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Responses to the fall of the women-bishops Measure at its last Synod hurdle

30 November 2012


From the Bishop of Brechin

Sir, - Last week, I returned from Swaziland, where I participated in the joyful consecration of Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya as the first woman bishop in Africa. Our dioceses have been companions since 1989.

Archbishop Thabo described her election as "a gift to the province", in marked contrast to the news of the rejection of women bishops in the Church of England.

As a member of England's General Synod, 1995-2010, I spoke in favour of women bishops on a number of occasions. It is frustrating that the mind of the Church has again been thwarted by a concern for dissenters and by voting procedures. The latter require review, but I would caution against changing a two-thirds threshold for important decisions. Some in Scotland are anxious that our forthcoming referendum on independence might be decided by a slim simple majority that will not command confidence.

Perhaps the issues for the Church to address are whether voting by Houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity is any longer plausible, and for which proposals setting the voting bar higher is really necessary.

Swaziland, a beautiful country with huge challenges, has a culture not noted for political democracy or gender equality, and yet the Anglican diocese moves forward. The public mood in our islands is clearly in favour of women bishops, and the sooner the better for our missionary task.

Bishop's House, 5 Glamis Drive Dundee DD2 1QG


From the Revd Bernice Broggio

Sir, - I heard with dismay, in Mumbai, the report of the General Synod on BBC World, failing to include women in the episcopate, again. The cry goes up "How long?"

I hope the Holy Spirit will lead the next Synod to propose an unamendable one-clause motion to include women, with a completely separate following motion concerning the Code of Practice and other procedures for accommodating those still remaining who are disaffected.

We might then know the real mind of the Church.

86 Woodburn, Leam Lane, Gateshead NE10 8LY


From the Revd Dr Jennifer Zarek

Sir, - Congratulations are due to your crossword compiler Margaret Irvine for such speedy topicality. Perhaps we should have taken note before last Tuesday that in the world of anagrams, "the house of laity" does indeed make "you lose the faith". Such a pity that it also does in the real world.

Horsedale House, Silver Street, Huggate, York YO42 1YB


From Prebendary Kay Garlick

Sir, - After the failure of the women-bishops Measure, there are three things that are now clear.

First, the House of Laity of the General Synod is in no way representative of the laity of the Church. If 42 diocesan synods say yes, and the House of Laity says no, there must be something wrong. We must look carefully at the election system, and, if necessary, at the way the Synod itself works (when and how it meets, etc.) in order to allow a more representative group to be elected.

Second, negotiating legal provisions for those who cannot accept women's ministry will not work: we have toiled for many years on this, and it is clear that legal provision is not the way forward. We must next time go for a simple, single-clause Measure, and trust each other that proper, generous provision will be made through grace and love.

Third, it is imperative that the House of Bishops find a way of including women in its deliberation and decision-making process from now on. Experience tells us that 44 men in a room together, however well-intentioned, will not reach a balanced decision, any more than 44 women in a room. That's why God made men and women to work together.

Birch Lodge, Much Birch, Herefordshire HR2 8HT


From Lady Oppenheimer

Sir, - What can the laity of the Church of England do to repudiate without delay this misleadingly inadequate vote in our name? I have been a communicant Anglican for 70 years, and the congregations to which I have belonged have never been officially asked to make a judgement on this matter, or invited to vote directly for members of the General Synod to represent their opinions for them.

L'Aiguillon, Grouville, Jersey, CI, JE3 9AP


From Mr Andrew Connell

Sir, - It is now surely time for Parliament to step in and protect the Church from herself - or at least from an unrepresentative but disproportionately powerful minority of her members.

A one-clause Bill, stating that no person shall be disqualified by reason of his or her sex from the office of bishop in the Church of England, would suffice, and could be quite quickly passed if the Government were to lend its support. (I would be pleased to see this extended to include the Church in Wales, but the relationship there is, of course, different.)

Many people worked very hard to find a formula that could accommodate the minority who oppose the ordination of women to the episcopate. The most obdurate members of that minority have at a stroke undone all that work.

If straightforward and unconditional legislation to allow women to become bishops were passed, it would be for them rather than the leadership of the Church to explain to their more reasonable fellow opponents how such a state of affairs had come to pass.

87 Clodien Avenue, Cardiff CF14 3NN


From the Revd Nigel Ashworth

Sir, - Why should the country put up with it? Most people are dumbfounded that a minority in one of three Houses can prevent something that the large majority in the Church and in the country wish to see.

