England moves closer to women bishops

For those of you who don’t follow these things, the Church of England has been debating whether to ordain women as bishops for years. They’ve had women priests since the early 90s. Most Anglicans (and even most members of General Synod) seem to be either in favor of women bishops or at least tolerant of them, but there have been lingering questions around how to provide episcopal oversight to those parishes who do not agree with women bishops. This has been the sticky wicket (I hope I’ve used that English phrase correctly!) for the last few years.

Sadly, the English church has been the victim of the current leading American export: extremism. Hundreds of clergy wrote to say that they’d leave if they didn’t get their way. Hundreds of others wrote to say that they wouldn’t agree with women bishops if women weren’t treated precisely the same as men. In yesterday’s Eucharist, Archbishop Rowan Williams reminded everyone that there’s another way to live, another reality that is much deeper than human division.

In the middle of all our discussions at synod, where would Jesus be? Jesus is going to be with those who feel the waterlessness of their position: with those traditionalists feeling the Church is slipping away from them, the landmarks have shifted, and they don’t know how what they’ve taught and heard and what they’ve been taught can be life-giving for tomorrow. He’ll be with those in a very different part of the landscape who feel that things are closing in, that their position is under threat, that their liberties are being taken away by those anxious and eager to enforce new ideologies in the name of Christ. He would be with those who feel that their liberty of questioning is under threat, he would be with the gay clergy, who wonder what their future is in a Church so anxious and tormented about this issue.

Well, exactly. It’s about Jesus, not us. So then, in today’s debate (stopped for dinner as I post this), the General Synod has been trying to craft a solution to this vexing issue. Ruth Gledhill has been live-blogging the Synod, and there’s fresh coverage over at Thinking Anglicans. Stand Firm must have had a lava problem in their secret volcano lair, because they’re unusually not providing live coverage of this key event.

It seems that the C of E will have women bishops, without “extra pure, male only” flying bishops enshrined in law, based on the debates and the amendments that have been rejected. The provision for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops will be handled in a “code of practice” it appears. This code would stop short of creating a separate structure, and it would allow women diocesan bishops to have unfettered authority in their own dioceses, just like men. Seems about right. Bishop Alan seems to like this solution, and you should read what he had to say on this subject.

From what I can see, this will be a day to celebrate — though the votes are not over yet. The church will receive the gifts of women’s ministry at all levels, and that is a good thing. Creating separate structures would have been costly — and it would have made women into second-class bishops. So, finally, the church will be able to get on with things.

Some will panic now — worried about Rome’s disapproval. Let’s be clear on this point: Rome has said, since the late 19th century that Anglican holy orders are “absolutely null and utterly void.” There’s no worrying about staying on someone’s good side when you just don’t count. And let’s not play the game of pleasing the lowest common denominator anyway. As Rowan reminds us, our standard is Jesus Christ. We may not agree on what that means, but our question should always be “What would Jesus do?” or “Where would Jesus be?” not “What about people who find this difficult?” or “What will the Pope say?”

Women bishops in England? Thanks be to God!

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5 Responses

  1. John-Julian, OJN says:

    I’m delighted that things have come this far, but two things:

    1. Formal action will still have to be taken by Synod next February (including that odd undefined thing, “a code of practice”) and then all must be approved by parliament.

    2. The 1300 who wrote the letter did not say they would leave the C of E, only that approval of women for the episcopacy would give them pause and they would have to consider leaving. (About 450 leftover women priests – probably a smaller number will leave over this one).

    All that said, it was a fine step forward. It does seem that the C of E eventually catches up with TEC about 30 years late — which beats Rome: they tend to take about 400 years to catch up with us.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Predicting the numbers of clergy and laity who will decamp is a mug’s game. Supporters of women’s ordination will lowball the number, opponents will highball it.

    Only 450ish clergy left last time. There was an explicit provision to protect their consciences, which would presumably have held the number down. There was also a financial compensation package, which presumably had the opposite effect.

    Under the present proposal, there would be no “sufficient” provision for conscience, which will presumably push the numbers up, while there is no finfancial compensation on offer, which would presumably pressure

  3. Malcolm says:

    Predicting the numbers of clergy and laity who will decamp is a mug’s game. Supporters of women’s ordination will lowball the number, opponents will highball it.

    Only 450ish clergy left last time. There was an explicit provision to protect their consciences, which would presumably have held the number down. There was also a financial compensation package, which presumably had the opposite effect.

    Under the present proposal, there would be no “sufficient” provision for conscience, which will presumably push the numbers up, while there is no finfancial compensation on offer, which would presumably put pressure to the contrary.

    (Feel free to delete the previous post which went up before completion.)

  4. Mark Parker says:

    This scripture lists qualities that are necessary in a Bishop, it says ‘A Bishop then must be…’

    1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
    2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
    3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
    4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
    5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

  5. Ann says:

    Easy to say there is a place deeper than division – but when on the losing side – not as easy to practice.

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