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Dr Williams warns: no short cut, no simple solution

23 November 2012


Blunt: the Archbishop of Canterbury chastises General Synod members, on Wednesday 

Blunt: the Archbishop of Canterbury chastises General Synod members, on Wednesday 

THE Archbishop of Canterbury told the General Synod on Wednesday morning "very bluntly" that it had "a lot of explaining to do", after it failed to give final approval to the draft women-bishops Measure.

The presidents of the Houses of the Synod met last night, and the House of Bishops had held "informal discussions" early on Wednesday morning, Dr Williams said.

Church House issued a statement shortly after the vote. It said: "The consequence of the 'no' vote of terminating any further consideration of the draft legislation means that it will not be possible to introduce draft legislation in the same terms until a new General Synod comes into being in 2015, unless the 'Group of Six' (the Archbishops, the Prolocutors, and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Laity) give permission and report to the Synod why they have done so."

The House of Bishops held an emergency meeting early on Wednesday. It will address the issue more fully at its meeting in December.

Dr Williams said on Wednesday that the Bishops were "very eager" to take up offers of discussion from traditionalists and conservative Evangelicals, and would discuss "how to take that forward" when they met in December. It could be that, instead of a full meeting of the Synod in February, the time "should be set aside for some brokered conversations in groups rather smaller than 470".

In a strongly worded address to a subdued Synod, Dr Williams said: "Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever theological principles on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to wider society. Worse than that, it seems we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society."

The "admirable reasons" for which Synod gave a "very strong voice to minorities" needed "explaining and exploring", if it was not simply to be seen as certain groups "holding the Synod hostage", he said.

The vote on Tuesday "did nothing to make polarisation in our Church less likely". A "great many people" in the Church would be "wondering how diocesan synods can express a view in one direction and Synod in another".

Synod was "under scrutiny", and he "wouldn't be surprised if many members of Synod are not feeling confused and uncertain about how Synod itself looks and whether there are issues to attend to there". The failure to secure a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity "doesn't mean that high levels of consent are necessarily wrong; they do mean there is a great deal of further work to be done."

People should not be tempted to conclude that the issue of women bishops was "too difficult" and should be "parked for a while", Dr Williams said. "Every day we fail to resolve this . . . is a day when our credibility in the public eye is likely to diminish. There is a matter of mission here, and we can't afford to hang about."

Dr Williams said that there had been "realism and unrealism" expressed in the debate the previous day. "Realism in recognising that there is an urgent demand for close, properly mediated conversation; but "unrealism" in buying into the "illusion" that "there is a readily available formula just around the corner." He continued: "There is no short cut; there is no simple, God-given solution to a problem which brings people's deepest convictions into conflict in the way they have in the Synod and previously.

"Realism requires us to recognise that; to recognise the depth and seriousness of the work that needs to be done. The map is clear enough; the decisions we have to make are about the route. Those decisions, given the nature of the terrain, are not going to be simple and straightforward. . . Please don't let us be under any misapprehensions about what it's going to demand of all of us."

The Synod would be "faced with unpleasant recriminations. . . There is no easy way of getting through that, other than endure it."

It was currently proposed that the Synod should not meet in February 2013, but in July and November instead. The feeling in the House of Bishops was that a full group of sessions in February was "a little close for comfort" given "all the business, all the emotion".

Immediately after the vote on Tuesday evening, Dr Williams had spoken of his "deep personal sadness" at the vote. "I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and of course it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness, that that is not the case." "I can only wish the Synod and the [incoming] Archbishop all good things and every blessing with resolving this in the shortest possible time."

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, spoke after the vote of "an urgent task to find a fresh way forward to which so many of those who were opposed have pledged themselves."

Leader comment

Question of the Week: Does Synod need to address this issue again before 2015?


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