It was one of the oddities of publishing that Pears Cyclopedia was prepared to go into print for nearly a decade confidently predicting the arrival of women bishops in the Church of England in 2008. Even as late as 2005, the prediction still stood. Even within the church it was reckoned that Dr Williams would surely need to go to the Lambeth Conference with at least the promise of a woman bishop on his arm. Until quite recently.
As we know, other problems have intervened, and the timetable is a longer one than most people suppose, as the Bishop of Manchester himself recently acknowledged. Those well-informed about synodical processes will know all this, but a quick summary of the earliest possible date might be instructive for those who do not.
If the Manchester Report is debated in General Synod in July (as is intended) then the first consideration of Draft Legislation would be in February 2009, with the revision stage completed a year later. Committed to the dioceses at the next Synod, in July 2010, it would be considered and perhaps debated with responses given back by the end of 2011, with a report coming to Synod in February 2012. Final approval could therefore be possible in July 2012.
If the Parliamentary consideration and the Royal Assent took up most of 2013, the Promulgation of the Canons could take place at the Synod of February 2014; with the consecration of the first woman bishop, one could suppose, in 2015. All this is assuming that the legislation proceeds without a hitch at every stage, and that the Synod elections of 2010 do not change the profile of its membership.
We have never advocated delaying the culmination of what was begun in November 1992. We have always taken the counsel of Jesus himself, when he said, ‘That thou doest, do quickly.’ However, if the Church of England is beginning, tentatively and almost unconsciously, to draw back from its earlier enthusiasm, as are other provinces within the Anglican Communion, then we must be generous to those with whom we disagree.
The final division within the Church of England, with a possible ‘Great Ejectment’ or even a new province, would be a traumatic event. If it must come then, by the grace of God, we shall be ready, but it is not for us to hasten that day, if there is any prospect that it will not come. Many of our clergy and congregations (and an ordinand in these pages) have grown tired of the phoney war, and would like women bishops if they must come to come as quickly as possible, so that we might begin binding up the wound, and taking up the greater challenges.
It may, however, be that the ground is shifting and that this receding of the horizon is more significant than it appears. It is our duty, therefore, while we can, to work with others for the unity of that fractured body, the Church of England, and not to hasten its demise.
Following the tabloid torrent that engulfed the Archbishop after his shariah law lecture and interview many were quick to leap to his defence. Several diocesan bishops released their own statements in support of Dr Williams, and the Bishop of Hulme appeared post-haste on Radio 4 complaining of the mindless attacks on ‘this holy man one of the ‘finest brains in Britain – if not Europe.’
There is no doubt that Dr Williams has many fine qualities and the Church is blessed to have a leader who has a peerless command of such a range of subjects, ranging from Ari-anism, through Karl Barth to the mystical theology of the Orthodox Church. Wherever he has been, in university or diocese, he has won great respect, deep affection and unswerving loyalty. No one has ever broken ranks, but all have guarded him like some delicate treasure.
But given his well known dove-like innocence, where are the serpents to watch and guide him? An ecclesiastical serpent of average ability could have guessed that the media pack would rip him to bits. A wise serpent would have posed a gentle question as to the possible effects on the Anglican church where shariah law is a daily threat and danger? Or again, is this the best time to tangle with this particular octopus?
We must thank God for the Archbishop’s intelligence, integrity and courage but we should pray that he surrounds himself with men and women who will give him the political advice he needs.
The ecumenically aware will have noticed that the Orthodox Church has just begun Lent. This year Orthodox Easter (excepting the old calendarists) is on 27 April. This to anyone’s mind, particularly to someone looking in from outside the Church, is faintly ridiculous. For the whole Church to celebrate Easter on the same date would be a significant witness. It must be worth working and praying for a single date for Christ’s Church to proclaim his Resurrection.