The Director of Forward in Faith offers an account of the debate on Women in the Episcopate
Prebendary Sam Philpott:
I beg to move:
That this Assembly
reaffirm our aspiration to flourish within the structures of the Church of England and make our full contribution to its life and mission;
request the General Synod and the House of Bishops to ensure that we have continued access to a ministry which will make this possible; and
thank those members of Forward in Faith who have participated in the facilitated conversations and in the Steering Committee for the Women in the Episcopate legislation with a view to achieving this.
My task today is to bring to you a motion from the Council, and I’m going to do something which I think is tremendously important. First of all, I’m going to warn us against putting too many eggs in a basket labelled: ‘Archbishop’. Archbishops might appear to be all powerful: they are not. Our Archbishop will discover perhaps one day, as Archbishop Rowan did, that sometimes General Synod doesn’t even listen to its Archbishop. George Carey discovered it. The only person I can remember who seemed to have the General Synod in the palm of his hand, but he did it with wit, was in fact Archbishop Runcie. The Archbishops since then have never ever been able, it seems to me, to stand with a stature that simply awestruck the Synod in a way that it simply went with them. I think Archbishop Justin Welby is a good man and I think Archbishop Sentamu is also a good man, but I want to warn you that we do not pile everything onto their plate. Their burden as Archbishops is heavy enough without us raising our expectations of them; that simply crucifies them.
As catholic Christians we delight, don’t we, in our devotions, in our spiritual life? We delight in seeing images. You’ve only got to look around this building and you will see images, images that are not simply words; the catholic faith puts it in front of oureyes so we can see, and that mirror images the goodness of God himself. God speaks to us in a word, but his word is a person: his name is Jesus Christ. That person, Jesus Christ, that Word, is broken for us every time you come to the Eucharist, and every time you sit with the Scriptures on your knees, as perhaps you pray the lectio divina or whatever else you do in terms of your reading of the Scriptures. That person Jesus Christ, as you ‘break’ the Scriptures, is broken out of love for you and for me and for his Church: above all for his world. He is broken at the altar, as he comes to birth at the altar through the words of the priest. At the hands of the priest, he is broken out of love for you and for me, and in his brokenness he invites us, and this is the real meaning of our baptism, into the community of love which is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Perhaps one of the most powerful images for me is God kneeling at the feet of humanity in order to wash our feet. We tend to think that he only knelt before twelve men in an upper room 2000 years ago, but no, he kneels daily,every moment of every day, before humanity in order to wash our feet, to make us clean so that we are worthy to participate in that community of love which is the Holy Trinity. I’m not for one moment simply saying that I bear no responsibility. I bear a great deal of responsibility, but it seems to me that within this portion of the Catholic Church we have forgotten that the very heart of our faith is charity, and charity is always shown in humility. I’ve watched over the time that I’ve been in General Synod, it now seems for ever, and the time I’ve been in this organization, it now seems for ever, I’ve actually seen us too quick to pick up the cudgels against one another. Yet Christ is here! Christ is here, usually lying on his back as we wield hammers and hold nails, because we’ve annihilated the gift of charity, we’ve extinguished almost, except that he saves us from extinction, that life of charity that he invited us into.
I want to say to this Assembly today: For goodness’ sake, these aren’t mere words! This is the reality of who you and I are. This church of ours, this portion of the Lord’s vineyard, needs a
great dose of charity. Let the Catholic constituency begin to love this church; begin to love each and every member of this church whether they agree with us or they don’t agree with us. Whether you think they actually want to annihilate you or get rid of you, expel you, push you out, whatever. Let this Catholic constituency show this church how it can become a loving church again within its own communion, in order that it might actually proclaim to a world the love of the God who kneels before us and washes our feet and invites us into the life of God himself.
You might think: ‘What’s all that got to do with this motion that he’s meant to be proposing?’ Well, I’m asking for forbearance. You’ve already heard that Fr Paul Benfield can’t tell you much about the Steering Committee’s proposals. We’re at a particular moment on this journey and I long, I really do long, to get off this battlefield and on to the mission field! In my older years as I am meant to have left my parish, but I’ve gone back to give them a helping hand, I really do regret the wasted hours, the wasted days, the wasted energy that I’ve had to devote to a cause that this church didn’t ever need to pursue and prosecute in the way it has. I watch the cost that that parish has paid in lost energy for mission. I hope Justin Welby and Sentamu are listening, because I want this constituency to say to them: We will be silent. We will be silent. We won’t ask to know every detail. We will be silent as this steering group does its work. We will be silent,because we have a passion to belong to part of the Church that is strong and bold and flourishing and passionate about converting England. In that church we will play our part. All we ask is that at the end of this process our church gives us the space in which we can live a catholic life, looked after by catholic bishops, catholic priests and catholic deacons. Where we can turn our energies away from fighting our brothers and sisters. Where we can turn our energies to the work of mission, and where we can proclaim a God who is love, not just in word, but by the kind of people we are.
It seems to me that your baptism and my baptism is God’s invitation to you and to me to grow up into people who, when the Lord looks at us and when the world looks at us, they see with clarity the family likeness with the only-begotten Son. So I hope that you will simply take those words to heart. Even as I speak them, I know that the Lord is speaking to me.
The Revd Charles Razzall:
Just two comments…
One: I’m an active trades unionist, and at trades union conferences you often get too many motions. I’m so glad that we’ve only got one, beyond our constitutional motion that we had earlier. And this one is positive and firm and irenic, which, in the light of what Fr Sam has said, is just where we need to be, where perhaps we haven’t been and where we certainly want to be in the future: positive, firm and irenic. I just want to make a point about clause (b) and just not in anyway to criticize, perhaps to clarify that, when we use the word ‘ensure’, that means ‘guarantee’; and when we use the word ‘continue’, that means ‘without limit of time’.Because if we’re saying we want to be full participants in God’s loving mission through the Church of England, which is what we say in clause (a), then we certainly need both ‘guarantee’ and ‘without limit of time’.Thank you.
(the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker): Thank you, Father, very much indeed.
Prebendary Sam Philpott:
Can I simply just say: ‘thank you’?Because when I retired, which I haven’t, Bishop John Salt, who was at the House of the Sacred Mission with me, sent me a little message and it’s a quote from the Kelham Principles; any Kelham-trained priest here will know exactly: ‘Always remember: God speaks most often in silence’. It seems to me that the silence of this assembly is to allow God to speak: to speak to us, to speak through us to our church, and hopefully to speak through our church to world again.I long for a Church of England that may well have different views on this particular subject, but will so provide for its children that it can actually speak to a broken world about reconciliation with an authenticity that is simply not around in our world at this moment.
Thank you. ND
The Chairman put the motion and it was carried nem con.