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Women bishops: advice to the General Synod on the eve of the vote

16 November 2012


From the Bishop of Worcester

Sir, - Though I respect him greatly, I think that my colleague the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, is profoundly misguided in urging the Synod to vote against the Measure to allow women to be consecrated bishop ( Comment, 9 November).

Contrary to what he says, the Measure is the result of a long and careful debate that takes very seriously those who in conscience cannot accept this move as warranted by scripture or tradition. It ensures that they and their views will continue to be respected in our Church.

Second, passing the Measure would not adversely affect the spiritual and theological coherence of the Church as he suggests. If it were to go down, the consequences for both - not to mention our mission to the nation - would be grave. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of people in the Church of England want it to be passed, and for the Synod to vote against would be theologically and missionally perverse.

Third, it would be good rather than bad ecumenically. Is he not aware that very many Roman Catholics indeed would welcome the passing of the Measure? They look to us to lead the way, as we have done in so many ways since the Reformation. In any event, women are already ordained bishops in several Anglican provinces.

I hope and pray with all my heart that the Measure will be passed.

The Bishop's Office, The Old Palace, Worcester WR1 2JE

From the Revd Dr John Williams

Sir, - It was very dispiriting to read the Bishop of Chester's article explaining why he can't support the Measure to admit women to the episcopate ( Comment, 9 November). The one thing that seems beyond doubt is that there is overwhelming support for women bishops within the Church and the wider society. I am not insensitive to the need to make considerate provision for those who cannot accept this change, but Dr Forster's three additional reasons for saying no really do seem a counsel of despair.

The first reason appears to amount to alleging that the conduct of the debate has been unacceptable because the arguments in favour have sometimes been presented very forcefully. I am not sure what the alternative to this would have been, and, in any case, opponents of women bishops are not exactly diffident in advancing their own views.

The second turns on the anxiety that the consecration of women might change the theology of episcopacy. But, given that it is the bishops who define the official theology of the Church, and, therefore, the theology of episcopacy has hitherto been defined exclusively by men, it is only to be hoped that the theology will indeed change once women have a share in defining it.

The third argument suggests, oddly, that only when we have given up on any realistic chance of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox coming on side should we in the Church of England go it alone - an interesting variation on the common Anglo-Catholic argument that we must wait until Rome says "yes" to women's ordination, but, in the end, little more than an indefinitely extended delaying tactic.

Dr Forster ends with the baffling statement that "the credibility of the Church must be in the eyes of God, not of the world." If this means what it appears to say, that some proposals for the Church lack credibility in the eyes of God, and that we can know this by some means other than the evidence gleaned from the world around us, this would appear depressingly to limit the prospect of ever getting anything changed in the Church.

Sometimes we just have to acknowledge that the arguments have been made as convincingly as we can reasonably expect in this life, and step out in faith.

13 Marston Crescent, Acomb, York YO26 5DQ

From the Revd Jean M. Mayland

Sir, - I really wonder where the Revd Anne Stevens and others who wrote supporting further delay on the Measure to ordain women bishops have been for the past four or five years. She writes advocating no legal solutions to the problem of those opposed and criticises the "uneasy compromise of this Measure".

Many of us have been living with uneasy compromise for years. We set out on this last venture advocating a single-clause Measure, leaving arrangements for those opposed to be carried out on trust, as in the United States. We had to face the fact that those opposed do not trust us at all, sad though that is.

This latest offering of "uneasy compromise" was worked out by years of careful study and discussion by the members of the revision committee, and was approved by 42 out of 44 dioceses.

It was rocked by the interference of the Bishops and then saved again by a new compromise proposed by a working woman priest. It is by no means perfect, but it is the best we are going to get, and, what is more, it is something that we can make work. Those opposed are vociferous and wealthy, but are actually very small in number. In the deanery in which I live, which covers hundreds of square miles and probably contains more sheep than people, there is only one parish opposed. We can cope with that. Similar statistics are to be found in many places.

I started this journey of discussion in the Church Assembly of 1966, and made my first speech on the issue in 1967, supporting a motion moved by Professor Lampe. I do not desire any more delay. I trust that the General Synod will say a resounding "yes", and we will be able to get on with our work of drawing the people of our nation into the Kingdom of God. If we fail again, many people will reject us for ever.

5 Hackwood Glade, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1AL

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire

Sir, - The Revd David Runcorn ( Letters, 9 November) expresses his concern about those traditionalists who are unable to trust that the voluntary codes as proposed will be honoured.

Traditionalists are indeed concerned that anything that is not enshrined in church law may not always and everywhere be honoured. Why? Because we have only to look at what has happened over the past 20 years in relation to women priests, even with the Act of Synod in place.

Some diocesan bishops have been extremely honourable and have made appointments to incumbencies and more senior positions from among traditionalists. Others have just made token appointments, while some have not appointed a single traditionalist to any more senior post, or appointed a single traditionalist priest to a non-petitioning parish.

Even where Resolutions A and B have been in place, some bishops have appointed male clergy of liberal views to that parish and sometimes requested that they try to get the PCC to reverse the resolution (so that a woman can be appointed the next time there is a vacancy).

