they might overturn the decision when the debate resumes on Monday and issuing threats, yet again, about schism, money and splits. Anglican Mainstream reports that senior Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical leaders met yesterday evening to request an urgent meeting with both Archbishops to discuss the matter before Synod resumes on Monday morning. How to overturn the decision was the substance of their meeting.

Anglican Mainstream also claims the amendment was lost on a "procedural device" (their phrase and inverted commas) of requiring a two-thirds vote in all three houses, the clergy voting 50-50 and thus defeating the amendment. Firstly, it wasn't split 50-50, the clergy vote was 85 for, 90 against with 5 abstentions. The vote could have been taken by Synod in its entirety, in which case the amendment would have passed, but it had voted for a vote by Houses. An earlier crucial vote two years ago on women in the episcopate legislation was taken by synod, not by houses, and on that occasion ensured that progress was made. The Holy Spirit seems to be telling Synod in subtle ways to get on with it.

The Archbishops are understandably distressed that their amendment was lost. It was their baby. But they were trying in some way to reinstate provisions for those opposed which have been most thoroughly explored over the past two years and rejected.

My take on yesterday's vote is this. The Holy Spirit is guiding the Church of England into adulthood, to maturity as the Body of Christ. Yesterday she said, once again, Grow Up! It is time to welcome women into the episcopate. I call you friends, adult friends.

All sides in the debate now have painful emotions to work through. Those in favour of women in the episcopate feel somewhat guilty at the pain they have induced in others. But that doesn't mean you need to capitulate to emotional immaturity or blackmail on either side. Be generous, grow up, hold your nerve and vote for what in your heart you believe to be right.

I, of course, have a personal interest in this. I am in favour of the inclusion of women at every level of church ministry. One day General Synod will be asked to vote on the place of LGBT people in the Church of England in respect of Civil Partnerships and the ordination of those with partners. It will need a very mature, emotionally confident group of people on Synod to achieve a positive, pro-gay vote.

Yesterday's vote has laid another foundation stone. I believe members of Synod, Archbishops, bishops, priests and laity, will digest what has happened. Some will continue to feel hurt and in their inner world, feel marginalized or rejected. Others will reflect and adjust to the apparently new environment in which they find themselves. If we are not able to grow and change we will remain a church addicted to immature emotional attachments, to the idealised past and to the tyranny of the child which lurks in each of us.

Colin Coward


  1. Amen (and my kid has been kicked around the block once too more nonsense from those who would harm others at The Anglican Communion and beyond...excustionists do harm others in much of what they say and do).

    It takes grown ups to FACE exactly what they do...individually responsible before God (and everyone else) no matter how deeply fear and hate have been rationalized away in the past days/decades of loathing and marginalizing other Anglicans.

  2. The vote is regrettable. It will inevitably lead to the further feminisation of the church. I do not believe that that is a good thing. The character of the church will change. In most of those woman-priest parishes which I have seen the church has become softer and more feminine. It is a new and different institution. Women bishops will accelerate that change, and men will continue to become more estranged from the church. While it was a patriarchal institution it attracted men and women. A matriarchal / feminised church will in practice repel men.
    The Feminists have in effect expelled the traditionalists. Gay and gay-friendly traditionalists are in a most miserable position. They are estranged from the homophobic Roman church, and are now, if they believe in the Catholic theory of Holy Order and the Catholic understanding of the validity of the sacraments, expelled from their own church.

  3. I find it hard to feel sorry for traditionalists.
    Radex 33 says that they have been expelled by feminism but it was the traditionalists who for generations expelled women from ministry. If the tables are turned they have only themselves to blame.

    It's a trite saying but it works:

    Tradition is the living faith of the dead - traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

  4. To radex33: Maybe the Spirit is calling on Anglo-Catholics to share playing "dress-up" with those of both genders (but especially females) whose taste in liturgical fashion has laid the French and Italian baroque (thankfully!)to rest. Now... may we PLEASE get on with the business of 'being' the welcoming and affirming Kingdom here and now!

  5. Is "Radex33" a parody? O_o Surely, a line like

    In most of those woman-priest parishes which I have seen the church has become softer and more feminine.

    can only be seen as over-the-top joke!

  6. Sapphire – Jaroslav Pelikan’s inane pronouncement ‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead – Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living’ is indeed, as you say, trite. Traditionalism is “adherence to the doctrines or practices of a tradition” (Websters). The ordination of women priests and now bishops is not a development within tradition but an innovation. As Edmund Burke put it: ‘To innovate is not to reform’. The C of E was Catholic and Reformed. It has now repudiated its Catholic identity.
    Margaret Laird, writing in The Times of July 10th quoted Archbishop Fisher: “we have no doctrine of our own; we only possess the Catholic doctrine enshrined in the Catholic creeds, and those creeds we hold with no addition or diminution – on this rock we stand”. She also quoted Bishop Hensley Henson that “the only doctrine peculiar to the Church of England is that there is no doctrine peculiar to the Church of England”. Ms Laird commented: “Forgetful of the rock from which she is hewn, the Church of England is in danger of becoming a church uncertain of her authority, unclear about her doctrine, and unsure about her claim to possess the historic ministry”.
    The ending of discrimination against gays is a reform. It does not affect the validity of Holy Orders, nor does it affect the central act of Catholic worship, the Eucharist. It is a reform in the same way that the Church ended its support for slavery and ceased its persecution of ‘witches’. But the appointment of women as priests is a doctrinal innovation that denies the C of E’s Catholic identity and tradition and nullifies the validity of its Orders and the Eucharist. The elements can only be consecrated by a priest. Women cannot be priests. Men ordained by bishops who ordain women cannot be priests because the bishops concerned intend to do the same to men as they do to women, and whatever that is, it cannot be ordination to the One Holy Catholick and Apostolick priesthood.
    The feminist victory over the Catholics is a tragedy. Anglo-Catholics will diminish in number and influence to the point of insignificance – the feminists have made it crystal clear that there is no place for Anglo-Catholics in the new C of E. The evangelical gay-haters will be strengthened by the departure of the Anglo-Catholics, many of whom were gay or gay-friendly. With the departure of the traditionalists / Anglo-Catholics the C of E becomes just another Protestant sect.

  7. Radex33, I think you're probably overstating the size of the problem. I'm sure there are some Catholics in the Church of England who are gay-friendly but opposed to female ordination, but in the main, Catholics who are gay-friendly are also supportive of female ordination.

    In fact I wouldn't be too surprised if the first woman bishop in the Church of England ends up coming from the Catholic tradition.