If Parliament had such a system, the Government would not be able to pass its budget, we would never have joined the European Union, and probably we would not yet have the vote for women. As a nation, we would be ungovernable.

As a Church, we still aim to love our brothers and sisters even when they disagree with us - but Parliament has no such duty even to tolerate what is by any normal definition an undemocratic decision. Accordingly, Parliament should remove those exemptions to equality legislation given to the Church of England which allow us to get away with it.

If women are not to be permitted to be bishops, then naturally Parliament should not allow an all-male bench of bishops any further tenure in the House of Lords. Should a body like this have control over aspects of the educational system? That should concentrate the Synod's thinking nicely.

St Ann's Rectory, 98 Rigby Street, Higher Broughton, Salford M7 4BQ


From Mr Tom Jamieson

Sir, - Might there be six members of the House of Laity who voted against willing to take this action: to write to the Synod Standing Committee to indicate that they now see that they have made a mistake, and to ask that the legislation be brought to the Synod again at the earliest opportunity, so they might this time vote for? Please?

64 Main Road, Ryton, Tyne and Wear NE40 3AJ


From the Revd Christopher Hartley

Sir, - The Bishops had spoken. Surely, the Catholic and traditional thing to do was to follow their lead.

Last week's vote in the General Synod does nothing to enhance the opinion of the Church of England among the people of the country. The vote - and the repercussion of it - is an appalling example of Protestantism and congregationalism.

Do we have a gospel to proclaim, or are we so enthralled in the minutiae of the gender of our clergy that we lose sight of the Kingdom of God?

8 Bronte Street, Hulme, Manchester M15 6QL


From the Revd Maggie Durran

Sir, - Can we book the Second Sunday of Advent for all women in the Church to be silent?

You may be present; you may take a day off. You may organise rotas so that there are no women presiding, preaching, reading, or leading intercessions, and no sideswomen. And all women in the congregation can pray in silence. Let the men do it all.

If that's scary, take a day off. Most congregations will be wholly supportive and join in, even the men.

I would suggest that we don't ask men for permission, but can let them know, and advise the PCC. Let's just lead.

8 Bath Terrace, Victoria Road, Bicester, Oxon OX26 6PR


From the Revd Mark Nash-Williams

Sir, - Once again, the Church of England has told the world that it deems women unfit for high office; that its decision-making processes are dysfunctional; and, perhaps worst of all, that Christians do not trust one another.

Many young Christians I know - male and female - are questioning whether they really want anything to do with a Church like this. Their non-Christian friends are asking them why on earth they stick with it.

One young potential ordinand has already declared his intention to move to the Open Episcopal Church.

It is now that little bit harder for young Anglicans to hold fast to faith: Christian faith looks that bit less convincing today than it did last week. We will have our work cut out if we are to demonstrate that these Christians really do love each other.

St Mary's Vicarage, Stamfordham, Newcastle upon Tyne NE18 0QQ


From Mrs Jean Heaney

Sir, - A disaster for the Church and country. How about having a referendum of all church members to get a true picture?

Amber Bank, Chase Road, Ambergate, Derbyshire DE56 2HA


From the Revd David Hill

Sir, - It seems obvious that the basic reason behind opposition to female clergy and bishops is not theological but is deeply rooted in their psychology. Has any research been done into the parental upbringing - whether strongly patriarchal, etc. - of those who feel so threatened and emotionally upset by the prospect of having women bishops?

24 London Road, Spalding PE11 2TA


From the Archdeacon of The Meon

Sir, - I write as a committed Evangelical to express my annoyance and indignation at the public response of the chairman of Reform after the Synod vote on women bishops (News, 23 November). For the Revd Rod Thomas to claim that this was a vote that prevents us becoming "a less inclusive Church" is to ignore totally the missionary imperative that sees that Church as being primarily for benefit of the nation around us, and to fail to comprehend the devastating effect this vote will have on our credibility and therefore our witness to our nation.

If we are satisfied with a narrow vision of "inclusive", which we define to mean "those who already belong", then we are no longer the Church for our nation, but merely an ever diminishing and irrelevant sect.

Similarly, I was quite staggered by the arrogance of Mr Thomas's suggestion that the vote has safeguarded the position of those "who as faithful Anglicans, seek to follow the Bible's teaching". I, too, seek to sit under scripture and to be guided and governed by it, and it is as the result of prayerful wrestling with scripture that I have become convinced that we need to ordain women bishops for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of our nation, and for the sake of God-given justice.