All this is sad, but it is true. The present proposals may enable us oldies to stay in the C of E until we die, but it will not create stable ground for younger clergy and their people to get engaged in mission, or stable ground for those of traditionalist views considering holy orders or a lifelong vocation to the religious life. The situation is even worse if one looks to the Episcopal Church in the United States.

This is just one of the reasons why what is proposed is not fit for the purpose.

Little Cross, Goodleigh, Barnstaple EX32 7NR

From Mr Richard Brown

Sir, - Sir Tony Baldry ( Letters, 9 November) has once again (as he did in the Synod in July) tried to use scaremongering tactics in an attempt to persuade Synod members that if the legislation were to fall at the last hurdle, then the credibility of the

C of E would be damaged in respect of Westminster and Whitehall.

Legislation that is certainly not fit for purpose and provides only "hospice room" for a section of the Church should not receive final approval if we truly want to be seen as, and in fact be, an inclusive Church.

I find it astonishing that the Second Church Estates Commissioner can state that if the legislation were to fail at this time he would find it impossible to explain this to Parliamentary colleagues. How about saying: Not fit for purpose, or that it is not quite ready yet? Both are plausible responses.

How is Sir Tony going to explain to his Parliamentary colleagues that the Church does not agree with same-sex marriage? And yet do we hear any comment regarding that process? No, we don't. Could it be that he is in fact trying to bully and intimidate members of the Synod by saying that the Church will lose its credibility with Parliament?

His supposed embarrassment at having to explain the legislation's failing to Parliament is a minor issue compared with the peaceful outcome that would result from simply respecting the views of everyone and by making adequate provision. Inclusivity and reconciliation is the best way forward, surely?

I, for one, will not be intimidated, and intend to vote against the unfair, unjust, exclusive, and flawed legislation at the November session. What those who oppose this innovation need is adequate provision that respects and honours their conviction, and provides something other than "hospice room". When we can stop being exclusive and become more inclusive to all within the

C of E, then, and only then, can and should this matter proceed.

York General Synod member, Glebe House, Ingleby Arncliffe
Northallerton DL6 3JX

From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, - Sir Tony Baldry writes that, should the women-bishops Measure be lost, "it would lead to the marginalisation of the Church of England in Whitehall and Westminster." So our Second Commissioner ensures that the C of E is heard by Government and Parliament by making them heard in the General Synod.

Who works for whom?

11 Coverdale Avenue, Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY

From Dr Anna Gilchrist

Sir, - I have followed the progress of the women-bishops Measure through the General Synod very closely, because it has the potential to affect very greatly both the Church of England, which I love, and my own parish church, not to mention the future of many people like me who belong to the conservative traditions of the Church.

The great majority, me included, acknowledge that after 20 years since the law was changed to allow women to be ordained, it is time to consider how they might also be included in the episcopate. The way in which this is done, however, must be appropriate and fair to all members of the Church of England, and not move to marginalise and discriminate against those of a traditional view.

Unfortunately, no matter how I try to construe the draft Measure in its final form, on which we will be asked to decide next month, it is evident that it leaves no place in the Church of England for those whose theological beliefs and opinions remain as they always have done, which were the official teaching of the Church until 1992.

This is best-illustrated by the Measure's strongest supporters' opposing the inclusion of any clause in the Measure which makes reference to the theological beliefs of those who do not share their position. Although there is to be a Code of Practice, the Measure is designed to privilege supporters of women bishops above all other strands of Christian tradition, so that there will be a second-class category of members who can hope only for an occasional visit from a bishop who respects their views.

Even this crumb of comfort is not assured, since it does not appear in the Measure, but only in a Code of Practice that can be changed at any time in the future by a simple majority of the General Synod. The Measure will abolish all of the existing arrangements, which have kept the Church of England together since 1992. It is not possible to have any confidence that there will even be bishops in the future who share or even respect what we believe.

I can conclude only that this is a badly designed piece of legislation. The General Synod has been here before, with the Churchwardens Measure in 1999/2000. Although it was passed with an overwhelming majority, Parliament saw that it was grossly unfair to churchwardens, and it was sent back to the General Synod so that significant changes could be made.

My plea is that all members of the General Synod should resist the pressure that is being put on them to legislate, however unsatisfactory the terms of the Measure. It will do untold damage to the Church if it receives final approval. Once it is approved, it cannot practically be reversed.

It does not have to be this way, as we have the power to reject this draft Measure, which seems to me to be wholly unfit for its purpose, and to start work on a new Measure that takes into account the needs of all sections of the Church of England, who wish very much to remain fully a part of its future life.

I appreciate that this particular piece of work has been a long time in preparation, but, despite many suggestions for improvement along the way, the terms it lays down have been progressively tightened, until there is no room left for people like me in the vision that it will enact, should it become law.

Contrary to public perception and portrayal in the media, the traditionalist viewpoint is based on theological perspectives and beliefs, not about an ethical stance. As such, traditionalists can be both young and female, as I am.

