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The morning after

18 July 2014

PERHAPS it was a hangover from all that pink champagne, but Tuesday morning, the day after the historic vote in York to open up the whole of the C of E's ordained ministry to women, dawned overcast. For one thing, the General Synod could not be proud of itself, exactly, simply for catching up with just about every other institution in the Western world. For another, the distance that the Church still has to travel until women are unremarkable in positions of authority is great. There is joy, of course, and relief, certainly; but also an awareness, voiced by many speakers in the debate, that hard work lies ahead. It will not be easy to reassure those parishes and priests who continue to believe that their Church has taken an unauthorised or unscriptural step. Similarly, the introduction of women into the House of Bishops is bound to be slow. The years that elapsed in the Church of Ireland between the vote to allow women bishops and the appointment this spring of the Rt Revd Pat Storey are a reminder that there is no prospect of an overnight Cabinet reshuffle.

The key in this matter - as, of course, in all matters - is attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. Once again, the way teaching about the Spirit is expressed can be a hindrance: the lived experience of the Spirit is as different from the image of doves and blinding flashes of light as God is from the bearded man in the clouds. What are we to make, for instance, of the assertion on Monday, repeated by the Archbishops, no less, that the Holy Spirit had been at work in the collapse of the 2012 Measure, since the revised Measure - and more importantly, the agreement surrounding it - was so much better? A longer perspective is needed before we can distinguish confidently between the chastening work of the Spirit and a convenient means of explaining away a hurtful blunder. It is quite within God's merciful purposes to blur the two. But in the wait for understanding to emerge, it is helpful to recall our belief that the Holy Spirit works through groups of people, in other words, the Church. The Church of England, informed by its Catholic and Reformed past, models this in its committee structure: PCCs, deanery, diocesan, and national synods, finance committees, Archbishops' Council, and so on. In addition, its Established status reinforces an awareness that the Spirit is not bound by any ecclesiastical limits. If this all seems dull and a little corporate, the fruits of the Spirit can be discerned in the most surprising places.

None more so, of course, than the Crown Nominations Commission, the membership of which has been the subject of political intrigue. It will not help the C of E through the next stages if every new appointment is viewed through a critical lens. The Commission already has the task of balancing national and diocesan needs. It must now navigate the waters of gender and minority representation. Come, Holy Spirit!

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