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Bishops to meet amid fevered pre-Synod lobbying

06 July 2012

Crown Nominations Commission in the future?: members of the children's choir at All Saints', Fulham, the All Saints Junior Singers, rehearse for a perform­ance of an abridged version of Joseph and the Amazing Tech­nicolor Dream­coat, which they will sing on Sunday at the 11.30 a.m. family service. The choir consists of 40 children from five schools near by

Crown Nominations Commission in the future?: members of the children's choir at All Saints', Fulham, the All Saints Junior Singers, rehearse fo...

THE House of Bishops will meet informally tomorrow morning, before the General Synod's business begins, to test its common mind on the future of the draft legislation for women bishops.

Three members of the House will be from dioceses whose synods have voted to ask it to reconsider the amendments. These amendments have been criticised by a number of supporters of women bishops, including the campaign group WATCH, and a group of senior women clergy, since they were announced in May. The amendments cannot, however, be withdrawn at this meeting.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, told his diocesan synod on Tuesday of last week that it would be a "catastrophe" if the House of Bishops did not "think again". His synod, joining those of Salisbury and Worcester dioceses, voted "overwhemingly" to refer the Measure back to the Bishops.

A WATCH petition has accrued more than 3500 signatures. It asks the House to withdraw the Clause 5 amendment, which, with regard to the selection of male bishops or priests for parishes issuing a Letter of Request, requires guidance from the House of Bishops on "ministry . . . consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women" which were the basis of the request.

In a Radio 4 documentary, The Frock and the Church, on Sunday, April Alexander, a Southwark General Synod member, said that she would vote against the legislation "with a very, very heavy heart" if the amendment remained.

The Bishop of Buckingham, in Oxford diocese, Dr Alan Wilson, said that the amendment was "a way of permanently enshrining discrimination in the practice of the Church of England". It appeared that "the practice of the Church is in many ways less moral than that that operates everywhere else in civil society."

The Rector of St James's Piccadilly, in London, the Revd Lucy Winkett, told the Sunday programme that the legislation was already a "big compromise", but that the amended version "explicitly endorses" the principle that "being male is not enough for those who object to women's ministry".

In a letter to the Church Times this week, 18 women clergy write that the amendment seeks to "plant legislation where grace and generosity would have flourished".

But pleas for accommodation have also been made. On Tuesday, The Times published a letter from 11 bishops, including the new Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, asking the General Synod to find a way to "respect the minority who are unpersuaded that this is a theological development which they can, in conscience, embrace". Recognition of this conviction "must benefit the Church of England as a whole".

And, on behalf of "thousands of loyal Anglican women", 11 Evangelical lay women on the General Synod, from the Proper Provision group, wrote to Synod members on Tuesday asking them not to seek an adjournment. The Bishops, they said, had listened to the concerns of a "substantial minority" in the Church, and had clarified points, but not amended the Measure substantially.

Moreover, they said, WATCH and other proponents of the Measure had revealed how unwilling to compromise they were. An adjournment would be expensive, and might achieve very little, except to prove that there was "no secure place" for a body of loyal Anglicans.

On Thursday of last week, the chairman of the Synod's Catholic Group, Canon Simon Killwick, wrote to Synod members describing the Bishops' amendments as consistent both with the "original substance of the Measure" and "their responsibility to hold the Church of England together".

He welcomed the amendments as "very modest but welcome steps in the right direction . . . though they do not go far enough. . . we are surprised that even the little they have offered, others are now determined to take away."

He argued that the voting of the Synod in May had shown that, unamended, the Measure was "doomed to fail at Final Approval". The "present agitation" suggested that, were the Measure passed, with or without amendment, the Code of Practice would become a "new battleground", and there would follow a campaign to whittle away its provisions. Relying on the Code was "now looking to be an increasingly shaky and temporary foundation for making provision".

Public prayers are being held to coincide with Monday's debate. The Precentor of Lincoln Cathedral, where there will be a day of prayer, Canon Gavin Kirk, said: "The strength of feelings on both sides mean that the debate must be conducted in the context of prayer, and with the prayerful support of churches around the country."



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