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Women in the episcopate: pre-debate debate

04 July 2014


From Miss Sally Muggeridge

Sir, - I refer to your report "Our future turns on a single vote" (News, 27 June).

On 28 March 1979, a vote of no confidence in the Labour Government of James Callaghan, brought by the Opposition leader Margaret Thatcher, was lost by a single vote, forcing a General Election, which she won. It was described by the BBC as "one ofthe most dramatic nights in Westminster history". The losswas publicly damaging: Labour did not return to government for a further 18 years. Yet, in the retrospective analysis that followed, it became clear that there had been several available options wherebythe vote on the night could have been won by Labour, perhaps changing the course of history.

A Whip's responsibility in Parliament is to count the voting intentions and to make sure the maximum number of his or her party members are present, and voting the way the party wants. That process involves careful calculation, identifying, persuading, trading, bargaining, and sometimes some unsavoury dealing. Scruples, it was learnt, do not maintain governments.

Prayer rather than arm-twisting appears to be the preferred method to rescue our Church of England's damaged reputation and avoid yet more public disbelief in our arcane processes.

The General Synod needs to take a historical lesson from Parliament. We must, on this one occasion, forsake reliance on hope and our Christian reluctance to be challenging. There is still, at this late hour, much groundwork that needs to be covered to secure the vote safely, because, for many, nothing has changed.

In November 2012, one of our dissident House of Laity members advised me that there could never be a yes vote for women in the episcopate, save "over his dead body". Whether political or religious, deep-seated attitudes do not readily change. In the words of Dr Colin Podmore (New Directions, June 2014), "It is not we who have changed our opinion or indeed changed our teaching but the Church of England."

General Synod member
The Old Farm House
Pike Road, Eythorne
Kent CT15 4DJ


From Canon Colin Craston

Sir, - You report (News, 27 June) that the Archbishops are considering how a bishop with "conservative Evangelical" views on headship may be appointed. Does it not need to be considered how this would affect the Anglican understanding of ecclesiology inherited from centuries of Catholic church order?

That order assumes that a diocese is a group of parishes in full communion with the diocesan bishop. That bishop alone, not a suffragan or flying bishop, issues licences and authority to minister; and to that person every priest is ultimately responsible. Can a person who does not accept women priests, or fully serve a parish with women priests, be a diocesan bishop?

Very many, indeed a majority, of Evangelicals who are conservative in doctrine accept women priests. Are those who do not really fundamentalist in use of scripture, unable to see that headship in scripture does not exclude women in ministry? Should Anglican ecclesiology be permanently altered to suit them?

We already have conservative Evangelicals who are bishops, diocesan and suffragan.

12 Lever Park Avenue
Bolton BL6 7LE


From the Revd Paul Williamson

Sir, - Her Majesty the Queen swore the Coronation Oath, and, at her Coronation, signed it on the high altar of Westminster Abbey.

So what did she promise on the oath to do? She swore to the utmost of her power: "The true profession of the Gospel" - which cannot allow a counter-profession or understanding or action. The bishop (masculine) is described as "the husband of one wife" in holy scripture. This does not allow of female bishops, and the Queen has no power - because of the oath - to allow such a change in the Church of England. To the utmost of her power she must defend holy scripture as written, not as set aside because modernists require female bishops.

The Queen further swore: "I will maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government" of the Church of England.

The Queen must not be forced to sign such legislation as breaks her oath.

The Rectory, 7 Blakewood Close
Middlesex TW13 7NL

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