17 Gorse Way, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 8SX

From S. P. McKie

Sir, - Neil Inkley ( Letters, 9 November) wrote: "Among the many traditionalists known to me, there are none who will not now accept that there will be women bishops."

Mr Inkley's acquaintance must be rather unusual; for the whole basis of the orthodox position is that it is not possible for women to be consecrated as bishops. Indeed, if women's consecration were possible, it is difficult to think of any conclusive argument why they should not be permitted to be consecrated.

We need to be precise about this. If orthodox Anglicans are correct, it is not that we shall have women bishops if the proposals are passed. It is that we shall have persons referred to as bishops in law who are not bishops in reality. For the first time since the Dark Ages, large parts of England will be without the ministrations of a bishop at all, except by way of an authority delegated by an individual, described by the law as a bishop, who is not one in reality.

In his article in the same issue, Dr Forster says that the implementation of the proposals will destroy the sacramental unity of the episcopate. It will not do so, because women who have gone through the form of legal "consecration", not being bishops in reality, will not be part of the episcopate.

There will, however, be chaos and confusion in the Church in England, as its legal forms divide increasingly from spiritual reality. This will have profound practical implications. The ordinary worshipper, attending a service described as holy communion, will not be able, without obtaining a sort of pedigree of the ordination of the presiding clergyman, to tell whether he is participating in a genuine sacrament or a mummers' play.

Rudge Hill House, Rudge, Somersetshire BA11 2QG

From Mrs Rebecca Hunt

Sir, - As the Church of England representatives prepare to gather next week for the vote on women bishops, can it be right that the views of some 25 per cent of Anglicans in this country, who because of their understanding of scripture and tradition cannot in all conscience accept the authority of a woman bishop, be given such weak legal recognition?

People from all traditions within the Church of England should be concerned at the way it proposes to treat this significant minority, and the breach of past promises and assurances that this will represent.

The Rectory, Free Street, Bishop's Waltham SO32 1EE

From Mr Adrian F. Sunman

Sir, - The women-bishops Measure as it currently stands isn't perfect, but it is probably as good as it is likely to get. You cannot please all of the people all of the time, and no form of wording is ever going to be to everyone's liking.

We need to understand as a Church that no form of legislation is actually going to work without the goodwill and mutual trust required to make that happen. If we can't manage that now, we need to get a grip and learn the art of trusting one another sooner rather than later.

I personally hope the Measure is passed and we can get on with other business. In common with other Churches, the Church of England probably has 20 years left (30 if we're lucky) as a viable, organised Christian denomination. Do we want to spend those years arguing about women bishops? I hope not.

1 Lunn Lane, Collingham, Newark, Notts NG23 7LP

From Mr Paul Edelin

Sir, - If a Church should exist for the benefit of its non-members, formal rejection of gender discrimination becomes a major objective when magnified worldwide. A clearly articulated ethical advance through a single-clause Measure seems more desirable than the simulated cohesion of a religious entity.

128 Palewell Park, London SW14 8JH

From the Revd Larry Wright

Sir, - In recent articles and letters regarding women and the episcopate, the term "traditionalist" is regularly used to describe those opposed to the Measure. This may be convenient journalistic usage, but I fear it diminishes the term.

As a parish priest, I endeavour to live faithfully by the Ordinal promises made when I was deaconed and priested, respect the authority of the Bishop, try to keep up with synodical debates locally and nationally (and adhere to their decisions when passed by the requisite majority), be an accessible presence in the local community, and try to keep abreast of current ethical and political debates.

All these activities are underpinned by a prayer and spiritual life rooted in Anglican devotions. Like countless others - past, present, and still to come - I believe myself to be a "traditional" parish priest, and I am in favour of women bishops.

100 Bridge Street West, Newtown, Birmingham B19 2YX

From Mr John D. R. Lloyd

Sir, - In all the argument about how to accommodate those who cannot accept women as bishops -or even as priests - the more fundamental question whether there is any avid objection to their ordination or consecration seems to have been forgotten.

Traditionalist arguments seem to rely on an interpretation of Genesis or how Rome will react. Even on a literal reading of Genesis 2, man is not superior or prior to woman. The "man" after the creation of woman (from his side, note, not from his head or his feet) was not the same creature as before. Just as in the first chapter God is depicted as first creating and then dividing day from night, land from sea, so he creates humankind and then divides male from female.

Some 50 years ago at the time of Vatican II, Fr Jim Geary, an elderly Roman Catholic priest in Southport, was asked if there would ever be women priests. His reply, delivered in a lilting Irish brogue, was: "Well, now, at the next Vatican Council the bishops will be taking their wives, and at the one after that they'll be taking their husbands."

The next Council may be a long way off, but, in the mean time, surely the biggest obstacle to unity with the Roman Catholic Church, pace Dr Forster, is not women as bishops or priests, but the insistence of the Pope and Curia that the Church of England has no priests at all, Anglican orders being "absolutely null and utterly void".

The point has already been made (Letters, 9 November) that the Church's first care is to those not yet its members. How would the Church have fared if the "traditionalists" had won the day at the Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts 15?

4 Grange Avenue, Southport PR9 9AH


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