In the middle of May the House of Bishops met in York to discuss matters including women in the episcopate. Their statement following the meeting is to be welcomed by those who seek a constructive way forward. The bishops say that they have approved the Declaration that will provide acceptable pastoral and sacramental ministry to parishes that are unable to receive the ministry of women as priests and bishops, and also and most importantly that this will only be able to be changed with a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses of the Synod. These are welcome safeguards and, while not ideal, they certainly do seem to offer some security to those who in conscience cannot accept the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. In the coming months New Directions will publish a series of articles explaining the contents of the Declaration. It is to be hoped that all of the bishops will stand by this statement and declaration.
Later in the statement the bishops suggest they are looking into ways to reform the procedures of the way Lords Spiritual enter the House of Lords in order that the first woman diocesan bishop might be ‘fast-tracked: This seems to be a case of tokenism; surely it would be far better to keep the system as it is. It will take time for the first woman bishop to take her place in the House of Lords, but the time will come; and when the time does come the woman appointed will have the experience and skills to take that place.
The recent national service of celebration to mark the twentieth anniversary was held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. There is a certain irony perhaps in celebrating equality in a place in which men and women, as well as boys and girls, do not experience equality. The choir of St Paul’s Cathedral is still a no-go area for girls and women — no equality there — in an area where there is no theological objection, nor any need for someone’s conscience to come into play.
The Archbishop of Canterbury would have done well to reflect on this in his sermon when he said, In our celebrations — and let there be celebration — let us not overtook the cost, the bitterness of disappointment and rejection, the knee-jerk resistance of an institution facing change._ As a representative of that institution, I want to thank those here today whose costly loyalty, whose scars, make this celebration
possible, and I want to say personally how I grieve that it cost so much, to apologise for my own part in that hurt.’
In that one statement the Archbishop has relegated our opinion to nothing more than a knee-jerk reaetion and something about which the Church of England must apologise. Previous Archbishops of Canterbury may have wanted to label our opinion as heretical but they were willing to acknowledge it was a theological opinion firmly held with conviction. Neither should a seriously held theological conviction, that has been given an honoured place in the past, be apologised for. It is to be hoped that the Archbishop will continue to work for the sentiments expressed in the bishops’ statement following their meeting and indeed in the House of Bishops Declaration. If we are all to move forward together, then there does need to be care and trust on both sides.
As the July Synod approaches, tensions will be rising on both sides and it is important that a level of respect is maintained. If we are to understand that both points of view are to be held equally and respected, then that must be evidenced in the proceedings of the Synod. Our opinion cannot simply be side-lined as a knee-jerk reaction when it is a theological conviction held in line with the Universal Church of East and West. It is not we who have changed our opinion or indeed changed our teaching but the Church of England. We will continue to remain true to the teaching of the Universal Church as the Church of England traditionally has received it and we hope that the Synod and the House of Bishops will allow us an honoured place to do this in. Not to do so would be to break the promises and assurances not only of the past but of the present.
As a constituency the time is also fast approaching to put aside some of our own difficulties and differences and unite behind The Society to build our common future together. Only together can we hope to work for the mission of the Church and only together can we hope to live up to the trust that has been placed upon us. If we wish to claim our place in the Church of England is vital and important for the mission of the Church, then we must act upon that and not allow others to do it for us.