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Does The Road Wind Uphill All The Way?

Yes, to the very end, concludes Christina Rossetti.


Possibly the best summary of the present pickle of the Church of England over the raising of women to the episcopate is by Janet Henderson,  Archdeacon of Richmond, in A Nettle the Church of England Can’t Seem to Grasp. And there is coverage (of course) on Thinking Anglicans and WATCH (Women and the Church). Bishop Alan Wilson has blogged sympathetically. All of these make useful background briefing, if you haven’t already read them, for WATCH are now asking for our (immediate) help:

 The National WATCH Committee is meeting on 31st May to work through various choices and agree our strategy for the next six weeks: please help us to make wise and informed decisions.Please send responses by email to or by post to the WATCH Office, St John’s Church, London SE1 8TY by Wednesday 30th May if possible

Well, what is to be done?

As someone said recently, it is tempting to go for the Samson, rather than the Samuel, solution. I think most of us feel a terrible urge to ‘do’ an Alice in Wonderland and fling the whole pack of cards in the air.  Cries of pain and outrage, such as Miranda Threlfall-Holmes expressed  in her blog  (reported by The Huffington Post,) are not just understandable, they may do some good in letting it be known how strong are the sentiments behind them.


But, having given vent to our anguish, it is perhaps time to wrap a wet towel around our collective heads, pour a gin or cup of coffee according to taste, and recap our aims, strategy and tactics.


A Pyrrhic Victory?

If we refuse to support the amended measure, there will be no women bishops in the Church of England in the immediate future. Although the issue could be tabled for further discussion at future General Synods, the ‘winning side’ would have no reason to concede defeat and it might take many years to achieve our goal. We would remain in the right, but our victory would be Pyrrhic.


A Hard and Bitter Peace?

The best that is on offer, and it is a bitter pill to swallow, is the provision, newly enshrined in law, that although women may be consecrated bishops, a special order of male bishops, who have been neither ordained nor consecrated by a woman, will be set up in parallel to minister to those who find the idea of a woman bishop unacceptable.


Solomon’s Judgement

A wry joke, this, that we have no similar judgement by a woman in our collective unconscious.

It is an extremely difficult decision, but I recommend that we allow the measure to pass, complete with its two amendments. My reasons are as follows:


  • Although it is not all that we wanted, it is part of what we wanted.
  • We will be in a stronger position to advance our case once we have women in the House of Bishops.
  • Opposition will soften, as it did with feelings against women priests, once people see women bishops in action and get used to the idea.
  • The Church is a seething cauldron at present – the Covenant and the background to it have not disappeared, unfortunately. There are many other demands for change. In that seething cauldron, something may emerge: again, we would be better placed to take advantage of this if we had some women bishops installed.


Finally, I commend to you Dave Walker’s cartoon, which has encouraged me through many a long night of the soul. In the words of Martin Luther King:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land





The photographic illustration is by Rechitan via Shutterstock. The cartoon is by Dave Walker and was downloaded from the website under licence. Thank-you Dave: a copy of this sits on my desktop as my daily motivation and encourager!

19 comments on this post:

Alan said...

Oh my. The “solution” of having some clergy _not_ ordained by women to serve those congregants who disapprove of women priests strikes me as, well, insane. Laura, my prayers will be with you as you continue to face this crisis in your church.

Lay Anglicana said...

‘Insane’ just about sums it up! Thanks for your sympathy, though.

29 May 2012 15:48
29 May 2012 15:41
Wayne Hurlbert said...

It’s a tragic story of entrenched forces working against positive change that would benefit the Church, the Bishops, the laity, and society as a whole. The half step you are recommending is better than no steps forward at all. When the reactionaries see the positive change and fresh ideas that women Bishops will provide, then the complete change will be made at that time. In the end, women Bishops will be an established and fully accepted part of the Church. That day is not very far away either.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you so much for commenting, Wayne. ‘Entrenched forces’ indeed. The good news is that we do have several bishops on our side, and if we get a good Archbishop of Canterbury (poor man) I do indeed see some hope. In fact the turmoil may be necessary. Just painful.

29 May 2012 16:19
29 May 2012 15:52
J. Ruth Kelly said...

It’s sad that there must be half steps or resistance to this vital change at all. The Church needs women in leadership. Badly. Keep on…

Lay Anglicana said...

