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History or apologia

03 May 2013

This woman priest has quit the C of E, says Bridget Nichols

Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women bishops and the Church of England
Maggi Dawn
DLT £6.99
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THERE are two ways of reading this book. The first is to treat it as a compact history of the ordination of women in the Church of England since the vote of the General Synod in 1992, accompanied by a proposal for future action and a personal narrative. The second is to see it as the author's apologia for leaving the Church of England to take up a post in the United States. The choice of interpretation will exert a strong influence on different readers' evaluation of the contents.

Maggi Dawn has given us what must be the most up-to-date historical survey of the debates toward the advent of women bishops currently available, incorporating the results of voting at the General Synod in 2012. Her suggestion in the second part of the book that the solution to the impasse might lie in receptionism requires more exposition.

References to the treatment of reception in the Rochester report on women in the episcopate (2004) do not deal with the complexity of the idea. It might have been better simply to state her own sense that, instead of waiting for God, we should realise that God is waiting for us, and act accordingly.

The final section is an often painful account of a vocation pursued in the face of puzzlement, humiliation, and insult in a degree not usually reported by women who have trained for the priesthood since 1992. It speaks of a personal struggle between love for the Church of England and the impossibility of remaining in its ministry, but without the clarity needed to persuade us that accepting an invitation to Yale was sacrificial as well as providential. Perhaps that is simply because the beauty of this book, like that of the parish liturgy that the author yearned to refine and polish even before she was ordained, "gets drowned out in the excess of text that needs editing".

Dr Bridget Nichols is Lay Chaplain to the Bishop of Ely.

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