An end to the nail-biting?

Geoff Crawford

In the round: the Synod chamber during the women-bishops debate

In the round: the Synod chamber during the women-bishops debate

THE General Synod restarted the legislative process for women bishops on Wednesday afternon, after spending the morning in a debate on the steering committee's report. The committee's proposals are a package that includes not only legislation, but a declaration to be made by the House of Bishops.

Professor Michael Clarke (Worcester), who was chairing the debate, explained that "well over 50" requests to speak had been lodged. "The Synod, at its best, can put on a really good debate and conversation. I anticipate that this morning will be one of those occasions," he said.

Opening the debate, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who chairs the steering committee for the draft legislation, joked that members of the committee had been "wary" of the response to their proposals, because of the saying that "one should be wary when all speak well of one."

He acknowledged the work of the steering committee and said that, if the Synod agreed to the motion, he would ask the House of Bishops to request that members of the larger-than-usual steering committee remain in place "to continue to have the wider brief that enables it to keep an overview of the whole process and overall package".

The draft legislation and package of proposals "look to the day when the Church of England as an ecclesial entity will have made a clear decision to open all orders of ministry to women and men without distinction, whereby all those so ordained are acknowledged as the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy.

"But they also look to us being the kind of Church within which, that clear decision having been made, those who out of theological conviction take a different view on that matter may continue to flourish, playing a full part within the life and structures of our Church - and that without any limit of time." He said that the proposals were "about us being the kind of Church we profess to be".

He hoped that the Synod might be able to refer the legislation to the dioceses after next February's meeting, but said that it was essential that all parts of the package, including the agreed texts for the Bishops' declaration and dispute-resolution procedure, should be finalised before the dioceses were consulted.

Richard Mantle (Ripon & Leeds) said: "History makes us naturally cautious about optimists who wave documents urging peace in our time. These proposals are worthy of very serious consideration, but to some they do not offer the kind of security yearned for by Catholic Anglicans."

Mr Mantle said that he was encouraged, none the less, that the archbishops were publicly committed to upholding the diversity of the Church.

The Synod needed to be brave in accepting the proposals before it. "We need to embrace a new, worthy, and life-giving compromise. It demands considerable trust for those who have not been accustomed to trusting." Mr Mantle said that women must hold their office on the same grounds as men; "but we need to see evidence of this rebuilding of trust before legislation completes its passage through Synod."

He also said that there needed to be moves to ensure more traditionalist bishops were consecrated.

Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester) said that the new proposals were much better than last year's legislation, and welcomed the use of a larger than normal steering committee. "One of the big improvements is that there is no reliance on a code of practice, which would have been very torturous," he said. "There would have been ongoing debate and controversy over it. We have now the potential for a process which can happen relatively quickly and in a better atmosphere."

Canon Killwick said that the concept of an independent ombudsman-type reviewer to resolve disputes was much better than the prospect of going to court. "A great deal of trust is still required on all sides and that is probably a good thing."

Prebendary Rod Thomas (Exeter) said that the Synod had conducted itself with a generosity of spirit. "I'm aware that when people like me voted against the Measure last year, it was the cause of shock, anger, bewilderment, and grief. But being able to sit down and talk constructively about how we might find agreement has been an uplifting process."

Prebendary Thomas said, however, that there remained major issues still to be sorted out for those like him from the conservative Evangelical wing of the Church.

"There's a problem with jurisdiction," he said. "But, despite that, I shall be voting in favour of motion. But, if those major issues remain, I may not be able to vote for final approval.

"Even if, at the end, I am unable to join the majority of Synod, I shall rejoice in the measure of agreement that we have been able to reach."

Christina Rees (St Albans) said that she could not have envisioned a year ago that the Synod could have got this point. "What we are considering now is better than what we had last year; and I also believe we are better as a Synod."

Mrs Rees said that she wished to add two more principles to the House of Bishops' proposals: transparency and "relationality". "How we relate to each other reveals our prime relationship with Jesus Christ," she said. "What the world will take away from today is not just what the Church of England decides about having women as bishops: it will be what the Church decides about women."

Prebendary David Houlding (London) said that, while the previous night he had felt that he was approaching death by General Synod, this morning he felt he was approaching resurrection: "What we have in front of us works, and works for all of us, no matter where we are coming from."

