C of E shows signs of sanity
The headline is meant to grab your attention. There have long been signs of sanity in the C of E, despite the decades-long debates over the role of women clergy, which border on pathological for the sheer scope of their procrastination and circumlocution. Suddenly (this term is relative, of course) things have changed. Ruth Gledhill reports that the Revision Committee, charged by General Synod with coming up with a workable plan for women bishops, has taken a new approach. She quotes an unreleased document:
This meant that after more than six months work we had rejected all the options which would have involved conferring some measure of jurisdiction on someone other than the diocesan bishop. The legislation that the Revision Committee sends back to the Synod will, therefore, be on the basis that any arrangements that are made for parishes with conscientious difficulties about women’s ordination will be by way of delegation from the diocesan bishops.(emphasis added)
If you haven’t been following this, you may miss the significance. There were various schemes proposed which would have prevented very conservative parishes from being tainted by girl cooties. One scheme would have organized all the macho parishes into non-geographic dioceses with suitably male bishops. Another scheme would have allowed parishes to be peculiars of a suitably conservative and definitely male diocese. This one’s different, and it looks final. One hopes.
Now conservatives will have to recognize their diocesan bishop, whether it’s a she or a he. Then, the idea is that the diocesan bishop and the parish could work out a suitable episcopal visitor so that confirmations and visits would be done by a pants-wearing bishop. However, matters such as discipline and appointments would presumably go through the diocesan bishop’s office.
This is exactly the way it should be. Everyone wins in this scenario. The catholic order of the church is maintained, in that there are no second-class bishops of limited authority. Women are able to exercise the full apostolic ministry of bishop. At the same time, there is room for grace-filled approaches for those parishes who prefer to receive episcopal ministry from a male bishop.
Conservative critics will object that this arrangement does not “protect” them. They are already in a church with women bishops, in that the Lambeth Conference and Primates Meeting have shown full acceptance of women bishops. If they cannot manage to be so close to girl cooties, then the Pope’s offer to convert en masse (I never get tired of that pun) might be appealing.
A few on the far left will say this is inadequate because the diocesan bishop should be able to visit every parish in her or his diocese. I agree that the diocesan should have authority, but that need not be paired with pastoral care. Take, for example, the parish I serve. There are two priests. If someone does not wish to confide in me, to have me officiate at their wedding, or for me to make pastoral visits, they can contact my colleague. And vice versa. My authority as rector is not undermined if someone prefers to deal with my colleague. In my diocese, there are a couple of parishes who have trouble receiving the ministry of my bishop, who is a woman. Her authority is not undermined when she invites an outside bishop in.
This not need a “code of practice” beyond good manners and Christian charity. If there are bishops (male or female) who behave badly, their behavior needs to come to light. If necessary, the metropolitan can step in and mediate. We do not want to live in a world in which good behavior must be legislated. Surely, in the church, we can practice good manners, Christian charity, and — perhaps most important — mutual trust.
I pray that General Synod and the Church of England will receive welcome the ministry of women bishops. They will add much to the life of the church and the proclamation of God’s realm.