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Group talks hold key to women-bishops outcome

05 July 2013

Elsewhere: the Central Hall at the University of York

Elsewhere: the Central Hall at the University of York

GENERAL SYNOD members whose vote was pivotal in the defeat of the women-bishops Measure last November are holding their counsel, as they prepare for private discussions this weekend before a crucial vote on Monday.

Last year, eight members of the House of Laity wrote to The Times revealing that 12 of the members of the House had voted against the November Measure "in spite of most of us unreservedly supporting the consecration of women" ( News, 30 November). Several of these, contacted by the Church Times, declined to comment this week, saying that they first wanted to hear from others at the Synod meeting in York.

Two, though, were willing to share their views on Option One, selected by the House of Bishops from the four possible options mapped out by the working group on women bishops ( News, 31 May). A Measure instructing the steering committee to prepare draft legislation based on this option will be debated on Monday. The legislation would amend the canon that makes it unlawful for women to become bishops, and repeal the statutory rights that traditionalist parishes have to pass Resolutions A and B.

On Tuesday, Keith Malcouronne, of Guildford diocese, one of the Times signatories, said: "I'm concerned that the House of Bishops has not really learned from what happened the last time. They are setting themselves up for failure before they start. They should have started with something where we could take a vote on each option. . .

"They are saying all the right things about maintaining diversity and the equal standing of those of different views, but the mechanism they are adopting does not seem to permit the Church to come to a collective view or compromise around that."

Another signatory, John Davies, of Winchester diocese, said: "My heart is full of dread because I want to see women bishops as soon as possible; but I do not think Option One is likely to take it forward."

Concern that Option One will not win the support of those opposed to women's ordination appears to be well-founded. Prudence Dailey, of Oxford diocese, said: "Anything that relies on trust rather than legislative provision is going to be a bit of a non-starter. It's not that we intrinsically mistrust other people in the Church: it is just that we recognise human nature."

Susie Leafe, the new director of Reform, (News, 28 June) said: "If we vote for this, I think people have to know they are voting for a less broad Church of England." She said that it would leave the Church vulnerable to legal claims from secular authorities under the Equality Act.

Option One commands strong support from among other members of the Synod. Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, was "absolutely delighted" by it, she said. "It is open and honest and really offers a very hopeful way forward. It is something that would resonate very well in the country at large.

"We have to keep a very clear eye on the fact it was a complete train crash last time. . . I think it demands a very high level of trust from everyone involved."

She said that some members she had spoken to after the November vote had said that they would not have voted against the Measure had they known that this would cause it to fall.

Dr Elaine Storkey, of Ely diocese, said on Wednesday: "Option One is just clear, and that is what was missing in November. . . It makes it absolutely clear that there is one and only one position in the Church of England: that women and men will be bishops. . . We asked the bishops to take a lead; they have taken a lead."

Dr Storkey argued that there was an "enormous amount of trust" in the Church of England. Her experience on the Crown Nominations Commission had taught her this: "I have had to abandon my own presumptions, presuppositions, or desires in order to meet the greater good, and to trust that this person, when in post, will work amicably and constructively with people around him. I have not ever regretted that." Those who disagreed about trust were "usually not talking to other people, not listening to other views".

Both supporters and opponents of Option One welcomed the opportunity to engage in facilitated discussions on Saturday.

Mrs Leafe said: "From my experience of being involved in facilitated talks, it is a great opportunity to hear from one another and to seek to understand one another's perspectives. I hope that that will be how it will be used."

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek, said on Wednesday: "I am relieved that, at long last, we have the opportunity for Synod members to meet together in a different way.

"My hope is that we might experience more of what the Church could be as we meet together in a place of robust conversation. The focus is not about persuasion or agreement: it is about speaking confidently from the heart of who we each are in Christ, and listening with humility to others."

The Vicar of St Thomas's, Blackpool, the Revd Dr Rosalyn Murphy, said: "The process has been tortuous - experiencing threatening behaviour from colleagues, enduring the harsh words spoken, all the while having the integrity of female priesthood minimised. I realise there has been hurt, pain, fear, and frustration on both sides. Unfortunately, that is the process.

"However, I genuinely believe that our unity as the body of Christ is of such significant value that it is worthy of preserving. So perhaps on Saturday, if we truly listen to each other with our hearts, it is possible that the love of Christ will persuade us all to trust him, and his ability to protect and preserve his Church."


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