No one could have predicted the vote at November’s meeting of General synod. The legislation to ordain women to the episcopate failed in the House of Laity by six votes. Following the announcement of the results the recriminations began with church leaders and politicians calling for the decision to be reviewed and for the running of the Synod to be examined. No such calls were made when in 1992 the legislation to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood passed by only two votes nor when the Archbishops’ amendment failed by five votes.
Despite the hurt and anger, the Church of England now has a clear opportunity to find a better way forward. To show to the world that it can seek to work to compromise and that, as a family, it will seek to work through disagreement not by rejecting people with whom it doesn’t agree but by seeking to understand and to help them.
Forward in Faith and the Catholic Group in Synod have indicated that they are ready to sit down at the table and to discuss how we might move forward from this place and how we can ensure that this does not happen again. We have called consistently for proper provision for those who in conscience cannot accept the ordination of women to the episcopate and we continue to argue for this.
We have an opportunity to show the world that as a Church we can listen to one another, pray with one another and come to a common mind on how to move forward together. It will not be easy and there will be some pain but it will not do to simply shut out a sizeable minority from the discussions or from the life of the Church of England. Through working together in a spirit of reconciliation we can show to the world how Christians can work together despite their differences and model to the world a sign of God’s love.
During the debate the members of the Catholic Group and Conservative Evangelicals in the Synod stood up and made impassioned but sensible speeches about proper provision.
They were joined by some who though in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate wish to see proper provision for those who in conscience are unable to accept the development.
They have our thanks and our prayers for standing up for a minority in the Church of England and for risking the wrath of others for their defence of us. We hope and pray that this will not be a time of knee jerk reaction and retribution but rather a time of prayer, reflection and discussion.
We hope that the Synod and the House of Bishops will not listen to the calls to rescind the Act of Synod for to do so will not help the Church of England but will simply expose more division and hurt. To seek to expel a minority from the Church is not an act of Christian love and certainly does not reflect the calls for justice and equality made by our detractors. As a movement we must now take quiet counsel about the future, we must look to our work, not forgetting the politics but rather ensuring that our focus is always on serving Christ and his Church.
We have a valuable and important role to play in the Church and in bringing people to Christ and that must always be our focus.
We must not forget that despite the votes in Synod our bishops continue to confirm large numbers of candidates, we have ordinands in training from our constituency, missions continue in parishes and the Sacraments are celebrated.
As we prepare for Christmas we must continue to bring the message of God’s love to this land and to our Church. It is simply not true to say that people are vexed by the issue of the ordination of women to the episcopate. They may not understand the Church’s way of dealing with the problem but surely that can be part of our witness; that because we are Christians we do things differently.
People want the Church to have a strong voice and a clear voice to speak to them in their lives. We must be dedicated to doing this, to speaking to people about the love of God whether in teaching and preaching or through the Sacraments. As we look forward to the future that must be the focus of all that we do.
We must rededicate our lives to Christ and put our trust in Him. ND