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Church in Wales debates "disappointing" gender-equality report

24 April 2015


Dr Gill Todd

Dr Gill Todd

A REPORT on gender equality in the Church in Wales caused controversy for the Governing Body, with a heated debate spread over the two days. It was not because speakers were opposed to equality of the sexes. They objected to the interpretation of the data, and were concerned at the recommendations.

The report was produced by a working group established by the Governing Body's standing committee to review representation of women in 2015. It came after similar reviews in 2008 and 2011.

Dr Gill Todd (Swansea & Brecon), who chaired the working group, said that it was "very uncomfortable" to present the report, because the "outcome . . . is so very disappointing". "It is astonishing that the Church in Wales continues to have a number of all-male chapters, some all-male appointment committees, and some all-male decision-making committees. It is not surprising, but very sad, that women . . . feel voiceless in many parts of the Church in 2015. Why, oh why?"

The report shows that, 35 years since the ordination of women, the percentage of stipendiary priests who are women range from 30 per cent in one diocese to ten per cent in another.

Dr Todd said that the 2011 review showed that a number of women had been appointed to senior positions within the Church, and there had been "a significant increase in the number of area deans". But the situation had worsened by the 2015 review, and "sadly, we heard at the weekend of the move of Sue Jones, the Dean of Bangor, to the diocese of Derby, leaving only one female archdeacon, and no female cathedral dean in this province."

The proposals in the report, she said, were designed to "achieve change and embed gender equality unequivocally in the Church in Wales for ever; and, secondly, to make the Church in Wales recognise the joy that comes from men and women working together in God's name; and the pain that comes from continued discrimination and bullying. A failure to recognise the gifts, calling, and vocation of others is a failure to demonstrate Christlike behaviour."

Bullying also played a part in persuading women to leave the Church, she said. Many victims "vote with their feet, and leave the organisation. Unfortunately, they also leave the bully to make the next person's life a misery."

She was "taken aback" when a male priest told her that they, also, were bullied by churchwardens, other church officers, and other clergy. "The bullying of men doesn't make the bullying of women acceptable."

Seconding the motion, Canon Jenny Wigley (Llandaff) said that the report painted a story "of a dearth of women as role-models; of a squandering of their gifts and talents; and of the exclusion of women from all sorts of areas of responsibility and decision making".

Dean Roberts (Monmouth) welcomed the report, but emphasised that he was opposed to "gender balance". "What we need is the best person for the job, regardless of whether they are male or female."

His point was echoed by the Revd Janice Brown (Bangor), who suggested: "Maybe we don't have enough women who have the skills" for the senior positions. "Are we going to put people in post because they tick boxes, or because they are the best people for the post?

"When I'm lifted up to be a bishop, I want to be there because I'm the best candidate for that job, not because the Church needs to have three [men] and three [women]."

The report was focused on "equality of outcomes" rather than "equality of opportunity", Penny Williams (Llandaff) said. "There is a danger of adopting this system of equality, because, while it appears fairer, you are actually just replacing one unfair system with another."

The debate was adjourned overnight. When it resumed on Thursday morning, Sue Last (St Asaph) challenged Ms Brown's comments the previous evening, saying: "The fact that the Church in Wales in 2015 has reached the point that women priests can be bishops is because other strong women have fought the fight. It therefore saddens me to hear a woman priest suggest that getting the gender balance right is just ticking boxes.

"Does she not accept that, if other women had not fought the fight to be ordained on her behalf, she and others like her would not be ordained priests today?"

Jenny Wilson (St Asaph) said that she would prefer to see gender balance measured across dioceses rather than individual ministry areas, as some ministry areas were quite small.

The Revd Jan Gould (Llandaff) spoke of the "number of women who have left, or are about to leave . . . to continue ministries elsewhere. Many of those women are close personal friends; so I know their true reason for leaving. . . Those women who have left this province, on the whole, didn't feel valued by the Church they longed to serve with all of their gifts."

