On his way to the meeting of the College of Bishops, Bishop Stephen Cottrell commented on Twitter that ‘we all want to be Welsh at the moment’. One can only assume he was referring to the vote to allow women to be ordained to episcopate in the Church in Wales. The comment was at best insensitive to those in Bishop Cottrell’s own diocese who do not see this innovation as a good thing and indeed who are concerned for those Anglicans in Wales who have been left without episcopal care for so long and may now be faced with women bishops and no provision. It is no good for the Bench of Bishops in Wales to say ‘trust us’ – too many promises have been broken. Promises have also been broken in the Church of England and we too are asked to trust our bishops.
On the final day the bishops met with ‘senior women’ from across the Church of England. Among these ‘senior women’ it would seem that not one permanent deacon from our constituency has been invited nor has a senior lay woman to express the views of the large minority of women who seek provision for those opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. I was told by one senior cleric that the group was only to include ordained women – this sadly smacks of clericalism and a fear of listening to the voices of those who are also concerned for the future of the Church.
Put bluntly the bishops will hear only what they want to hear and not the broad sweep of opinion including the voices of lay women who lead in our churches from the conservative Evangelical and Catholic wings of the Church of England. The bishops may be committed to transforming the Church of England but at present it would seem many of them wish to transform us out of it as they are unwilling to allow the strong voice of leading lay women to be heard in their meetings. Sadly Watch and other groups are not concerned with discrimination against women nor about the silencing of their voices.
Another important question facing our constituency is what it means to be the Catholic or Evangelical voice in the Church of England. These designations have been adopted by various groups which would not hold to traditional Catholic or Biblical
teaching in many areas. We must not be afraid to assert that we are the Catholic voice and the Evangelical voice within the Church of England. This is what those who have gone before us did; they recognized the need firmly to call the Church of England back to her roots as a Catholic and Apostolic Church. We must not be afraid to do the same. We must acknowledge that like the Church of England at her best our movement is a broad one, our worship is varied and we may bring differing styles, but our fidelity to the truth remains. We must not be afraid to assert the teachings of the Church and call the Church of England back to her inheritance before it is too late. That was the task of the Oxford Movement fathers over a century and a half ago and it is our task now. We cannot afford to shrink away from it.
We must continue to work in our parishes, in schools, in universities and across the country teaching the faith. It is vital that we continue to focus on the ministry of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel despite the looming worry of the fact that women may be consecrated and there may be no provision for those who cannot accept such an innovation. If provision is now to come it is clear that it will in some way be connected to the work of The Society. While The Society is in its early days of development we can be confident that our bishops are working together with our leadership, lay and ordained, to ensure the best possible future for us. It is not too late to express an interest in The Society or to found a diocesan branch. To our bishops we can firmly say that we offer them our prayers and support. We all want to work with them; they have only to ask us for our help and we are sure that when the time is right they will do so.
Our movement continues to grow and to thrive: the work of the Church continues and we are very much part of that work. We continue to seek a future within the Church of England, calling her back to her Catholic inheritance, in which our children and grandchildren will thrive. It remains to be seen whether the synod and the House of Bishops will respect that view or whether as in Wales they will ride roughshod over our hopes and dreams. ND