Draft legislation for women bishops: the revision committee’s decision

21 October 2009


From the Revd Simon Tillotson

Sir, — As a member of the General Synod, I am glad to hear that substantive provision is being considered for those not able to accept the authority of women bishops. I speak as someone who is fully in favour of women bishops, but also as someone who wishes to affirm the integrity of those who disagree with me.

Unlike some I talk to at Synod, I believe the Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical wings of the Church do not hold their positions because they are sexist or because they are wishing to be deliberately discriminatory against women. I believe that they take these views because of historical and theological perspectives that are integral to them as Christians.

I am deeply alarmed that I hear views within the General Synod wishing such voices to be no longer part of our Church of England, as this seems to be a very unloving and un-Christlike attitude, which will surely hinder the work of the Spirit among us.

True inclusivity, a word much praised by WATCH, seems to me to be about accepting and loving those we disagree with, not seeking a purely “thoroughbred” Church for those we agree with. Were I convinced that the new ideas being proposed would lead to discrimination on the ground against women, I would also oppose these plans; but surely they are only going to apply to parishes that do not accept the authority of women anyway.

The apparent discrimination against women will not be an issue for the vast majority of churches and ministers, including me, who will gladly accept the authority of women bishops.

On the other hand, not to allow proper provision for the Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical wings will be a direct attack on their whole status and integrity as Christians and members of the Church of England. It will affect their lives in a very real sense.

Discrimination is therefore not just a theoretical issue. It has to be understood in the context of how it impacts parishes in real day-by-day situations. If we were (theoretically) to have a neighbouring parish that did not accept women bishops, then so be it: I still wish to affirm the people there as Anglicans, because I have a duty of love and care as a fellow Christian, and believe their views have not been formed by sexism, but by two millennia of Christian tradition.

The neighbouring parish’s view will not affect my own congregation. On the other hand, to disallow that parish to have the provision it seeks will have a direct impact on the people which far outweighs in force the upset it will cause to those who seek a “pure” and, sadly, uniform Church of England.

Team Vicar of All Saints’ and St Peter’s, Whitstable
The Vicarage
Church Street
Whitstable CT5 1PG

From the Revd David Waller SSC

Sir, — As a member of the General Synod, I feel compelled to write in defence of the beleaguered women-bishops revision committee.

Critics should be reminded that in July 2006 the General Synod agreed by substantial majorities that the way to discern what provision should be made for traditionalists was to follow the Synod’s normal procedures for new legislation. That is exactly what has happened since then, and exactly what the revision committee is doing now.

A legislative drafting group was formed (the Manchester group), which considered in detail possible ways of making provision. The House of Bishops considered its report, and agreed that the starting point for debate in the Synod in July 2008 should be a code of practice. The Synod considered amendments, which resulted in a resolution for provision to be by way of a statutory code of practice. This gave a mandate to the legislative drafting group to draw up draft legislation on that basis.

In February 2009, the Synod voted to refer this draft legislation to the revision committee, but only after the Bishop of Manchester, as chairman of the steering committee for the legislation, said that “everything would be up for grabs.”

As a matter of fact, when any draft legislation is referred to a revision committee, all sorts of amendments can then be proposed, and often significant amendments are made by the revision committee, and subsequently approved by the whole Synod. Many of those who voted in February to send the draft legislation to the revision committee did so precisely so that it could be revised.

This revision committee is simply fulfilling the mandate that the Synod gave it in February. It is a fully representative group of all beliefs about women bishops, and should be left to complete the work entrusted to it by the Synod itself, which will then need to consider its report carefully and prayerfully, before deciding on the way forward.

St Saviour’s Vicarage
210 Markhouse Road
London E17 8EP

From the Rt Revd Lindsay Urwin OGS

Sir, — Hesitant as I am to enter the controversy over the statement by the revision committee, I feel I must respond to the Bishop of Salisbury’s comments (News, 16 October). I write for myself rather than as representing the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham or its Guardians.

Bishop Stancliffe asks, with an implicit rebuke to those who do not trust that the bishops will make proper provision outside of legislation, “Is this what we have come to?” Sadly, I am afraid the answer is yes. Over the past 15 years, there has been some regrettable behaviour among so-called traditionalists, but there is also just too much experience of a lack of equal love and respect from some archdeacons and some bishops towards those with reservations about the ordination of women to merit the trust he demands.

Some bishops seem to make no secret of it! I hear of priests who have been told that if they cannot accept women bishops then the best thing is for them to leave. If that is secondhand evidence, let me say that, in the days when I moved in such circles, I heard bishops consecrated after the non-legislative Act of Synod say that, because they did not vote for it, they did not feel required to submit to it.

I suggest that the College of Bishops, instead of clambering to the high ground, might ask itself, with a measure of new humility, “Why do these people not trust us?” Still better would be to go out and listen to a minority of people in our beloved Church who, though a seeming nuisance to them, are not generally unfaithful or vexatious.

Bishop Stancliffe wants us all to move into this “new world” lest the nation be so scandalised that we are unable to speak to it. That is a legitimate concern for one called to walk in the footsteps of the apostles. Let me reassure him.

