THE House of Bishops must be ready for a change of culture now, before the final vote on accepting women into the episcopate, Dr Williams heard on Monday.
A day-long conference was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace on Monday, after discussions with groups such as Women and the Church (WATCH), and the women Deans, Archdeacons, and Residentiary Canons group (DARC).
The day was reflective and wide-ranging in its discussions, said the Rector of St James’s, Piccadilly, the Revd Lucy Winkett. “People talked about issues like clergy couples and flexible working, and the impact on a priest’s vocation — all issues that have been highlighted by the ordination of women.
“But we talked more about what it meant to be a priest in a modern age. There was a general feeling that priesthood has been bureaucratised.
“There will be a great culture change for the House of Bishops if women are made bishops, and there was a strong feeling that it would be healthy for more than one woman to be appointed as a bishop at first.”
Women had now been priests for more than 17 years, she said, and, as the women-bishops legislation neared its final stages, it was felt that there was a need to look ahead to the future.
Two women bishops attended the conference to share their experiences: the Rt Revd Mary Gray-Reeves, Bishop of El Camino Real, California; and the Rt Revd Kay Goldsworthy, Bishop of Perth, in Western Australia.
Bishop Gray-Reeves presided at the eucharist at the end of the day; Dr Williams sat in the congregation. Bishop Gray-Reeves also gave the keynote address, in which she spoke about different models of exercising power, and her experience of building good relationships with parishes that did not support the ordination of women. She told the conference that dealing with difference by building legal walls divided the Church and prevented the healing of differences.
Mary Johnston, a lay member of the General Synod, who heads a grouping of liberal Catholics, was also present. She was one of about 60 participants, who included male and female bishops, priests, and lay people. She said that the day had been “worth while and very positive.
“It was exciting that Rowan said he wasn’t out to achieve ‘balance’, but he wants something more profound and prophetic. He wants a reappraisal of what it means to be a bishop.
“He was looking beyond the women-in-the-episcopate legislation. The day wasn’t about that, but he did talk about getting the House of Bishops ready for change. He also was worried about the creeping bureaucratisation of the priesthood, and said that he wanted something different for priests. He talked about a change of culture in the Church and the world, and achieving a ‘prophetic theology’ of gender.
“Women talked of challenges they had faced over the past 20 years, and we heard how women collectively have a ministry of endurance and hope,” Mrs Johnston said.
The Revd Rachel Weir, who chairs WATCH, said: “The Lambeth day provided much-needed space for reflection and for celebration. We look forward to taking the conversations forward, and seeing what will emerge in the longer term from this welcome initiative. We are very grateful to Archbishop Rowan for being so generous with his time.”
A summary of the discussion will now go to the House of Bishops for its consideration.