As a lifelong Evangelical, I say: "Reform? Not in my name!"

Victoria Lodge, 36 Osborn Road, Fareham, Hants PO16 7DS


From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, - Is anyone more disappointed than the Ordinariate?

13 Selwyn Close, Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ


From Canon Stephen Race

Sir, - As a parish priest, rural dean, and diocesan director of ordinands, I meet an extraordinary diversity of people who worship regularly as Anglicans or, for whatever reason, associate themselves with the Established Church.

It seems evident to me that ours is a Church that faces criticism from within and without, that is reminded regularly of its numerical decline and questionable position in national life, but that is peopled by prayerful, dedicated disciples of Jesus. It is simultaneously in decline while filled with vitality and hope.

It is in this context that I suggest we consider the outcome of the General Synod's vote. I am sure that most of us prayed for God's guidance at the time of elections to the Synod, that we prayed for the Synod as it deliberated, and that we prayed before and while the voting occurred. The result reveals that a large majority wanted to invite women into episcopal ministry with the proposed legislation (72.6 per cent), but that a substantial minority (27.4 per cent) did not.

What could the Holy Spirit be telling us? Is it that a handful of people have deliberately disobeyed God and thwarted his will, or that to move forward in our pilgrimage we need to be more patient and sensitive towards the needs of all members of our family?

When Barnsley deanery synod debated the legislation, every speaker recognised the need and obligation of the Church to have women bishops, and yet it voted by a substantial majority to ask the diocesan synod to reject the proposed legislation. Why? Because we wanted to know in advance what pastoral provision would be provided for those who simply cannot accept the changes.

A woman priest and a traditionalist male priest both spoke movingly and convincingly against the proposal, hugged each other, and committed themselves to working together in the future.

Let's not get bogged down with issues of short-term credibility, and work together to find a long term solution that will re-enable all members of the Church to care for the nation, as we are called to do.

Next time this comes before the General Synod, could we please have, in advance, the proposed Code of Practice, so that all our representatives can vote with confidence, that we may get the bishops we want and the support we need?

The Vicarage, Green Road, Dodworth, S. Yorks S75 3RT


From Canon Richard Orchard

Sir, - Anglican fudge has failed. Can we please now re-examine the third-province option? (Presumably it would need two dioceses, one Anglo-Catholic and one Evangelical, in keeping with the current fashion for choice.)

This would do away with the whole un-Catholic palaver of separate bishops, confirmations, ordinations, chrism masses and chapters, all supposedly within one diocese. Priests would no longer be ordained into a ministry of which they only accept a part. And the two ancient provinces of the Church of England would once again become a fit body to engage in efforts for unity with other denominations

7 Love Lane, Rye TN31 7NE


From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, - When I first joined the General Synod in 1995, the then Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Michael Baughen, gave me a rule of thumb for approaching Synod motions and debates. "If you go for gold," he said (in other words, the most that you want, the very best as you see it), "you are likely to lose all. However, if you go for silver (not your ideal, but a step in the right direction), you are more likely to gain."

Never has his dictum proved more true than in the result of last week's debate on women bishops. As I witnessed first hand over a long period, the supporters of women bishops pressed for their "gold" with a scorched-earth policy towards their opponents which voted down amendment after amendment that, if passed, could have enabled conservatives and traditionalists to come on board.

Besides this strategic error, they also focused too much on the ungodly issue of a woman bishop's status, as opposed to the more biblical notion of servanthood, regardless of "position". As a result, they have lost all.

Their understandable distress is very sad for the Church; but ultimately it is they who are responsible. I sincerely hope that the next generation of proponents of women bishops will learn from their mistakes.

17 Brownlow Drive, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9QS


From Mr Christopher Whitmey

Sir, - "Unfair", the cry goes up: 72.6 per cent of Synod members voted in favour of women bishops. If a company, including charities, wishes to change its Articles, the law says 75 per cent of the votes are needed. Parliament recognises this with its Wharncliffe Order procedure.

"Wilfully blind to the some of the trends and priorities of that wider society." Since when did the servant Christ take his lead from the wider society?

Between 1975 and 1990, when I was on the General Synod, I was eager for the ordination of women. I was relieved when flying bishops were provided. The Synod showed itself tolerant of tolerance and intolerant of intolerance.

This time, the Synod has itself to blame. Attempting to repeal the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 was intolerant of tolerance. If men and women are equal, how can a flying bishop who failed to undermine a male bishop undermine a female bishop?

