We are grateful to Christina Rees for sharing with us a very different perspective on the Synod vote in July and the hopes of Women and the Church for the CofE
The result of the debate in General Synod on 7 July should have come as no surprise. The outcome was consistent with how General Synod has repeatedly voted on the subject of opening the episcopate to women. And yet for some, there was surprise, and more than that, a sense of shock, even disbelief.
First of all, to state the obvious, Watch did not bring the motion to General Synod in July, anymore than Forward in Faith or Reform did. The House of Bishops did, based on its response to the Report of the Women Bishops Legislative Drafting Group.
No broken promises
There were cries of broken promises, but a vote taken in one Synod cannot ‘promise’ something in perpetuity, because synodical government is part of a dynamic ‘due process’. We have all heard that succinct description that the Church of England is episcopally led and syn-odically governed. The bishops provide a lead and the General Synod responds with reports, debates and votes.
There was talk as if Watch ‘won. Certainly, the vote reaffirmed the Synod’s expressed wish for women to be allowed to be bishops, and because of this Watch was delighted, but it was not a Watch victory. The result was actually a compromise for those of us who believe that the better way forward would have been simply to draft legislation permitting women to be bishops, and to make mutually acceptable arrangements as needed for those who remain opposed to women’s ordination, on an informal basis, with the priest and the female bishop concerned.
However, we continue to be committed to the ongoing process in which we are all involved. That process has been at times immensely frustrating and discouraging for Watch, feelings which I expect Forward in Faith and Reform can share from their own perspectives.
At times I feel that some in the church are operating with a theology of paucity, instead of with an understanding of a God of infinite abundance. Allowing those called to be bishops to respond to that call does not prevent other people from responding to God’s call in their lives. Your responding to God’s unique call in your life does not prevent my responding to God’s unique call in my life. Making it possible for women to be appointed as bishops does not take anything away from anyone else, yet I have heard the cry ‘we want to stay’, as if somehow having women as bishops will drive people out of the church.
No one driven out
No one is being driven out, and, what is more, no one wants anyone to leave the church. A Code of Practice can work, if we allow it to. A Code can be created that will ‘allow’ someone to stay if they want to stay.
How can we speak peace, love and unity, when we do not give peace a chance’? How can we discern the most loving and just way ahead when some have already declared what will and will not be part of the journey, and when threats have been made to withhold and withdraw from full participation in the life of our Church?
We do not agree about women’s ordination as priests and consecration as bishops, but soon our church will have women as bishops. So what do we do now? I recently heard of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s two-word definition of Anglicanism: ‘We meet.’ Yes, it’s simple, but it holds a truth.
Anglicans are those whose natural stance is openness and spiritual humility, being willing to listen, to talk and to permit the greatest degree of freedom possible within the bonds of our precious unity in Christ. This is why those bishops who stayed away from the Lambeth Conference were being, among other things, profoundly un-Anglican.
I cannot see how those who genuinely care about strengthening our expression and experience of communion can promote going down the path of separate structural arrangements . One of the reasons that some of the most senior ordained women in the Church of England opposed options that would enshrine in legislation any compromise to the authority of a bishop who is a woman is because such a compromise would also change and irreparably damage the role of all bishops. Any separate structures or categories that are made for some bishops affect the authority and standing of all bishops.
This is God’s initiative
I remember comments made by Roman Catholics when the Act of Synod was passed, that although they did not accept the validity of ordained women, they were even less impressed with an arrangement which destroyed the catholicity of the episcopacy. Part of the problem with the Act of Synod was its fracturing of the episcopate, as it allowed people to cease to recognise their own diocesan bishops as acceptable – it allowed people effectively to choose their own bishops according to a bishop’s views on one subject, a subject which is not even part of the credal basis of our faith.
In all these discussions, debates and deliberations, I keep coming back to God: what is God saying to our church at this time about opening all orders to women? This isn’t our initiative – any of ours. This is God’s initiative! Do any of us honestly think that we would be seeing the growth, spread and good fruit of women’s ordained ministries if it were not of God? Didn’t Gamaliel once have some wise advice about not opposing things that may possibly be of God?
The Anglican Communion has had 20 years of the experience of women serving as bishops. In none of the 15 Provinces that have voted to have women as bishops have separate structural arrangements been made for those who remain opposed. Do we really want to be the type of church that shows by our laws that we believe baptised women are in a different position to baptised men, that we are prepared to have two kinds of bishops with different degrees of validity? My sense is that the Spirit is calling us to catch up with where God already is.