Incomprehension all round? Reactions to the General Synod’s voting

by
14 July 2010

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From the Revd Simon Tillotson

Sir, — During the debate on women in the episcopate, the Bishop of Durham made the important point that there had not been a proper debate on male headship or sacramental assurance at General Synod. This raises an important issue.

Were there to have been a proper educational system in place at Synod, whereby members could have listened to each other and really sought to understand their differing opinions on the matter of women in the episcopate, I believe that the Archbishops’ amendment may well have been passed.

Instead, the debate too often was sidetracked away from the proper focus on to general statements enthusiastically in favour of women in the episcopate, as if that was the focus of the debate. Instead, the focus should have been whether the provision being offered Anglo-Catholics and conservative Evan­gelicals was adequate or not for them.

Clearly, anyone listening to both these groups would have had to answer no to this question. Or did WATCH and that group in Synod simply not care that the provision was not considered adequate?

In my conversations during coffee breaks, I was alarmed to discover that too many Synod members still thought it was a debate about gender, when anyone listening to conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics would realise that it was about their historical and theo­logical understanding of leadership and priesthood. To reduce this to the level of sexism is to belittle grossly the dignity and integrity of both these groups.

As I explained in my speech on mine and Canon Killwick’s amend­ment in favour of separate dioceses, I completely disagree with both conservative Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic views, but I have always sought to understand them, and have refused to reduce them to the level of bigotry. I am amazed that that simplistic view still prevailed among many Synod members.

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In the next ten years, the even more politically explosive issues surrounding human sexuality are very likely to come to the Synod. May I suggest that we think this through very carefully, and that for this next debate we have a full, educational process, whereby all Synod members are clearly taught the rationale of both the conservative and liberal approaches on this matter. Then at least we can debate the real issues on a level playing field, instead of reducing those we disagree with to the level of misogynists (in this case) or homophobes/heretics (in the one that is to come).

SIMON TILLOTSON
The Vicarage, Church Street
Whitstable CT5 1PG

From Canon Stephen Barney

Sir, — Let us be clear: the debate is not about whether provision should be made for those unable to accept the ministry of women, but how this can be achieved in a way that does not damage the episcopate irrepar­ably.

The Archbishops effectively asked in their amendment, “Should it be enshrined in law or should it be as part of the normal oversight of the diocesan bishop?” What we voted for, albeit narrowly, was not to resort to the law, but to rely on the ministry of those called to be bishops, whether male or female, to exercise their calling to care for all clergy and act as a focus of unity. In my view, the law would have solved nothing. This is the right answer.

The debates and legislative drafting over the past ten years have sought to accommodate the traditionalist clergy, and have done so diligently and conscientiously. The Code of Practice, if and when it is introduced for their protection, will actually have more force in law than an Act of Synod.

What we have singularly failed to grapple with is, for those of us not steeped in the history of the Church, whether the doctrine of sacramental assurance is valid. Most of us have little understanding of what this means, and yet it is what underpins all of the debate and the position taken by the traditionalist clergy. It is the stated reason why some are unable to accept the ministry of women, and why bishops who have taken part in the ordination of women are not allowed to preside at communion at traditionalist churches.

I and many others (laity, clergy, and bishops alike) would like to understand this matter; for, without understanding of this, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand, let alone support, the traditionalist position. Any offers, please?

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STEPHEN BARNEY
General Synod member
The Dower House
77 Brook Street, Wymeswold
Leicestershire LE12 6TT

From the Revd Patrick Davies

Sir, — Now we see their intentions are malicious. How else could I interpret the action of the General Synod members who ignored their two leading pastors?

It is not as though traditionalists have been unbending, unwilling to make compromises. If we were so unyielding, we would have fought all the way for a Third Province. But no, we have compromised, standing on thinner and thinner ice. In the end, the General Synod ploughed its ice-breaker into our remaining ground — by voting down every possible way by which we could remain in the Church of our births. Being loyal Anglicans, as we have been reminded, we have been placed in an impossible position.

If the Church does recognise, as it says it does, those Anglicans who in conscience can affirm or decline the ordination of women as loyal, why such hostility?

I suspect that it is not because we traditionalists have been unwilling to compromise, but because we are unable to bow the knee to the sacred cow of women’s ordination. So much has been spoken of justice in allowing women to exercise a full role in the Church; but where is the justice in offering loyal Anglicans a system that the Synod knows we can­not in conscience accept? It asks us to sign our own suicide note.

Unless this proposal is radically changed, unless love can come to the fore, unless we are able to say let women be fully bishops, even archbishops, but at the same time give traditionalists the justice they deserve, then Synod members will be seen for what they appear to be: vindictive, malicious, and arrogant.

PATRICK DAVIES
St Crispin’s Rectory, Hart Road,
Fallowfield, Manchester M14 7LE

From the Revd Paul Hamilton

Sir, — How ironic that the parable of the Good Samaritan was last Sunday’s Gospel! Many of us must feel like we’ve been mugged on the way to Jericho and are waiting for someone to bandage the wounds, because the House of Clergy just passed by on the other side.

PAUL HAMILTON
The Rectory, Thorndon Gate
Ingrave, Brentwood
Essex CM133RG

From Mr Stephen Hogg

Sir, — The Revd Sue Langdon’s letter (Letters, 9 July) made me think. My experience has been quite the opposite. The church I attend has Resolutions A and B in place; and yet I have had no difficulty whatsoever in stating my support for women’s ordination to the priesthood and, until now, their consecration as bishops. My friends there and in Forward in Faith have been generous enough to disagree but listen.

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The unkind article by Canon Jane Shaw (Comment, 25 June), together with the (increasing, it would seem) inability of the liberals to meet the traditionalists somewhere along the road, has made me stop and think. In the Church Times and in other media, I see a lack of generosity of spirit from those supporting women bishops and a failure to meet and feel the pain of those who cannot accept their consecration.

I am astonished at my own change of heart, but I now cannot support the move towards women bishops until there is proper legal provision for those opposed.

And just don’t get me started on the Jeffrey John business.

STEPHEN HOGG
1 Grove Mansions
Hammersmith Grove
London W6 7EW

From Mr Dennis Steer

Sir, — I have looked through the list of Petertide ordinations (9 July 2010) and am dismayed, although not surprised, to see that Chichester diocese stands alone once again. It appears to be the only diocese where neither the diocesan bishop nor his suffragans have ordained women priests, but have used a retired bishop to fulfil this very important function.

I cannot begin to understand the message that this must convey to those women considering ordination or those women being priested. It worries me to worship in a diocese where women priests appear to be second-class, and those of us lay people who support and welcome the priestly function of women feel alienated.

DENNIS STEER
19 Rocks Park Road, Uckfield
East Sussex TN22 2AT

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