Some of the clergy I respect most are women - why shouldn't they
be? Some of the most irritating are men. Is that surprising? We are
all human, with our good points and not-so-good points - a great
cross-section of humanity.
At any big church event, women clergy are commonplace; at a
deanery service, for example, to an extent that it would now seem
odd without them, just as much as a great variety of dress is
commonplace. On the various committees on which I serve, there is
quite properly a balance of men and women, lay and ordained. It is
simply the way the Church now is. Friendships will blossom across
the spectrum, and that must be all for the good.
I have always been careful not to use the language of
"invalidity", which, in this context of evaluating the contribution
that women priests have made to the life of our Church, I do not
believe is helpful. Lest we call into question all our
orders, the most we can say is that there is, from a wider Catholic
perspective, an element of doubt that the admission of women into
the ministerial priesthood has introduced. This is not to insult
women so ordained, but to stress that all our orders are to be
tested against the mind of the Universal Church from which our
orders are derived in the first place.
This highlights the need for what we call sacramental
assurance, because the one thing that the sacraments must
be is sure and certain signs of God's love and presence (Supplement, 27 May
2011). So, for traditional Catholics, the problem remains about
the place of the priest at the altar, but this in no way negates
the very positive contribution that women have made in and through
the ordained ministry. We need to continue to find ways in which we
work together as closely as possible, while respecting at the same
time our theological differences, and foster the highest degree
possible of communion.
one of the chief ways that this has been possible to do -
although others see things differently, sadly - is through the Act
of Synod and the passing of the two Resolutions A and B, given in
the 1993 Measure. This has meant that priests and laity alike have
been able to remain loyal to their convictions, and still engage on
an equal level with everyone else.
Sometimes, in the middle of a family feud, a little distance is
helpful, when boundaries are drawn so that everyone can play on
level ground and on a safe field. This has sometimes, mistakenly in
my view, been seen as a threat to the unity of the Church, rather
than recognising it as the mechanism through which that unity has
been preserved over the years.
Resolution C parishes have thrived and brimmed with confidence,
as have many other parishes of a Catholic tradition, that have not
needed to pass resolutions in the same way.
The point here is that the Catholic tradition has been able to
flourish in an unselfconscious manner, as if it were as normal as
any other part of the Church. The givenness of these arrangements
has been helpful, as they preclude any accusation of discrimination
against women priests.
I am clear that there is no question of putting the clock back.
The Measure to admit women to the episcopate failed because it
failed to secure adequate provision for this communion to continue.
Women priests have been able to work alongside their male
colleagues, both those who are able to accept them fully and those
who doubt their orders.
The distance that the legislation of the 1990s created has
enabled the heart to grow fonder. We need to get on
together at the practical level wherever possible, in order to
create maximum effect to show the Lord's love for all his
One practical example of this in my area is the coming together
of a group of parishes in Camden to give shelter overnight to
homeless people during the winter. Each church offers hospitality
one night a week; pooling our resources. In the next-door-but-one
parish, there is a woman vicar, and we are both pleased to be doing
the same project on nights following each other. The guests enjoy
telling us what the other church gave them for dinner the night
This may be a small example, but it is precisely in these sorts
of ways, in practical initiatives, that the gospel becomes
attractive to outsiders. When people recognise its values being put
into practice, then the message of Christ commends itself to the
most unlikely people. Wrangling over theological questions
diminishes; respect and confidence are nurtured.
No longer do we think of that priest as "the woman vicar", as if
there is something different about her, but simply as the Vicar of
St Mary's. We will soon stop thinking and talking about "women
priests" and "women bishops", but simply about bishops and
None of this is at the expense of glossing over the questions
about the nature of the priesthood, which remain. They are the same
questions as were around in 1992, and are in the current debate,
and which will still be with us in the future. The nature of the
theological difficulty with the ordination of women remains, while
working alongside women priests is the reality of our Church
Unity is not an optional extra for the Church. It is the Lord's
will and his prayer for his disciples. Not respecting the
boundaries that are forced on us through the nature of our
theological differences can create only further disunity, both
among ourselves and across denominational boundaries.
Ecumenical co-operation has for some time played a significant
part in our understanding of each other's traditions, as well as
enabling a growing-together in mission and unity. There is still
much to learn, and much growing together still to be done. It will
happen naturally and joyfully, as we learn to live with our
integrity (or integrities?) intact and secure in the life of our
The Revd David Houlding is Vicar of All Hallows, Gospel Oak,
London, and a member of the Catholic Group of the General