WITNESSES to the "otherness of God", a "big fat Yes", but not
necessarily a civilising influence - these were some of the answers
given in a debate this week about what difference women bishops
might make in the C of E.
The event in St James's, Piccadilly, on Tuesday evening, was
organised by the Westminster Faith Debates, and addressed by women
leaders from across the globe.
They included the first woman Primate in the Anglican Communion,
the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States,
Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Women could offer a "witness to the otherness of God", she said,
as could gay bishops, or those who were young, or old, or from BME
"White, male, English-speaking bishops with degrees from Oxford
or Cambridge are only one sort," she said. "They cannot image the
fullness of God."
Women bishops would help people to "avoid the unconscious
assumption that only one kind of human being can have theological
insight. . . When leadership begins to represent the variety
of human existence, all the baptised people of God can begin to
imagine their own ministry, rather than deferring 'ministry' to
only one sort of human being. And all God's people begin to realise
that they have gifts of leadership in the context of their daily
Dr Schori also argued: "Women's awareness and experience of
marginalisation can motivate compassionate responses within the
body of Christ." Women were closer in society to the "oppressed and
the unfree", she said, and had a willingness to "build bridges
across boundaries in order to confront the principalities and
She reported that the "real Communion-wide work on gender
violence did not get wide support an action beyond women's
groups until a staff member of the ACO - a woman - brought the
issue to the Primates' Meeting".
The Rector of St James's, the Revd Lucy Winkett, who was among
the first women priests ordained in the UK in the 1990s, warned:
"It is not a given that it [women bishops] will make any difference
Women bishops had authority that "will be held differently, but
it will not necessarily be held more nicely". She did not subscribe
to the belief that women bishops would "civilise the Church": she
hoped that women's "ungovernable energy will be poured out into our
public future as much as it has been in our domestic history".
Hilary Cotton, who chairs the campaigning group WATCH,
reiterated the group's slogan "Just getting started". The current
women bishops "get it", she said, regarding "the continuing sexism
of the Church of England". They would make a difference only if
more women in the Church felt more confident about challenging the
"kindly, benign paternalism" that existed.
The panel was asked whether women would have to "morph into men"
in order to thrive in the Church. The Vicar of St Mary and St
Martin, Blyth, and Scrooby with Ranskill, the Revd Kate Bottley,
confessed that she had been "very upset" when called to ordination,
because she had presumed she would have to cut her hair and abandon
high heels and make-up: "It has been a real battle to carry on
expressing myself." She felt that other clergy, including women,
sometimes "look slightly down their nose at you, like you are not
playing the game properly".
Ms Winkett agreed. "The pressure is enormous to conform and to
do it like the men." There was a generational difference, she
acknowledged: women priests "who have all the battle scars . . .
get really cross with the younger women who seem not to know that
there was a fight".
Although it was "difficult to allow women to be different", she
wanted to say to those bearing scars: "This is what we did it
Mrs Bottley spoke of the cultural challenges facing the Church,
describing how her hairdresser, a young student, had not heard of
the Church of England, and did not know what a bishop was.
She suggested that the gender of a bishop would not make that
much difference to many people, but was important to priests like
her. It was "a big fat Yes, a positive affirmation that you are
good enough". It would also give the Church "a bit more