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Moving forward from the fall of the draft women-bishops Measure

07 December 2012


From the Revd Dr Darrell Hannah
Sir, - I am a strong supporter of the consecration of women as bishops. I am as dismayed as anyone at the failure of the General Synod to pass the Measure. The damage that this failure inflicts on the Church may well be with us for decades.

I am, however, equally distressed at what I see as the failures of the supporters of the Measure, which contributed to its defeat. While I nourished high hopes that the Appleby amendment, which spoke of respect, might be enough to assure traditionalists, I failed, and still fail, to see why there was so much opposition to the Bishops' amendment, which would have assured that the Code of Practice would have required "the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions" of any PCC who issued a Letter of Request.

Why should respect be acceptable, but a decision "consistent with theological convictions" not be? Might it be that many supporters of women bishops cannot bring themselves to admit that what they would rather dismiss as prejudice and sexism might actually be faithfully held theological convictions? And is that not simply another form of prejudice? To be sure, I have occasionally encountered prejudice and bias among traditionalists. More often, I have found them to be principled and devoted servants of Christ, with whom I happen to disagree over the ministry of women.

I am told that the Bishops' amendment would have unacceptably diminished the authority of women bishops. A diminishment is incontrovertible, but it would have been no greater than that which many male bishops have had to live with for nearly 20 years, as they have shared their authority with the so-called flying bishops.

Compromise is always difficult, but it is always easier for those in a position of strength. It is clear who is in that position: with 42 out of 44 dioceses' having voted in favour, with a greater than two-thirds majority in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy, with a solid majority in the House of Laity, and the principle of women bishops having already been accepted, it is clear who has won the argument.

The supporters of women bishops have won the overall argument: there will be women bishops. We, then, must face the fact that compromise will be easier for us than for those who are opposed. It is, therefore, a source of real frustration and even dismay to hear continually some supporters of women bishops continuing to use a narrative of weakness and victimhood about themselves. It is a matter of even greater concern to hear the many supporters of women bishops now calling for a single-clause Measure. I can imagine nothing more destructive to any sense of unity which remains in the Church of England.

I have often felt that we have been living in something of "a Rehoboam moment" (cf. 1 Kings 12.1-20). If we respond as Rehoboam did, the loss will not be the northern Ten Tribes, but rather a small number of priests, congregations, and individuals. None the less, we will have made it clear that we are really not interested in being a "broad Church", and that our understanding of inclusion is in reality rather narrow.

All Saints' Rectory, London Road Ascot, Berks SL5 8DQ

From Mr John Middleditch
Sir, - However much damage has been done to the standing and reputation of the Church of England in the eyes of the general public by the narrow failure to pass the Measure, I believe that far more damage is being done by the manner in which some members of the Church are responding, and the greatest damage of all will be done by the way in which we continue the debate and move forward to the inevitable consecration of women as bishops.

Writing in a different age, but one in which there were also intense disagreements within the Church about its future, Anthony Trollope put these words into the mouth of Septimus Harding: "Believe me, . . . that Christian ministers are never called on by God's word to insult the convictions, or even the prejudices, of their brethren; and that religion is at any rate not less susceptible of urbane and courteous conduct among men than any other study which men may take up."

Making due allowance for the gender-exclusive phrasing, they are words that we might all consider and take as a guide to future conduct.

98 Freston, Peterborough PE4 7EW

From the Revd Dr John Peet
Sir, - Whether or not one agrees with the Revd Marie-Elsa Bragg (Comment, 30 November) in her analysis of the part played by bishops in the House of Lords, it is clear that the constitutional crisis occasioned by the vote on the women-bishops Measure comes to its sharpest focus at this point.

It would indeed be gross Erastianism for the State to interfere with the internal workings of the Church, even if the intention is to save the Church from itself. But it is difficult to answer the question why an exclusively male (and therefore discriminatory) group of people - i.e., bishops as at present constituted - should automatically be entitled to a place in the counsels of a non-discriminatory state.