In Walsingham, countless uncommitted people turn up. When they collide with the truth of the incarnation in the Holy House, or surprise themselves by kneeling to pray, or by lighting a candle, or by asking about the Faith, they are too caught up in the mystery and love of Jesus to mention the legislative actions of the General Synod.

Nor do they judge the worthwhileness of belonging on whether or not we ordain women as bishops — or on the misplaced “pride”, to use Bishop Stancliffe’s word, of a Church that is dangerously close to pretence in claiming to model unity in diversity.

Too many on either “side” of this debate refuse to accept that they might be wrong. Such a humble admission might allow for the creation of the genuine, gracious, and abiding room for the other to flourish which is sorely needed.

The College, Knight Street
Walsingham NR22 6EF

From Mr Stephen Parkinson

Sir, — Pat Ashworth reports (News, 16 October) that “Supporters of women bishops have expressed shock at a decision by the revision committee for the draft legislation not to go further down the route of a statutory code of practice,” and that one of the alternatives considered by the revision committee was “the adoption of the simplest form of legislation without a statutory code of practice”.

I cannot be alone among your readers in wondering how many of the “shocked supporters” to whom she spoke were the self-same people who had so singularly failed in their endeavour to dispense with any provision whatsoever.

Forward in Faith
2A The Cloisters
Gordon Square
London WC1H 0AG

From the Revd Paul Hamilton

Sir, — The Church of England cannot have it both ways. It cannot claim to be part of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church on one hand, and claim women priests to be normative on the other. If we are a part of the universal Church, then we must have the courage to call the ordination of women to the priesthood what it is — a minority point of view.

In 1992/93, the Church of England pronounced both views to be valid, and said there would always be a place of honour for those who could not accept the ordination of women within the C of E. The mess such indecisiveness created is only being fully realised now that women bishops are upon us. The rest of the Church is looking upon our dilemma and wants none of it: we have set the cause of women’s ordination back decades.

Those of us who cannot accept this change in church teaching have every intention of staying within the C of E, which makes the Synod’s request to avoid “no-go” areas for women bishops rather difficult. If we are to hold together as a Church, then we must either make a U-turn on 1992’s decision, or create a structure to honour the Church’s commitment to traditionalists.

The Rectory, Thorndon Gate
Ingrave, Brentwood
Essex CM13 3RG

From Mr J. Alan Smith

Sir, — The Bishop of Salisbury writes: “First, these proposals appear to institutionalise mistrust in legislation: the opponents of women’s ordination do not trust the bishops to make proper provision. Is that really what we have come to?”

On the other hand, as the old City saying has it: “When a man says, ‘My word is my bond,’ you take his bond.”

40 Albany Court, Epping
Essex CM16 5ED

From Mr Peter Lloyd Williams

Sir, — Your report of the revision committee’s timid failure to reflect the expressed view of the Synod prompted a number of concerns.

First, the vigour and clarity of the Bishop of Salisbury’s comment contrasted markedly with the clever ambiguity of the Pro-Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury.

Second, I counted no fewer than six groups — WATCH, Inclusive Church, Forward in Faith, the Catholic Group, the Third Province Movement, and Reform — all of whom were moved to comment from their differing standpoints. Who are these people? What and whom do they represent?

Third, as I turned the pages, I read Canon Giles Fraser’s typically robust rejoinder, then Paul Vallely’s perceptive piece on the corrosive effect of cynicism. Is it not precisely our Church’s seeming inability to sustain any kind of discernible unity which produces a cynical reaction?

We have become very uncomfortable with the concept of authority and obedience. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion; but does this mean that every opinion is of equal value? The essential simplicity of the Christian message has become obscured with complication after complication, and consciences have become more and more tender.

This creates severe problems for those of us who have the privilege and responsibility for preaching a coherent, authentic word, Sunday by Sunday. I turned to John 17.21, to read the blessed simplicity of our Lord’s prayer: “That we may all be one.” Then I thought of the inevitable cynical response: how absurdly naive! But is it? And is anyone listening — or still talking?

9 High Street, Bathampton
Bath BA2 6SY

From the Revd Anne Bennett

Sir, — I am dismayed by the decision of the revision committee to recommend that statutory discrimination against women bishops be enshrined in the new legislation. I am horrified that such a manifest injustice can even be contemplated by the Church.

We no longer have theological arguments about whether racism is acceptable: we have accepted that racism is an abomination. Sexual discrimination is also abominable. The Church should recognise this without reservation.

Very few people were converted to the cause of women’s ordination by theological debate, but many have become supporters after experience of the practical ministry of women priests. The opponents congregate in churches with no experience of women’s ministry, and so perpetuate fear in their ignorance. If women bishops are consecrated on an equal basis to that of male bishops, in 30 years we will wonder what the fuss was all about.

We are too worried about unity, and about a few people leaving our denomination to join a sister Church. Our concern should be for those outside the Church who are alienated by an institution that is so unwilling to do the right thing, and so out of step with its time and its civilisation. We should take great care of those who are upset by change, but change is part of life and should be embraced if it is right.

