Alan Rabjohns reports from the Governing Body in the Church in Wales

In an interview on the Sunday programme before the last month’s debates in the Governing Body the Archbishop of Wales said that the Governing Body differed from the General Synod as it was less a mixture of political groups and more a meeting of a family.

Perhaps by the end of 12 September he was re-thinking that analogy or maybe realizing that if it were true it was a somewhat dysfunctional family. For though the Bishops got what they clearly wanted – a vote in favour of women bishops – they certainly did not get all that they had proposed.

Avoiding defeat

Previous meetings of the Governing Body had tried in informal ways and through group discussion to come up with some picture of what would be acceptable and would avoid another defeat, with the previous defeat being down not to the strength of any traditionalist group but the unease of those who wanted justice and fairness.

The result of that process was a two-stage move to women bishops: the first agreeing that it should happen but this not coming into force until a second Bill making provision had passed. The Bench thought two years a reasonable time scale to get the second Bill ready and passed.

A matter of urgency?

But some were not content to let the game of happy families go on. Archdeacon Peggy Jackson and Canon Jenny Wigley proposed an amendment which removed this provision and said the Bill should become part of the canons of the Church in Wales in 12 months and that the bishops should as a matter of urgency draw up a code of practice.

They argued that the proposed way was liable to delay upon delay and this could not be tolerated nor could any enshrinement of discrimination in the constitution be allowed. As the debate on the amendment went on it became clear that it was women bishops at any cost. And those who had asked for a home in the Church in Wales were no longer being offered even a granny flat; just terminal care in a code of practice hospice.

The plan on this amendment was a well-organized manoeuvre and in the end it was effective. Voting by houses was not required and only a simple majority needed, so it passed by 72 votes to 46 with 6 abstentions. At this point maybe the bishops remembered Oscar Wilde’s definition of a friend as someone who stabs you from the front!

Debate then moved to the Bill as amended and there were some excellent speeches on our behalf. But this was not before an attempt by the Dean of Brecon to move directly to the vote. There was audible dissatisfaction with this. Voting by showing hands was too close but a lobby vote allowed the debate to continue by 70 to 52

Turnstiles

Among the speeches in our favour were three identifiable Evangelicals. Archdeacon Will Strange used an interesting analogy. Instead of going through the doors of the lobby to vote we were being invited to walk through turnstiles. There was no way back and no way of knowing what was beyond the turnstiles. Veteran Governing Body member and ecclesiastical lawyer Canon Steven Kirk said it was like going into a big building project without a faculty.

When it came to it, we clearly did not have enough votes to carry the day. The figures were: Laity 57 for, 14 against, 2 abstentions (10 of the 14 voting against were Credo Cymru members); Clergy 37 for, 10 against, 0 abstentions (4 of the 10 voting against were Credo Cymru members and 3
were identifiable Evangelical clergy); Bishops 6 unanimous. It is astonishing that all the Bishops could vote for a Bill which had been amended so much from the original that it could hardly be recognized as seeking to do the same thing.

Time to reflect

For many this has brought pain, anger, resentment, a feeling of being abandoned and not valued, and the big question, ‘Where do we go from here?’ There needs to be time to reflect and pray on these issues. Like Newman we need to pray: ‘Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene, one step enough for me.’

One step that has been taken is to remind the bishops that if they are to ‘consult widely’ as they promised there are two bodies with whom they need to consult on an official basis, Credo Cymru and the Society of the Holy Cross. These represent priests and laity who hold to Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order. But this should not prevent anyone from letting their feelings be known.

I was once asked, ‘Can we ever be angry with God in our prayer?’ and I think the answer is we have to come to God with what is in our hearts at the time. If it is sadness, anger, frustration, worry, we have to tell him about it. After all the Incarnate Son of God cried out from the Cross his despair in ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?’ And if we can take it to God, we can surely take it to those who represent God to us. They need to know and share our pain and our anxiety and pour in the healing balm of Christ. But in all things we are clothed with love and we are joyful as we keep the faith. ND