THE RECEIVED WISDOM with the English House of Bishops is that women bishops will have to wait The Church, as the Bishop of Portsmouth put it recently, ‘is not ready for them yet’. Such a view reveals precisely the meaning of a ‘period of reception’ among those who have done most to promote the idea. What the majority bishops are waiting for is the demise of the present generation of opponents, so that they can get on with the job.
The chances are, of course, that the opponents will outlive the bishops – for bishops are, almost by definition and with a very few notable exceptions, close to their sell-by date. But indications from Sweden are that things may continue to be problematical for a far longer period than many have hoped. Tom Sutcliffe (New Directions, April) may well have to contain his manifest impatience.
The appointment of a woman bishop in the diocese of Lund (Church of Sweden / ‘Porvoo Communion’) has recently demonstrated the extent and depth of the opposition which remains in that unhappy church some thirty years after the first female ordinations. There can be no doubt that the lady in question is set to initiate an impairment of communion which will damage both the unity and mission of the Swedish Church, but which has always been inevitable. In Sweden opposition has not withered away. Indeed young ordinands opposed to women’s ordination are still coming forward, only to be rejected by the Swedish bishops with the same doctrinaire liberalism which has pushed the agenda forward in Lund.
The English House of Bishops would do well to watch events in Sweden carefully. For they can be well assured that opposition in England will be quite as long-lived and considerably more tenacious.