This anomaly might usefully be resolved by a self-denying ordinance on the part of the Bishops. As one of the signs of repentance which the Church as a whole must make, could not those bishops entitled to sit in the House of Lords voluntarily renounce that right until they do not (shamefully) have to receive exemption from equality laws?

The disadvantage of being unable to contribute their wisdom would be outweighed by a number of factors: such an act would be a public confession that the Church of England is in an untenable (and temporary) position; it would convey a due sense of penitence; it might instil some urgency into the House of Bishops' deliberations; and it would indicate to the politicians that the Church of England does not intend to let this matter rest.

The Vicarage, 3 Meadow Close
Cononley, Keighley

From the Revd Viv Bridges
Sir, - I am amazed, and somewhat alarmed at the suggestion of having a "Silent Sunday". I wonder whom this is intended to influence. In many cases, it will affect and distress those people who are already distressed by the fall of the women-bishops Measure.

Many parishes have women ministering in them, and they value this ministry enormously. If the women involved in such ministry protest in the manner suggested, it will only hurt the congregations who are already hurting. I doubt whether it will have any effect whatever on those people who do not support women's ministry.

It seems to me that, as women priests, we should be doing all we can to support our parishes, their laity and their clergy, among whom are many men who have been greatly distressed by the vote. It is a time for care and compassion. I believe that this will have a far greater influence on the wider world than making knee-jerk protests that only hurt the people who love us most.

6 Haslemere Gardens
Oxford OX2 8EL

From the Revd Jonathan Jennings
Sir, - The Bristol diocesan synod's lack of confidence in the General Synod is misplaced. Unpalatable though it may be, it nevertheless has to be accepted that the Synod did what it is supposed to do: it screened out legislation that did not ultimately command enough support, and thereby spared us from a set of arrangements which were very widely regarded as in themselves inadequate.

I wonder how many of those wishing that the House of Bishops had been able to force its will over women in the episcopate would have felt the same over the Anglican Covenant?

St Augustine's Vicarage
Rock Avenue, Gillingham
Kent ME7 5PW

From the Revd Chris Goble
Sir, - I write as a supporter of women bishops, but also with concern for some of the responses. Some response to support the incredible work, and witness, of women priests is important, but some responses are in danger of creating more division.

I am particularly concerned about the "pinny protest", for theological and practical reasons. Theologically, it may be seen to mock the servant role, which Jesus set as an example in washing the disciples' feet. The action may be intended as a "mockery that they are fit only for tea-making", and yet the spirit of hospitality that is central to our faith should be celebrated, not mocked.

I also wonder why men are only asked to wear a purple ribbon. This fails to acknowledge the important part that men play in hospitality. In most of the churches I have served, men and women are involved in hospitality, serving refreshements and encouraging fellowship.

I am also concerned about what this protest says to the many men and women for whom their service of the church is "tea-making". Does it mean that the Church believes that bishops are important and tea-making isn't? We will, I hope and believe, have women bishops, but not at the expense of decrying any other way in which people serve the church community.

The Rectory, Ilmington
Warwickshire CV36 4LB

From Canon Christopher Hall
Sir, - Canon Rosie Harper [News, 30 November) urges electoral-roll enfranchisement. I have to dissent, not merely on the grounds of cost. The last lay member to be elected in Oxford diocese in 2010 had a mandate of fewer than 50 votes. The low turn-out of deanery-synod electors is because they do not know the candidates. That was true of the recent Police Commissioners' elections. A fortiori, it would be true if electoral-roll members were enfranchised.

If electors are not fully informed, democracy cannot function. Since I was first elected in 1972, the restrictions on access to the electors have got ever tighter, so that it is the strongly motivated (and funded) networks who get their candidates known and disproportionately elected.

The Open Synod Group used to produce The Key, which was distributed to deanery-synod members, raising awareness of the election, and setting out the issues on which to quiz the candidates. That stopped when synodical channels were closed to us.