It was a Measure "plain and simple, to enable women to be consecrated without qualification or limitation"; but it was equally good news in offering assurance to traditionalists. "Our time has not been wasted," he said. "The moment I have been waiting for has arrived."

It was a "pleasure" to follow Christina Rees in speaking. The theological integrity on both sides had been "honoured and secured". The package left open the "ecumenical avenues of conversation and relationship" with the "wider part of Christendom".

He explained: "There remains something within our polity that the greater part of the Universal Church can recognise as consistent with their practice and discipline." He concluded: "The battle surely is over. Let's get on with the mission."

Anne Martin (Guildford) said that completing this process was "becoming urgent. If we can't agree among ourselves, how can we expect to be taken seriously outside the Church?" Outside was "the real world, Syria, the Philippines, poverty, desperation and unhappiness in our own country."

She was glad that there were no amendments, and expressed hope that the package would go to the House of Bishops for clarification and not for alteration.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, began by saying: "If Christina Rees and David Houlding are happy, then I am happy." He congratulated the steering committee. Progress since November had been "nothing short of miraculous". He spoke of the importance of trust. His diocese was "happily fractious", but he was aware of a "more corrosive culture of suspicion and mistrust" which had surrounded the bishops: "If we are to move forward, we will have to show ourselves to be worthy of trust."

The Revd Amanda Fairclough (Liverpool) was attending her first General Synod meeting. "Last November, I watched the live feed as the vote failed," she said. "I actually wasn't terribly surprised; I wasn't even the least bit angry. I wasn't even feeling a little bit hurt, undervalued, or unappreciated. But I did feel a curious sense of galvanisation."

She had no doubt that "one day, a woman will be called by God to be Archbishop of Canterbury. For her sake, for the whole Church's sake, and . . . for God's sake, we must and we have to put our shoulders to the mediative and legislative wheel to achieve the best possible proposals."

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) said that he stood before the Synod as a conservative Evangelical who would vote no to the legislation; but was doing so "with a fresh confidence that there is a new atmosphere, there is a new trust, where my integrity is allowed to be spoken and is allowed to flourish".

He thanked God for the "new and positive atmosphere", but "I must be honest that I still stand where I stand."

Prebendary Maureen Hobbs (Lichfield) explained that she used to work at GCHQ, and still could not explain what she did there. "On joining that esteemed body, and on leaving, I had to sign the Official Secrets Act," she said. "The signing of that Act made no difference to the authority and the law that affects me. As a subject of the United Kingdom, like most, if not all of you in the room, I am subject to the Official Secrets Act and may be prosecuted under its terms if I do something that contradicts it."

She said that, in the same way, anybody who was ordained was under the orders and authority of a bishop. Making an oath or signing the Act served "only to remind people of their responsibilities". She said that it "should be possible to devise a way of doing this if we find that the oaths are problematic".

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) spoke as a member of the Steering Committee. "Given the constraints under which we will be working, I have to tell you that this is the best that I think can be done. It is a good and workable solution," he said.

Anne Foreman (Exeter) explained that, after the vote last November, she had gone to worship with "those of differing convictions". She acknowledged that this was "small beer"; but said that, in both a Forward in Faith and a conservative Evangelical parish, she had found a very warm welcome, outward-looking, lively congregations, plenty of lay involvement, quality preaching, and priests who were loved and appreciated. "This experience brought home quite forcefully that we really are all part of the Church of England, and can rejoice in our partnership in the gospel."

The Revd Charles Read (Norwich) said that he also welcomed the proposals but that there were things he was nervous about. He said: "It's about the suggestion that we ringfence a place in the College of Bishops for conservative Evangelicals. I'm an Evangelical but we do not normally appoint bishops on the basis of one part of what they believe. The intention of the proposal is good, and there are some voices which are not being heard, but this is not the way to go about it." Bishops are human beings, he said, and they may change their minds.

Susie Leafe (Truro) said that she wished she could say "all is well" but she could not. "We claim this is designed to enable all to flourish, yet my church can only flourish when we deny our theological convictions and accept a woman as a chief pastor," she said.