Now is the time for those women priests on whom the Church of England depends, week in, week out, to speak up for themselves and to refuse to countenance the immorality of discrimination any longer.

218 Sunderland Road
South Shields NE34 6AT

From Professor Anthony J. Berry

Sir, — The decision of the revision committee to return to a proposal that the General Synod had already rejected is very contentious. The committee must make public both the actual vote and how each member voted. This would give assurance of transparency and accountability of the revision committee and its members in the synodical processes.

There are rumours circulating that the decision of the revision committee was made by a majority vote of 12 to seven, and that the majority included all ten of the ordained male members of the committee. Would it not be better to make the facts public?

Synod member for Chester
24 Leafield Road, Disley
Stockport SK12 2JF

From Rachel Moriarty

Sir, — It is not surprising that the legislative revision committee’s proposals for the statutory protection of traditionalists are seen as disappointing, as well as unacceptable. But the implications of the proposals are more restrictive than has been spelt out so far.

The whole issue rests on one scenario, a diocese whose bishop, clergy, and people are broadly in favour of women bishops and priests, and a minority of traditionalists who seek “protection” for their position. But this is not the only one to which the law will be applied.

In my diocese, we are in the opposite situation: all three bishops oppose women bishops, and none ordains women or, I understand, receives communion from woman priests. We may be alone in the C of E at present, but the same balance of view could appear anywhere in future: undertakings have been given, after all, not to deny preferment to traditionalists.

What will happen in such a diocese if these proposals pass into a Measure, and then into law? Ironically, all the bishops will have the protection of one law in resisting another. They will be entitled by statute to refuse the newly authorised women bishops, throughout the diocese; but the many clergy and people who want to welcome them and share fully in the Church we all belong to will be confined, episcopally speaking, to a restricted section of it, and one that differs from them in theological understanding of the Church, sacramental fellowship, and episcopal collegiality.

Is this really the kind of diversity and protection that the revision committee, or the Synod, or even traditionalists want? And, if not, surely the solution locally lies in a balance of informed prayerful discussion, not one-sided legislation.

22 Westgate
Chichester PO19 3EU

From the Chancellor of York Minster

Sir, — I am sorry that my friend the Revd Jean Mayland felt nauseated when she saw the picture (News, 9 October) of the casket containing the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux at York Minster, but I must question some of the assumptions that appear to have prompted her reaction, and correct a factual misunderstanding (Letters, last week).

It is simply not true that “People cannot freely enter the Minster any more to pray and meditate, but only by paying for entry.” In introducing entry charges for sightseeing in 2003, the Dean and Chapter resolved that anyone asking to enter for private prayer or reflection, singly or severally, would be admitted without question and without any attempt to monitor their activities once inside. That policy continues. The Minster’s new team of “Hosts”, who began work after intensive training last month, operate the policy with care and with grace.

The visit of the relics of St Thérèse to the Minster on 1 and 2 October was at once an ecumenical and a deeply Anglican occasion. Our close co-operation with Roman Catholic, United Reformed, and Methodist sisters and brothers revealed a unity freshly inspired by the example and prayers of Thérèse (“I ask of you for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfil perfectly your holy will . . . that we may one day be united in heaven”), and prompted by the visit of the relics. I am sorry that Jean did not experience the moments of unity during the two major services or the hourly (Anglican) liturgies through the night and the morning.

I suggest she may be mistaken in assuming that to be inspired by the proximity of the relics, or even to show them reverence or veneration, is tantamount to worshipping them, or ascribing supernatural powers to them. As Anglicans, we did not address prayers to Thérèse, but we frequently prayed in her words. As Anglicans, we did not try to open windows into the souls of those who chose to visit. As Anglicans, we had no more difficulty in encouraging anybody to pray “around relics” in the cathedral than we would have in encouraging them to pray anywhere else.

To quote one of our Carmelite friends writing before the visit, “The veneration of relics . . . is rooted in the natural human instinct to treat with reverence anything connected with those we love who have died. By venerating the relics of saints, Christians believe that they are in fact honouring God, who has made the person holy.”

4 Minster Yard, York YO1 7JD

From the Revd Simon Heans

Sir, — The Revd Jean Mayland is quite right that St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote of a vocation to priesthood, but she omits to mention that this was just one of the vocations that, she said, “I feel within me.”

Before mentioning priesthood she cites “the vocation of the WARRIOR”, adding: “I feel within me the courage of the Crusader, the Papal Guard, and I would want to die on the field of battle in defence of the Church.”

Like the veneration of her relics at York Minster, I am sure this militantly Catholic Thérèse is not to Mrs Mayland’s liking; but then we are not required to choose between a feminist and a chivalric Thérèse, because she herself rejected both vocations in favour of the vocation of Love.

You speculate in your perceptive editorial appraisal of the revision committee that maybe its members have “start[ed] to like each other”. Is it too much to hope that they have gone further and have “understood that it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood”? (See Story of a Soul.)

The Vicarage
Oakhill Road
Beckenham BR3 6NG

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