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Moving forward in trust, confident in adapting to the new

25 July 2014

In the coming era of women bishops, the Church will need renewed faith in God and in people, argues John Spence

I'm A new boy to this, and I have no new theology to bring. But then, who would expect a former banker to have any theology at all?

There are two things that I won't talk about after today. One is being a new boy, because I won't be a new boy any more. And the other is about my blindness. But let me tell you a story.

In 1987, I was told that my eyesight was failing, and that I would have tunnel vision by the time I was in my 50s. In 1990, I could no longer see print on the page; no longer see images on screen - at the age of 38.

Things felt bleak. I had the love of a wonderful wife, Yvonne, and three great children. But at that time, people who lost their eyesight were consigned to lose their jobs - to man telephone switchboards, or to work in disabled factories.

There were no technological aids; there was no support. There was an expectation that I would be cast on the wayside. Even my personnel director told me that I could not be promoted because I could no longer manage people.

So life felt bleak. But I had three things. I had my faith: I focused always on the lilies in the field. I knew I had to trust people: I had to take a leap of faith in people I knew, and those I didn't, to help make life possible for me. But I knew I had to adapt.

And what happened? In the event, I went on to be managing director of Lloyds Bank, and was able to move that personnel director into early retirement.

I have been able to occupy a number of significant roles, including the privilege of this one on the Archbishops' Council. But, much more than that, I discovered that my trust was more than fully repaid; that my leap of faith was given back in abundance.

Trust was repaid, not just from those I expected, but from those I did not. And that, having adapted, I found that others adapted to me: those with whom I worked; my organisation; the world in which I lived.

Today we have an understanding that those who are disabled are merely those who jump another hurdle in the race of life. Above all, I discovered a rich new world of possibilities. I chaired national disability charities, and understood just how much people had to give, and what this rich diversity can bring to all of us in mutual understanding.

So what do I see now? If there are any of you who are still, in all conscience, struggling to decide whether you dare press the abstain, or even the positive key: your faith is my faith - is all of our faith. And every one of us has a vital role to ensure that that searing vision of the risen Christ is taken out into this troubled country.

If you can place your trust where there is not yet evidence, your trust will not be misplaced. You, like me, will discover just how kind and beautiful people can be. You will come to see that promises will be delivered, just as I have done. You, having adapted, will find that adaptation is mutual. You can be confident in that: that we have to adapt because, in this way, you create that whole new world of possibilities.

Today for me is not about two-thirds and one third. It is aboutthe celebration of the coalition of consciences around the risenChrist.

I feel that the stronger the vote we can give today, the greater the credibility we have in the outside world. But, more importantly than that, the more confidently we can walk, hand in hand, to return this Church to numerical and spiritual growth, and to return Christ to his rightful place - at the centre of this country, its conscience, and its culture. God bless you.

John Spence is a member of the Archbishops' Council. 
This is an edited version of his speech to the General Synod last week in the debate on women bishops (General Synod, 18 July).

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