Even if her parish asked for another bishop, this decision would lie in the hands of a woman, she said. For the sake of appearing in step with the times, she said, "we are risking churches who are sending large numbers of men for ordination and whose congregations are generally younger." She criticised the House of Bishops for deciding the new approach on women bishops should not open the question of jurisdiction.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities, York) said that he welcomed the report and would vote for it. He said: "There is a wonderful atmosphere which has grown into the new way of doing things." Fr Seville said moving forward would require "making another's difference as an essential part of our lives". He pointed Synod towards 2 Samuel 21, where David asks the Gibeonites "What must I do for you that you should bless the inheritance of Israel" and urged Synod to ask the same question of those opposed to women bishops.

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek (London), said that, while having "no desire to distort the harmony", wanted to explore how to ensure that mutual trust remained the refrain.

She highlighted paragraph 19-22 of the draft House of Bishops declaration, which related to PCCs. It was "not uncommon" for her to hear from PCCs that they were "confused" about what the resolutions and their rescinding meant. Could bishops stipulate that there should be notification within a church before the PCC debated the resolutions? And could they produce some "simple and non-partisan material" to help PCCs in their deliberations?

The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, the Ven. Christine Hardman (Southwark), announced that she would be eating humble pie in her speech. When the Bishop of Willesden had suggested, in November, the creation of a wide steering committee, she had thought the idea to be "completely off the wall, very irritating, and absolutely likely to fail". She apologised to him.

As a member of the steering committee, she could report that the process "was not a cosy one". If the Synod moved on with this process, there would be continued need for "that kind of sincere, courageous, and dangerous engagement". People would feel "very uncomfortable at times" and would need to end "conflict-avoidance behaviour", which was "deeply insulting to those with whom we disagree". She concluded: "Isn't God good?"

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham) spoke as a member of the steering committee and as a GP who had been involved in complaints. He praised the dispute resolution procedure developed by Dr Philip Giddings and Stephen Slack. It "seeks to protect PCCs ahead of the game" and "warns people off from bad behaviour. If things do go wrong, we have arrangements and mechanisms so that concerns about failures of due process can be investigated and dealt with."

Dr Elaine Storkey (Ely) spoke about law and grace. She argued that "good law is essential to enable the free flow of grace". Sin, self-interest, and abuse of power would continue in the Church. But, she argued, "What unites us is far greater than a separates."

Good law depended on grace, she said: "We need grace to recognise that one another need to be full participants in this process." She had heard "an enormous amount of grace" this morning.

Peter Haddock (Southwark) hoped that the Synod would not "slip into bad habits as the process continued". He spoke of the "importance of taking this package as a whole", and the "danger of pulling at one thread only to see the fabric lunge somewhere else".

The Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity, Tim Hind (Bath & Wells), said that it would be a "good idea if members of the House of Bishops invited the Independent Reviewer to visit them" before any complaint had been made, in order to "inspect their practices from time to time".

Dr Hannah Cleugh (Universities of Durham & Newcastle) described the proposed package as "fresh, imaginative, promising, and yet so traditionally Anglican". The fact that it was a package was "its greatest strength".

The Archdeacon of Cleveland, the Ven. Paul Ferguson (York), spoke of the "brilliant work of steering committee"; but warned that "the work begins from here." The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that he and the Archbishop of Canterbury were committed to ensuring that traditional Catholics and conservative Evangelicals continued to be selected to serve as bishops. It was easy to know what traditional Catholics were looking for, but more difficult with conservative Evangelicals. A number of members of the House of Bishops saw themselves as conservative Evangelical.

He offered "deep thanks" to the steering committee, staff, and officers, and to "all of you for your self-denying ordinance . . . by not putting in amendments". He said that the "general magnanimity is palpable", but warned that "it is not time to open the champagne bottles yet."

Mary Johnston (London) questioned the wording of Clause 2 of the Measure, which would amend the Equality Act 2010 to state that "the office of diocesan or suffragan bishop is not a public office." As somebody who had spent five years as a member of the Crown Nominations Commission, she was "extremely appreciative of the public role of Church of England bishops". She described the clause as "seriously regrettable".

"I understand that the statement only applies in relation to the Equality Act 2010 and has no implication for the public role of bishops more generally," she said; "but, surely, once we have declared as a Church and set in law that in one sphere our bishops are not in public office, there will be plenty of voices in the future eager to point out our specific renunciation of that role, and apply it elsewhere.

