THE CHURCH IN WALES is no longer to have its equivalent of a “flying bishop” to provide pastoral oversight for those clergy and parishes that cannot in conscience accept women priests. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, made this statement on behalf of the Bench of Bishops at the meeting of the Church in Wales Governing Body in Lampeter last week.
Twelve years ago, when the Governing Body (GB) took the decision to enable women to be ordained to the priesthood, the Rt Revd David Thomas was appointed as an assistant bishop to provide alternative oversight. At the end of June, Bishop Thomas retired, and it was not clear until the Archbishop’s announcement whether he would be replaced.
Dr Morgan said that the decision in no way reflected on the ministry of Bishop Thomas, who had earned the gratitude of the province for the way he had worked closely with the diocesan bishops. But the Bench had now reviewed the need for such pastoral care and concluded that it was no longer either necessary or consistent with Anglican ecclesiology.
“All Church in Wales clergy and parishes are in communion with their respective diocesan bishop, regardless of whether or not they agree on every issue. Episcopal oversight and care for all within each diocese is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop.”
There remained a continuing place for those unable to accept women priests, he said, “and we will continue to be sensitive in our appointments, both in terms of the views of parishes and in ensuring that clergy from different parts of the Church are given the opportunity to progress in their ministry.”
This decision by the Bench of Bishops followed the defeat at the last meeting of the GB in April of the proposal to ordain women as bishops. The Bench had been unanimously in favour, as had a large majority of the laity, but the clergy turned it down by 27 to18 (News, 11 April).
The position of women in the ordained ministry has remained on the agenda, with the complaint that although there have been women priests in the Church for more than a decade, none are in senior positions as archdeacons or deans, and women are under-represented on both provincial and diocesan committees.
The Standing Committee (on which there are no women) set up a working group with a man and woman from each diocese, under the chairmanship of Dr Gillian Todd (Swansea & Brecon), to address this. It reported last week with recommendations that all church committees and conferences should examine their membership-selection procedures, and that equality policies should be produced.
It also suggested that committees should aim for 30 per cent women by 2011, and 50 per cent by 2013, and the GB for 50 per cent women in the house of laity, and 30 per cent women in the house of clergy. In addition, it expected that in five years there would be women archdeacons and deans.
Dr Todd introduced the debate. There had, she said, been evidence of exclusion, discrimination, and bullying of women in the Church. Yet people in society were increasingly used to the principles of equality of opportunity, respect, and fairness. The Government of Wales Act also required equality of opportunity for everyone in Wales.
She was seconded by Sandy Blair (Monmouth) who said that, until he retired, he had managed large numbers in the public services, where posts in all levels of management had been held by either gender. Both men and women held top jobs in politics, health trusts, and local councils. The report was not suggesting a quick fix. To effect such an organisational and cultural change needed a clear and strong leadership.
Canon Peter Williams (Swansea & Brecon) said that, while he accepted some of the report, the suggested percentages were artificial. All appointments should be made on merit.
But he could not accept a recommendation that “the recruitment of ordinands takes account of their commitment to gender equality”. He suggested the motion was amended to “receive and welcome the report”, and to delete all reference to the recommendations.
Canon Andrew Knight (Swansea & Brecon) seconded his amendment, saying that he did not believe in gender equality, but he did believe in a Christian attitude to other people. He believed the recommendations of the report came “close to cultural imperialism”.
Further speakers supported the amendment, until Dr Morgan said it was the equivalent of “motherhood and apple pie” and did not get anywhere. “Unless we do put some measures in place then we are guilty of institutional inequality.” Dr Todd pointed out that the amended motion would not require anybody to do anything. It was put to the vote and lost 46-59.
The Revd Dr William Strange (St Davids) said it was clear that there was a genuine problem, and a quota system could work for committees, but what about ethnic minorities? That deficit was even more marked. “When electors insist on choosing the right people, what do we do about it?”
The Revd Dr Trystan Hughes (co-opted) said the GB itself was “largely middle-class white males”. Equality was often seen as something foisted on the Church by secular society, but it actually came from the gospel.
The Dean of Bangor, the Very Revd Alun Hawkins, said he did not regard the report as prescriptive, but as an indication of the direction the Church should travel in. A ministry of encouragement was needed, and women needed to be encouraged to put themselves forward.
The Dean of Monmouth, the Very Revd Dr Richard Fenwick, said that he had voted for the amendment because he did not believe that percentages could work: it was too much like ticking boxes. He also was unhappy about a commitment to gender equality being an issue in the recruitment of ordinands; such an “orthodoxy test looks very dangerous”. He found the original motion impossible to vote for.
The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Dominic Walker, proposed that the motion should be divided by its clauses into four parts: (i) to receive and welcome it and endorse the recommendations; (ii) commend it to the dioceses, deaneries, and parishes for study; (iii) to request the standing committee to allocate the recommendations to the appropriate bodies for action; and (iv) to report back on progress within three years. The idea was accepted, the clauses put to the GB separately, and all were passed.