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
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!