I spent some time recently in the parish of St Mary’s Horden in the Diocese of Durham. There at the heart of the community, like all our parishes the priest and people were working hard to spread the Gospel in the midst of people’s lives. As the great and the good debate our future in the Synod and in the back rooms of bishops’ meetings, they would do well to remember that we are not just a concept or an idea that can be disposed of easily. The decisions that are made this July will affect entire communities. Our task, whatever happens, is to make sure we support one another and display a united front, a praying front and reflecting front to the rest of the Church of England.
This magazine has in the past been accused of all sorts of attitudes and views, and very often it has been misrepresented. We were however shocked by the very clear statement and opinions expressed in a recent press release from Gras (Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod). We have striven with our bishops to work for a compromise and a settlement in the women bishops debate, acknowledging that there would need to be give and take from all sides. We hoped for more but are dedicated to working with what is there in the legislation. Perhaps wrongly, we believed the consensus rhetoric being spoken by the House of Bishops and leading proponents of the ordination of women. Trust us, they said, this time the settlement will be good for us all.
That is not a view shared by the Gras committee. In a recent statement they say the following: ‘Gras hopes and prays that this legislation will receive final approval this year and make it possible for the first woman Bishop to be appointed in the Church of England as early as this year. However, we must be aware that this legislation will not bring about full equality between women and men in the Church of England, and there will remain a lot of work to be done in the legislation, structures and culture of the church before that day comes:
This statement is hardly in the new spirit of the Synod that we are being told exists. We must be on our guard against this, as must our representatives in the General Synod. We call upon the Bishops of the Church of England to distance themselves from this statement. If the legislation before us is the best for the Church of England, as we are being told to trust that it is, then they must resist all attempts to undermine it. This statement from Gras is a sign that they will continue until the Church of England is free from those with whom they disagree. How can the Catholic and Evangelical constituencies be expected to thrive, cooperate and get on with the mission of the Church when faced with this sort of threat? We hope the Bishops will stand up against it and will be happy to publish any response they wish to make.
On the cover this month is a photograph of the Bishop of Fulham on a visitation to parish, St Mary’s Rotherhithe, and visiting a school within the parish. Our bishops and priests and, indeed, all our people are ready, willing and already playing a full part in the life of our national church. We are striving to spread the Gospel here and now and in many different places and situations. We are vibrant parishes with different styles and emphases. By the time this editorial is published we will have gathered as communities with our Bishops at Chrism Masses and will have kept Holy Week and the great Solemnity of Easter in various different ways but each place striving to serve God and his people in the best way possible.
We are by no means trying to claim we are unique in this but we are claiming we are a full part of the life of the Church of England and have much to give to it. We cannot be seen simply as a problem to be dealt with briefly so the majority can get what it wants and then removed from the public view. We desire to take our place at the table and contribute fully. This will not always be easy and we will continue to need sacramental assurance, but there is no reason why the Church of England cannot move forward from this point with understanding and grace for both integrities. We have made it clear we are here to serve and work as part of the Church of England, and we trust that that is the desire of the House of Bishops. Are members of Gras willing to allow us to do so? If not they should have the courage of their convictions to say so and walk away from the table.