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Fallout from the Synod’s votes on women bishops: the debate continues

21 July 2010


From Savitri Hensman

Sir, — I felt that your leader com­ment “Extra time, or game over?” (16 July) was unfair to the revision committee, which had patiently crafted the compromise solution that in the end gained Synod approval, and to those who voted for it.

The Archbishops’ last-minute intervention, putting forward a confusing and impractical proposal that would have seriously under­mined both women’s ministry and the traditional concept of episcopacy, gave renewed hope to opponents of women bishops, and it is under­stand­able that they feel disappointed.

But the position agreed by the Synod, in which parish priests and parochial church councils opposed to women’s ordination will be able to carry on for most purposes as if it did not exist, even if their bishop is a woman, is a major concession to this minority.

31 Millington House
Stoke Newington Church Street
London N16 9JA

From the Revd William Raines

Sir, — As one of those who voted against the Archbishops’ amendment in York, I am not thrilled to be described as “vin­dictive, malicious, and arrogant” (Letters, 16 July). It really is time to tone down the rhetoric, lest people find themselves backed into corners from which it is difficult to emerge with dignity.

Amendment 514 was somewhat technical. It did not add to or change the substantive provision made for those who cannot accept the min­istry of women bishops. What would have changed, had the amendment been accepted, is the legal basis for such provision: power conferred through the Measure itself rather than by delegation from the Ordinary.

Of course, the question of juris­diction is significant. But I find it hard to credit that the difference between “having an honoured place in the Church of England” and not having such a place boils down to the absence or presence of the words “by way of delegation”.

Holy Innocents’ Rectory
197 Old Hall Lane
Manchester M14 6HJ

From the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture in the University of Oxford

Sir, — The Measure on women bishops offers traditionalists far more than they seem to believe. It requires a woman bishop (or a male bishop who ordains women) to dele­gate liturgical and pastoral functions to a male bishop if requested to do so.

The male bishop in question is bound to be a traditionalist, even though the Measure does not legis­late for this; for no male bishop who ordains women would ever accept the task, nor would any non-traditionalist bishop ever ask him to do so, since both would know in advance that his ministry would be unacceptable to the traditionalist parish involved. Quite apart from pastoral sensitivity, self-interest will guarantee that non-traditionalist bishops will not put themselves in such an impossible position.

In practice, pragmatism will pre­vail, and will give traditionalists the bishops that they believe to be essential. They will not have a juris­diction that detracts from that of the diocesan, but the Archbishops’ amendment would not have given them that either, as it explicitly stated.

Oriel College, Oriel Square
Oxford OX1 4EW

From the Revd Jean Mayland

Sir, — Your edition of 16 July contains protests that the amend­ments of the two Archbishops were defeated only in one House and so fell. Voting by Houses is part of the Constitution of the General Synod, to ensure that bishops, clergy, and laypeople are all prepared to make changes in the life of the Church. In the long history of the legislative process leading to women priests and bishops, it has often been used.

In 1966, an amendment by Pro­fessor Lampe that “This Assembly, believing that there are no conclusive theological reasons why women should not be ordained to the priest­hood . . ., welcomes further consid­era­tion of this matter” was carried in the Houses of Bishops and Laity, but failed in the House of Clergy.

In 1975, a motion that this Synod considers that “there are no funda­mental objections to the ordination of women” was passed in all three Houses, but a following motion that legal barriers should be removed and legislation brought forward was defeated — again in the House of Clergy.

In 1978, Bishop Hugh Montefiore moved that “this Synod asks the Standing Committee to prepare and bring forward legislation to remove the barriers to the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate.” In a vote by Houses, this also was de­feated in the House of Clergy.

To me, the interesting thing is that, during my five years on the Church Assembly and then my 20 years on the General Synod as a member of the House of Laity, it was always the clergy who blocked pro­gressive legislation, whether it be on ecumenical matters or the ordination of women.

Now roles have been exchanged, and the House of Clergy is the pro­gressive House determined to see that, while space is provided for those opposed, the consecration of women to the episcopate must be on terms that do not undermine their authority or do harm to the Catholic nature of the Church of England.

5 Hackwood Glade, Hexham
Northumberland NE46 1AL

From the Revd Jo Delfgou

Sir, — Can I, through the letters page, make an appeal? As a male priest in the Church of England who likes the beauty of ritual (often labelled “Catholic”), who enjoys wrestling with the wondrous and glo­rious thing called scripture (which is pro­nounced by others as “liberal”), and yet acknowledges the views of others as being valid (condemned as “wishy-washy”), I would ask my fellow priests (in particular) to be careful how they use their labels.

In the light of the debate whether women can indeed be called by God to serve him as men do (which is what the continuing debate is really about), I read that “tradi­tion­alists” oppose any such calling — forgetting the tradition of Margaret of Scotland, Hilda of Whitby, Hildegard, and Julian.

“Catholics”, too, seem to want to avoid the all-embracing nature of the word that we so generously lavish on the Church in the Creed and become a selective “us-and-them” bunch. Evangelicals are those sent out by God to preach, not to huddle in corners and say what they don’t like. Need I go on?