Terry Hill (Monmouth) said that he "thought the gender battle was over" until he read the report. "There are barriers that hinder the promotion of women. We need to seriously, vigorously seek out those barriers and remove them."

The Revd Steve Leyland (Bangor) said that it was "disgraceful that gender discrimination is still an issue". He longed for the day when gender balance was achieved; but warned that there was a danger, when that time came, that women could be overlooked if men were needed to redress balance. "Positive discrimination is still discrimination," he said.

"There are far more male clergy than female clergy; so surely, then, out of the people that God may be calling to these senior posts, there is a higher chance that God's person - out of those that are eligible - is likely to be a man," The Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) said.

He wanted to know how many vacancies there had been for senior posts, to determine "how few opportunities there have been to make that change", and said that "seven years is nowhere near long enough to change a culture when the obvious way to do it quicker is to fire a lot of people."

The Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven. Peggy Jackson (Llandaff), said that "there is a disconnect between who we think we are as a Church and who we actually are. The difficulty with statistics is that they show us that and we can't escape it."

The Revd Philip Bettinson (St Asaph) said that it was "frankly unacceptable that we, as a Christian Church, have people that are feeling bullied". He queried the effectiveness of exit interviews for clergy leaving the Church, saying that they were being conducted by "probably the same people who are doing the bullying".

Ms Brown moved an amendment to the motion which would have removed any endorsement of the report's recommendations, while calling for further work to improve the opportunities for women in the Church.

This was welcomed by some, including the Revd Anne Golledge (Monmouth), who, "after being ordained for nearly 15 years, [had] never come across bullying or discrimination", and who described it as "a positive way forward".

But it was opposed by others, including Sandy Blair (Monmouth), the only male on the working group, who said that it "rips out the heart of what has been proposed, [and] puts serious obstacles to the progress that needs to be made."

"As Bishop and Archbishop, I must take part of my responsibility for the Church in Wales being in the sad state that it is, in as far as the representation of women is concerned," the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said.

But it was wrong to "speculate" about the reasons why some women had left the Church, he said. "There are individual reasons why people left the Church in Wales, and the Governing Body is not the proper place to discuss them. There are issues of confidentiality."

He opposed the amendment.

The amendment was put to the vote and lost: 33 in favour, and 76 against; with 12 abstentions.

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, moved a further amendment. He said that removing the words "and endorsing the recommendations" from the motion would "not remove the teeth at all, because the rest of the motion would still be there. And that would address a number of the points that have been raised by people trying to support the amendment."

An attempt by the Archbishop to change the wording so that it read "and take seriously the recommendations" was ruled out of order: the chairman said that he could take only one amendment at a time.

Bishop Davies's amendment was passed with a substantial majority, and the Archbishop did not seek a further amendment.

The Bishop of St Asaph, Dr Gregory Cameron, described the preceding half-hour as "very painful". He said: "I see the Church in Wales committed to wanting to see change on this issue, but divided about the means by which we implement that change. We may not be entirely happy with some of the changes, or the methods for change that have been proposed in the report; but it is vitally important that the Governing Body sends a clear signal that it wants to see change on this issue, and that it wants to see change quickly on this issue."

The motion was passed overwhelmingly:

That the Governing Body:

(i) receive and welcome the report of the Working Group on Representation of Women in the Church in Wales dated April 2015;

(ii) accept that the Church in Wales has not achieved in the last seven years the expected cultural change, the appointment of more women into senior posts, and the greater involvement of women in Church decision-making;

(iii) recognise that the equality agenda is the responsibility of the whole Church;

(iv) commend the Report to the Province, dioceses, deaneries and parishes for study and appropriate action;

(v) request the Standing Committee to allocate the recommendations in the Report to the appropriate bodies for action;

(vi) request the Standing Committee to report back on progress in implementing the recommendations within three years.

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