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury), who is Canadian, spoke of the ombudsman in Saskatchewan, which was one of the first in the modern world. It was a way of resolving a complaint "by someone small against someone powerful". The Archdeacon of The Meon, the Ven. Gavin Collins (Portsmouth) wanted to speak about the ministry of bishops. They must be a "focus of unity for all churches and clergy in his or her diocese". This would be true for women bishops. He argued: "Churches should not get to pick and choose the episcopal gender."

Dr Anna Thomas-Betts (Oxford) spoke in support of the proposed independent reviewer.

The Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) was concerned that the legislative package would seem to exempt bishops from all aspects of the Equality Act.

Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) was "struck by the sheer weirdness of a community arguing about discrimination in the 21st century." Professor Richard Burridge (University of London) said: "It is time for us to stop giving the bad news and to move on to consecration of women, so we can evangelise the nation."

The motion was carried by 378 to eight with 25 recorded abstentions. It read:

That this Synod, welcoming the package of proposals in GS1924 and the statement of principles endorsed by the House of Bishops at paragraph 12 of GS1886, invite the House of Bishops to bring to the Synod for full consultation in February a draft declaration and proposals for a mandatory disputes resolution procedure which build on the agreement reached by the Steering Committee as a result of its facilitated discussions.

 

AFTER adjourning for lunch, the Synod gave first consideration to the draft legislation.

Bishop Langstaff introduced the draft Measure for the consecration of women as bishops. He said that, contrary to normal procedures, if the Synod voted to proceed with the draft Measure, it would go to revision by full Synod, and not in committee. "This is because the Measure is brief, and there is also a concreteness to the whole package; so it makes sense to keep the whole thing in one place."

He continued: "Potentially, a parish which requests the ministry and provision of a bishop with regard to their gender may be falling into the remit of the Equality Act." Therefore, besides allowing women into the episcopate, the draft Measure also amended the Equality Act 2010 by adding a clause that stated that bishops were not public officials. This would protect parishes from any potential legal action on the grounds of discrimination because of gender.

April Alexander (Southwark) and Clive Scowen (London) expressed their reservations about such a move.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev Christopher Hill, said in his last speech to Synod before retiring: "Get on with it, and goodbye."

Sarah Finch (London) argued that the loyal Anglicans who were opposed to women bishops were not protected.

The motion that the Draft Measure be considered for revision in full Synod was carried overwhelmingly.

The Bishop of Rochester indicated that, having agreed to send the Draft Measure for revision in full Synod, he hoped that they would agree to do the same with the Amending Canon. The Amending Canon would, among other provisions, remove gender-specific language from the Canons where the episcopate was mentioned.

Canon Killwick welcomed the facts that the Canon had within it a requirement for the House of Bishops to make regulations for dispute resolution procedures, and that a two-thirds-majority approval had to be obtained from the Synod for any changes that might be made to those regulations.

But he said: "At the moment the Canon reads slightly oddly, because it refers to the House of Bishops declaration; but nowhere is any explicit or direct reference to that declaration."

He asked the steering committee to look at that before February to see whether the Canon could "look a little more complete".

Dr Sentamu welcomed the removal of gender-specific language. "For those for whom headship matters, it isn't simply a matter of gender," he said. "And for those for whom maleness and sacramental assurance matters, the maleness thing wasn't really at the heart of it, and we never really got to having it resolved."

He said that the changes would "help us in the way we talk about what it is those who are opposed are looking for".

Canon Banting questioned whether the Amending Canon affected the status of the Book of Common Prayer as "one of the formularies of the Church of England" in the light of its gender-specific language.

The Dean of Jersey, the Very Revd Robert Key (Winchester), said that he would be abstaining from the vote, "not because I don't thoroughly approve of it, but because I look forward to using this as a basis for amending the Canons of the Church of England in Jersey, and guiding them through the States of Jersey and the island's parliament for ratification".

Professor Burridge answered Mr Banting's question by explaining that in the English of the Book of Common Prayer, the masculine pronoun included the feminine; and that in both the Prayer Book and the King James Bible, feminine pronouns were regularly expressed by the masculine.

The Synod agreed to refer the Draft Amending Canon No. 33 for revision in the full Synod.

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