In May 2010, when appointing flying bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "I have two new suffragans and General Synod can't simply take them away. The pastoral need will not go away." The need is greater than ever: to show visibly the wider society the virtue of being intolerant of intolerance.

Oldstone Furlong, Fownhope, Hereford HR1 4PJ


From the Revd Dr Robert Britton

Sir, - After the result of the vote taken at Synod, and the seeming outrage that the House of Laity upset the apple cart, it ought to be remembered, that, of the three Houses (the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity), the most important is the House of Laity, simply because this is what the Church is, the People of God.

Bishops and priests are the least important members in any Church, although they are most certainly the last either to recognise or to accept this. It is good to see that at last, in this vote at least, the People of God have come into their own. Let us pray that this will not be the last time.

2 Cherrytree Road, Fishponds, Bristol BS16 4EY


From Mr Stephen Mott

Sir, - What is significant to me is that this appears to show a dysfunctional relationship between the ordained members of the Church and those who attend for worship.

I wonder if it emphasises the strong possibility that bishops and clergy have stopped listening to the laity and are pursuing their own self-centred agendas? This certainly seems to be happening at diocesan and local levels, where bishops and clergy try to impose their wills on the worshippers. No wonder the churches are emptying fast.

Never mind women bishops; the pattern of voting could be seen as a wake-up call to all those ordained to re-engage with the needs and hopes of the laity, who may, in fact, be better at judging what is needed for the Church to grow and succeed than those bishops and clergy who seem to be obsessed with their own self-seeking, self-preserving agendas.

It is to be hoped that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, with his significant work outside the ordained ministry in the oil industry, will have the necessary skills to listen to what the ordinary churchgoer has to say and offer.

15 Church Street, Shap, Penrith CA10 3JU


From the Revd John Wright

Sir, - If, as some have proposed, restrictions are placed on the Church of England in reaction to the Synod vote on women bishops, the Church will need to heed again John Keble's words against "national apostasy". In the 19th century, when Parliament interfered in the running of the Church, John Keble preached a sermon with this title (the Assize Sermon), which also gave rise to the Anglo-Catholic movement.

St Cuthman's Vicarage, Whitehawk, Brighton BN2 5HW


From Celia Bush

Sir, - So, Bishop Barry Rogerson "urges lay people to question more closely the views of their General Synod members and look more carefully the next time they vote for them" (News, 23 November).

I find this comment both patronising and offensive. Lay people elect the representatives whose views they agree with and wish to be represented in Synod. Just because the opposite view to Bishop Rogerson's and others' happens to have prevailed, does it not occur to them that this is indicative of what numbers of faithful laity sincerely feel about the proposed legislation as it stood?

No doubt, if the vote had gone the other way, Bishop Rogerson and others would have been applauding the House of Laity for their contribution.

With respect, it is this spirit of condescension that is still hampering efforts to achieve proper provision for those opposed. "Those for

whom the provision is intended do not own it," observed Dr Philip Giddings, who is, yes, the chairman of the House of Laity.

169 Humber Doucy Lane, Ipswich IP4 3PA


From Michael Cavanagh Pack

Sir, - If the two Archbishops had insisted on their amendment, I am sure the Measure would have succeeded. As it was, they caved in, and it was rightly rejected. What an own goal!

The Manor House, Thurloxton, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8RH


From Mr Tim Belben

Sir, - I am appalled to think that we should all now descend into recriminations, and ask the Synod to change the rules - a move that would hardly enhance its authority. I think there is some confusion between the courtesy that we owe, in Christ, to each other's beliefs, and genuine issues of conscience.

May I ask for a small working party to clarify the differences, as a preliminary to any revised draft legislation? Such a team should represent both "sides", and address itself to providing us with unanimously agreed answers to the following questions:

First, if the objection to women bishops is because scripture is inspired, then: does the Pauline prohibition of female headship therefore have the status of a divine command, or does "inspiration" merely confirm the accuracy of the record: i.e., that this is what St Paul wrote? Can the "headship" Pauline statement be reconciled with other Pauline statements, e.g. "in Christ there is neither . . .".

Second, is it ever possible for the regulations accepted by the Early Church to be amended in response to cultural change, and, if so, in what circumstances? In what way could this answer be compared with St Paul's consultations with the Jerusalem Christian leaders?

