From the Revd Rachel Weir
Sir, — Your leader comment “Looking forward to the women-bishops vote” (25 May) is brave in the clarity of its predictions about the progress of the legislation towards the General Synod meeting next month. Its conclusions rest on the false premise that what is at issue is a simple mediation of a dispute between different factions within the Church on the issue of women bishops.
But this is about much more than having women as bishops: it’s about the place of women and men in creation. What we say about ordained women is a reflection of what we, as a Church, think about all women, whether lay or ordained. Theologies that regard women as restricted by their gender are harmful and should not be institutionalised by the Established Church.
We long to have women as bishops, but, as has been said publicly and consistently throughout this legislative process, not at any price.
Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church) on behalf of the WATCH national committee
St John’s Church, Waterloo
London SE1 8TY
From Mr Stephen Barney
Sir, — My position is that qualification to be a bishop in the Church of England has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with ability to lead. We need to be able to appoint from all potential candidates, which we cannot do at the moment. Therefore, I support the current proposals.
During the eight years that I have been a member of the General Synod, however, I have only ever heard, both in debate and in informal conversations, an absolute commitment to provide “an honoured place” for those who, in conscience, cannot accept the ordained ministry of women: i.e. that suitable provision is available. This means an acceptable (to them) male bishop — something I strongly support.
This commitment underpinned, both in writing and during debate, the February 2012 General Synod sessions concerning the Code of Practice, the Manchester (Archbishop’s amendment), and Southwark motions. This is in contrast to many other provinces where women have been bishops for many years and no such provision is made.
It seems clear to me that the Measure, as slightly clarified (consistent with the February debates) by the House of Bishops, is the solution that gives us the best chance of maintaining unity, besides achieving the voting thresholds in July for women to become bishops.
The only alternative is to seek an adjournment to ask the House of Bishops to reconsider. This would probably be with the objective of moving away from the commitment for adequate provision within the Measure, which, I believe, would greatly increase the risk of division and the failure of the Measure.
The draft Measure achieved a very high level of acceptance (higher than for ordaining women in 1993) in the dioceses. Therefore, its failure, for reasons that would not be readily understood by diocesan-synod members, let alone the vast majority of Anglicans, or the general public, would therefore bring the whole synodical process, if not the Church of England, into lasting and serious disrepute.
STEPHEN BARNEY (Reader)
Leicester General Synod member
The Dower House, 77 Brook Street
Wymeswold LE12 6TT
From Professor Helen King
Sir, — The group of six charged with scrutinising the amendments produced by the House of Bishops to the women-bishops Measure has ruled by a majority that the changes do not change the substance of the Measure, and therefore that the grass-roots Church need not be consulted further. This is yet another sign of how poor we are at process in the Church of England.
How can it be remotely good practice to have a group to scrutinise decisions made by another body, when two out of six members of the group were part of making the original decision now under scrutiny?
This is not about impugning anyone’s integrity, but points more profoundly to our poor grasp as an institution of the most basic notions of conflict of interest and good practice. When these proper questions are raised, they are almost always greeted by a defence of the individuals involved, instead of looking at our structures. The group of six are all fine people — that isn’t the point. Ethics policies on conflict of interest in many public bodies (such as universities) are not prim-arily about whether there is a conflict of interest, but whether there could appear to be a conflict of interest.
Should the amended Measure ever reach the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament (though I increasingly think that the House of Bishops have sunk the Measure), I trust that our parliamentarians will look very hard at the process as well as the content of the Measure in deciding whether it is “expedient” to send it to both Houses for debate and approval.
Former General Synod member
35 Croft Road, Wallingford
Oxon OX10 0HN
From the Revd Alyson Peberdy
Sir, — The House of Bishops is clearly not ready to welcome women on anything approaching equal terms. Regardless of the voting in diocesan synods, the careful and time-consuming work already done in the General Synod, and the graciousness of women bishops in other parts of the Communion, clearly the House of Bishops is not yet ready.
And so it agrees amendments to the legislation which are premised on a belief that women in authority are not to be trusted, although that belief is completely untested. Moreover, it prefers to encourage parishes to choose a bishop in their own image rather than wrestle with what unity really means.
As Dean of Women in a diocese with very many women clergy flourishing in their vocations, I invite those Bishops who voted for the amendments to come and work alongside women clergy for a while to discover how we exercise authority and whether we really can be trusted. I don’t know how else the House of Bishops is ever going to be ready.
The Church is, and our parishioners have been for a very long time. So, will the Bishops please think again, and be more aware of how insulting those amendments are to their women clergy.
Southwark Diocesan Dean of Women’s Ministry
5 Lowther Hill
London SE23 1PZ
From the Revd Philip Brownless
Sir, — On reading my Church Times, I felt depressed about the management of the Church. I see that the Synod is to spend its next meeting discussing women bishops again. We have women priests. Why can’t women bishops, as a matter of strategy, be put off for five years? In that time, I believe, God will make it quite clear what his will is regarding the ministry of women.
There is a drastic shortage of clergy, and the money to pay them. Long interregnums are the fashion, and many clergy find themselves looking after five or six parishes. In my young days, there were fewer bishops, and some suffragans and archdeacons ran a parish. The ones in this position I served under did a very good job.
The real work of the Church is done in the parishes, and, to get this right, we need real leadership at the top, as we had in the days of Archbishops William Temple and Cyril Garbett — and a Synod with a grasp of the wider picture and its needs.
P. P. S. BROWNLESS
5 Oak Meadow, Birdham
Chichester PO20 7BH