In 2000, we engaged most of the groups to launch a pioneer national website. I failed to get Church House to take up the idea in the run-up to 2005. In 2010, Bristol and Gloucester used the internet; pace those who are not online, the internet should be fully used by every diocese and nationally.

The Knowle
Banbury OX15 0TB

From the Revd J. P. Hoskins
Sir, - In his column last week, Canon Giles Fraser wrote: "One of the biggest lies, which is often trotted out by liberals, is that they 'respect' the 'deeply held beliefs' of those who 'in conscience' are against the ordination of women as priests or bishops. Most don't. I don't."

Although, sadly, I agree with Canon Fraser's analysis, I profoundly disagree with his conclusion. That many are now publicly saying similar things to him is, to my mind, the most discouraging aspect of our current situation. I am a supporter of the ordination of women bishops, and would have voted in favour last month. But, unlike Canon Fraser and many others who claim to be "liberals", I do also respect the deeply held views of those who are opposed.

This is not just "niceness", as he rather condescendingly puts it. It has long seemed to me that if, in the mysterious purposes of God, there is any point at all in the Anglican experiment, it is to remind the Church as a whole of our calling to be one. Our vocation is to be an icon, an example of what it looks like to insist on remaining in communion - liberals and conservatives, Evangelicals and Catholics alike - loving one another even when we passionately disagree.

To be in unity with our sisters and brothers is not to agree about everything. But it is to make a profound commitment, even so, to stick together, "bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4.2-3).

If the Church of England fails to find ways of maintaining the bonds of affection through the Spirit of love, I will no longer be sure what the point is of remaining Anglican. But perhaps I am just too nice.

4a Millers Green
Gloucester GL1 2BN

From Mr David Pidgeon
Sir, - Now that the details of the voting at General Synod are known, your readers would be forgiven for thinking that in the diocese of Chichester there are few who support women's ministry or who wish to see the consecration of women as bishops.

May I assure them that there are very many of us in deepest Sussex who hold contrary views to those demonstrated at Synod; who wish fervently that our own bishops would ordain women as priests; and who support the consecration of women.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that the new Bishop of Chichester, unlike his predecessor, will not close his mind to the appointment of a suffragan bishop (currently pending) who would be pleased to ordain women to the priesthood and then offer them the full support which has been lacking in the past.

Such an appointment would make some proper provision (!) in the diocese for those, clergy and lay, who reflect the majority view of the Church of England on this issue.

9 Hurstfield Close
Haywards Heath
West Sussex RH17 7BQ

From Margaret Saunders
Sir, - I am feeling ashamed and embarrassed to be a female member of the Church of England at present, and I know that I am not alone.

Presumably, everyone in the Synod who voted prayed before the vote, but because the Measure did not finally go through, it would seem then we should accept that it was not God's will, however hard that may be.

Genesis tells us that we are made in God's image. When have we ever seen God behave in the puerile way of some of those who were lawfully defeated? As Anglican clergy are expected to say the Offices daily, presumably the words in the Lord's Prayer, "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," must be being said by many, but without conviction. What an indictment!

29 Bedingfield Way
Lyminge, Folkestone
Kent CT18 8JH

From Mr Frank Cranmer
Sir, - "Britain needs bishops in the Lords" (headline, Comment, 30 November). A misprint for "England", maybe?

7 Teangue, Sleat
Isle of Skye IV44 8RE

From Mr J. S. Richardson
Sir, - Are supporters of women bishops about to change the rules in order to win on a further vote?

As a layman, I understood that, after much prayer, a decision by the Synod was the will of God. This obviously applies only when the liberals win.

7 Woodlands Farm Road
Bimringham B24 0PJ

From Barbara Hawkes
Sir, - On Sunday evening, I attended the procession that starts our church/town Christmas Tree Festival. The Three Kings, on camels, were all female. Is this a sign?

5 Fell Croft, Dalton-in-Furness
Cumbria LA15 8DD

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