Third, if the objection to women bishops is on based on concerns about apostolic succession, is this a matter of faith, or a matter of church order? Does not the Roman condemnation of all Anglican Orders make irrelevant any conscientious distinction between Anglican male bishops and proposed Anglican female bishops?

Fourth, if, nevertheless, concerns about ordained women are a matter of conscience, and therefore some members need to be protected from the ministrations of ministers "not validly ordained", does such protection have to be by statute? (i.e church legislation that requires a two-thirds majority in each House of the Synod), or is there any form of non-statutory regulation or undertaking that would be acceptably binding?

Fifth, if protection for those unable to accept the ministration of women bishops (or priests) is provided (whether statutory or not), is that provision considered to be an insult to ordained individuals, and therefore to be received with humility, or a humiliation for all women, or for all ordained women? Is there a difference between something that might be received with humility, and something that is taken as a humiliation?

If so, can a draft safeguard be prepared that would call for humility but avoids being humiliating?

I think that if we had clear answers to these questions, some of the solutions might become obvious.

Church Farm, Wookey, Wells, Somerset BA5 1JX


From the Revd Donald Reeves

Sir, - I listened to the debate about women bishops. I heard most of the 100 or so speeches. It was exhausting, listening to speech after speech that repeated old arguments.

But what was most enervating was the total failure to acknowledge those who held different views from the speakers'. The "debate" may as well have been held in two different rooms - one for those supporting the Measure, another for those opposing it.

One thing that I have learnt as a peacebuilder for 12 years in the Balkans is that there can be no progress towards anything approaching reconciliation unless working relationships are established between those who profoundly disagree with each other. That is the heart of the process of peacebuilding.

So the Church of England needs carefully and quickly to create those oppportunities where these conversations between widely different views can be held.

There is a wealth of experience to assist in setting up such a process. I have learnt from John Paul Lederach, Professor of Peacebuilding at Notre Dame University, and the late Adam Curle, one of the founders of the Bradford Institute for Peace Studies - both academics and practitioners. There are many others.

This approach is not a panacea. It could collapse at any time. Spoilers will disrupt wherever they can, and there are plenty of them in the Church of England. But be prepared for surprises and outcomes that no one foresaw.

As it happened, I had just returned from Kosovo before the debate. There, after many months, the Soul of Europe had managed to bring together Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians to agree on integrating the Serbian Orthodox Patriarachate in Pec into the life of a now Muslim town - unthinkable a year ago.

Unless these conversations happen, there will be yet another repetition of that miserable day for the Church of England.

Director, The Soul of Europe, The Coach House, Church Street
Crediton EX17 2AQ


From Ben Dyson, Emma Racklyeft, and Patrick Gilday

Sir, - As ordinands in training at Wycliffe Hall - two of us committed theologically to women's consecration to the episcopate, and one of us to a pattern of male leadership in the Church - we find ourselves at the sharp end of many of the issues raised in the debate on the women-bishops Measure.

We ourselves have had to learn to submit to one another, to cherish, nurture, and celebrate one another as ministers for Christ in spite of, and sometimes because of, our disagreement. We have had to go out of our way to subordinate our theological position to our unity in Christ. It has been very painful for all of us at times. There have been tears, arguments, misunderstandings - but also profound joy, deep commitment, and a good deal of laughter.

It has been our experience, and it has become our conviction, that this way of life has made us better followers of the Messiah who "made himself nothing" for our sakes (Philippians 2.6).

We commend this way of life to the whole Church. Dare to trust one another; run the risk of losing everything; be prepared to give, and keep giving when it feels as if there is nothing left to give. And do all this, not simply because it is the pattern of Christ, but because the reward is that unspeakable joy, affirmation, security, and friendship that our aching world so yearns after.

There will be hard days ahead for those involved in drawing up a new Measure. But, with a spirit of costly submission to one another, we believe that all of us - conservative Evangelical, traditional Catholic, open, progressive, broad, and undecided - can step out into a better unity that is good news for the whole Church of England.

Wycliffe Hall, Oxford OX2 6PW


From the Revd Virginia J. Smith

Sir, - May I point to one truly positive outcome that has arisen from last week's Synod vote on women bishops? That is the overwhelming support that has been shown to women priests, affirming their ministry.

This support has come from bishops, fellow clergy, and the laity, and it has demonstrated not only affirmation, but enormous care, love, and compassion.

Just to receive or hear such messages has revealed and demonstrated the love of Christ that, thank God, remains at the heart of the spiritual life and mission of the Church of England.

14 The Paddock, Westcott, Dorking RH4 3NT


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