Oliver Coss sets out the way ahead to the Birmingham Diocesan Synod

I have a non-churchgoing friend who has often said that the best word to describe the Church of England is, in a certain homage to Douglas Adams, ‘harmless’. Through much of the last fifteen years we have painstakingly argued, in public as in private, over women, over sex and sexuality, and on the purpose of the church in the twenty-first century; and after the catastrophic events surrounding the General Synod meeting in November 2012, he told me that he was minded to amend his description to `rnostly harmless: I wish he could be here now.

I wish he could have seen how our friends in General Synod have laboured together through the storms so recently quelled, and the measure, tone and respect with which it enthusiastically passed the legislation that now stands before us. I don’t want my contribution to this debate, or my reflections on the package of measures before us, to be dominated today by minutiae, or by fine detail. We are not here to debate the details of the bishops declaration, nor will this measure stand or fall in this Synod on the basis of the provision given, or not given, to those who are not the object of this legislation. No.


This is a debate in the simplest terms: whether we now agree to enact the principle of admitting women to

the episcopate

That being the case, and this being a conscience issue, I hope no one here would expect me to vote any other way but against. But, if you will permit me, I shall not do so resentfully, or in any vain hope that I will get my own way. I hope, for the sake of my dear brothers and sisters in Christ who yearn to see the episcopate opened to women, that we will proceed quickly in resolving this question once and for all.

Unity cannot happen on my terms, or on anyone else’s. It must, fundamentally, be grounded in what we believe the Spirit is saying to the church. In that search and effort, we uncover commonalities that reinforce our common life in Christ: some of those are geographical, some commonalities emerge where each of us face similar issues, and sometimes they emerge in sharing deeply held theological viewpoints, that define our understanding of Christ’s body the church. Anglo-Catholics have often been suspected of living a ghettoized lifestyle, but realistical lyit is rather that our commonalities are more broadly spread, and it is our intention to we must work twice as hard to nurture all of them. The curate’s egg may be good in parts, but it is the totality of it, not its constitutive elements, that best describe it as an egg.

I am not going to give you any romantic platitudes, and say I am deeply in love with the Church of England, and could not bear to see it change; but I am going to say that I, and others like me, find in this way forward a sufficiency that allows us to say that we are committed to the mission of the Church of England.

Recognized and respected

I endorse the five principles contained in the Draft Declaration, the commitment to continuing pastoral, episcopal provision. I find there a great deal of hope that the integrity of each of us is recognized and respected, and that each integrity has an essential value to Anglican missionary endeavour. That mission means opening the episcopate to women, while welcoming a diversity of faith and practice; and that mission means difficult internal conversations in other directions, and I hardly need to say that the tone with which we treat each other in one context, may be the tone that endures as we unpick other divisive issues.

But above all that, and the patent need to re-establish unity in the bond of peace, the mission of the Church of England means the grafting and rooting of men and women throughout our land, so that they may know the new life of Jesus Christ. I warmly commend this pathway to you, and in respect of where your conscience lies, invite you to vote accordingly, and not at this stage to be encumbered by any other consideration.