I am utterly fed up that so many people seem to be wasting so much time and energy.

How about a new way forward? Why don’t we, the priests and people of God’s Church, get on with his or her business? If we engage in that thing called love with all those who are in our care, then we won’t have time to worry about who else is being called to be Christlike in the world and how we should label them, but instead we will just be thankful that someone is.

St Mary’s Vicarage
Church End Lane,
Runwell, Wickford, Essex SS11 7JQ

From Prebendary James Funnell

Sir, — Retirement and the report in the columns of your paper enabled me to undertake a numerical analysis of the Petertide ordinations. I make no claim for absolute accuracy, but, according to my calculations, the Bishops of England and Wales made 512 deacons, of whom 247 were women. They ordained 515 priests, 249 of whom were women.

There appears to be no shortage of men and women who feel called to serve in the ordained ministry of the Church of England, and if the number of those who feel called to seek ordination is in any way a guide to the strength and vitality of the life of the Church, then it does seem that there is plenty of life still in the Church of England.

Numbers, however, are not really important. Those who were made deacons and those who were or­dained to the priesthood represent the great desire and willingness of so many in our parish churches to meet the pastoral needs of those in the cities, towns, villages, and scattered communities of this land.

I hope that these new deacons and priests will have a sense of pride, as I have had, that they serve a Church that is concerned for the spiritual and material welfare of all the people in the parishes where they serve.

It is a source of pain to me that the so-called traditionalists want to be associated with an ecclesiology that regards the ordination of wo­men as “a grave crime” rather than be part of a Church deeply commit­ted to the love and care of the people committed to its charge, which is amply demonstrated by the women and men who have res­ponded to God’s call to serve him in the or­dained ministry of the Church of England.

It is in this context that the Church of England is moving slowly and carefully towards the consecra­tion of women bishops.

37 Brunel Quays
Great Western Village
Lostwithiel, Cornwall PL22 0JB

From Mr Dennis Cooper

Sir, — The discussion over women bishops, as reported last week, really does make one wonder whether we simply have the Synod we deserve. The Church has secularised itself over the past decades in an attempt to fill the pews; so why now com­plain when it takes the next step to self-sacrifice/destruction?

I wonder, however, if the Synod should have been given two options:

1. Women were admitted as Readers in the 1960s, I think. There­fore, as some may consider becom­ing a Reader is the first step on the road to ordination, anyone who has become a member of the Church of England since then has no cause for complaint. Given the cost of paying clergy off when women were ad­mitted to the priesthood, why is there any surprise that no conces­sions are to be made now? Organisa­tions change over time, and this may simply be seen as part of that change. Accept it or leave. Or . . .

2. Become realistic. It is to be hoped that there will always be those who hold apostolic-tradition views and will never accept the growing secularisation. So, dissolve all existing dioceses with the exception of Canterbury and York, and estab­lish a maximum of 20 new ones, ten in each archdiocese. Five of the new dioceses would be “traditionalist”, and five “modernist”. Parishes would then choose to which they affiliated. One Archbishop would always be a traditionalist.

Of course, we all know that option 2 above will never happen, because turkeys never vote for Christmas.

The joy (?) of the Church of England shall continue.

173 Seagrave Road, Sileby
Leicestershire LE12 7NH

From Canon Robert Cotton

Sir, — It was good that each tradi­tion was prepared to compromise at the recent General Synod and so make provision for all to stay within the Church of England.

Any true tradition is generative. Evangelicals generate new insights by returning again and again to scrip­ture. Liberals, with hearts and minds particularly attuned to what God may be revealing around us, thereby generate new responses in ministry. Catholics are most true to their tradition when they draw inspiration from previous generations rather than merely seeking to preserve past practices.

Some of the rhetoric in the recent Synod debate claimed that the pro­vision for traditional Catholics is like “scraps on the table; the cupboard is bare”. But perhaps there is more in the kitchen than they realise. A truly vibrant Catholic tradition will find fresh resources within the Church’s history. There remains an honoured place for them in the Church of England.

The Synod did not decide to starve them, but urges them to find new sources of nourishment which will bring encouragement to us all.

9 Eastgate Gardens
Guildford GU1 4AZ

From Mr Dominic Vickers

Sir, — So much of the coverage on women bishops is about the pain it causes traditionalists, but what about the pain it causes the rest of us in the pews at seeing the Church publicly undervalue the ministry of women?

61 Langley Close
Headington, Oxford OX3 7DB

From Miss Fay Wilson-Rudd

Sir, — It may be prophetic, but the captioning of the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes as “the Rt Revd” is a little premature (Synod, last week) — even for such a gracious lady. Many of us present in York were much impressed with her charity in withdrawing her amendment to the proposed Measure permitting the consecration of women as bishops.

Synod member for Bath & Wells
Flat 3, Old School Place
North Grove, Wells BA5 2TD

From Mrs Patricia Witcombe

Sir, — Has the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes received a special dispensation? Is this a Freudian slip or a prophetic utterance?

29 Denewood Avenue, Bramcote
Nottingham NG9 3EU

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