There is quite a strong contingent that want to reject the whole measure outright on the grounds that the ‘taint’ clause (not of course called that) is impossibly humiliating. It is not really in my nature to counsel caution, but in this case…

29 May 2012 16:21
29 May 2012 15:59
Wendy Dackson said...

That day is not far away, indeed. But it gets pushed farther away if people would rather accept defeat rather than incremental victory. Once there are a few women bishops, it will become more accepted. It did here in the US.

Lay Anglicana said...

Wendy, will you send your views to WATCH? I think there is quite a strong movement in favour of ‘doing a strop’…

29 May 2012 16:22
29 May 2012 16:06
Stephen Heard said...

You are wise in your conclusion. From a historical point of view, things have moved extremely quickly over the last 20 years, and it is tempting to be impatient. Fulfilment will come soon enough. Suffice it to say that, in my estimation, our notional grandchildren will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Lay Anglicana said...

First of all thank you for commenting.

I have been mulling overnight on what you say. I quite agree that our notional grandchildren will wonder what the fuss was about.

Perhaps, though, it is like the suffragettes. Which woman now remembers them, every time she votes in a parliamentary election? Probably very few. Some died in order to achieve votes for women. But the tide was going in that direction anyway. If the suffragettes had never existed, women would have got the vote anyway, 10 or 20 years later.
The Church can – and does – take the long view. Obviously it is harder for those directly involved. Hard for the Revd Jean Mayland, one of the first women priests and now I think 75 years old. Will she live to see the appointment of women bishops? I pray that she does.

30 May 2012 09:13
29 May 2012 16:42
UKViewer said...

I’m wondering what it’s all about now. I have to agree that a half measure passed is better than none.

My thoughts about what will happen when Women are consecrated as Bishops are not so sure or certain. How will they work with those Bishops in the HoB, who are against them, will grace tolerance and mutual respect be in evidence, or will conflict and awkwardness be the rule?

My thoughts on earlier blog posts regarding this were about murky, behind the scenes deals being done to amend the measure. I know that it goes through only slightly amended, but the key amendment, giving those who object to the Ministry of Women a perpetual monopoly on who has oversight of their parish, just seems so outrageous that it took my breath away when I finally understood it’s implications.

The dynamics of an all male group of bishops working together seems set to enshrine gender discrimination in certain parts of the church, not a good view for the future.

I would love to think that once Women join the HoB, that further development via the Code of Practice could eventually nullify this development, but I suspect that Women will always be in a minority in the HoB, despite their numbers among active clergy. I pray that I’m proven wrong. But I wouldn’t lay a bet on the opposite outcome.

Lay Anglicana said...

Would women be in a perpetual minority in the House of Bishops? Almost certainly (look at the numbers of women in other public leadership roles – even if the Church were ever to lead the way on this, it is very unlikely that we would achieve parity).

But that is not to say it is not worth doing. My main worry now is the change codified in canon law and its effect on the Church of England’s view of ‘sacramental authority in the church’ (see my reply to Nancy Wallace). If the ‘mother church’ of Anglicanism changes its view on sacramental authority, what will be the effect on the rest of the Anglican Communion. Will we put ourselves beyond the pale of communion will our fellow Anglicans? I don’t of course know the answer – are there any theologians out there?!

30 May 2012 09:21
29 May 2012 16:55
Nick Morgan said...

I can’t help thinking that an appropriate female role model to look to here might be St. Hild. She oversaw a deep division in the church between the Celtic and Roman traditions. The divisions seemed similarly insurmountable at the time, I am sure. The main issues were the date of Easter and the style of monastic haircut (tonsure). To us this sounds a daft reason for schism, just as surely as future generations will view our current palaver.

What can we learn from Hild? Well, in her case, she argued on the side of the Celtic traditions and lost. Her kinsman St. Wilfrid successfully argued that the Roman traditions came from St. Peter whilst the Celtic traditions came via St. Columba who was said to have followed the tradition of St. John the Evangelist. Wilfrid successfully debunked the claim that St. John calculated the date of easter the Celtic way and, in all other matters, by referring to St. Peter, as holder of the keys of heaven, as the authority followed by Rome, was seen to trump all other traditions which could only be traced as far as Columba.
So, Hild found she was on the losing side of the argument. Whereas her bishop, Colman, resigned the See of Lindisfarne for Iona, Hild accepted defeat graciously and accepted the Roman protocols for her double monastery.

Hild remained abbess of Whitby. She used the power she had achieved well. The monastery became the foremost centre of learning in the world. She continued to oppose Wilfrid very effectively, in later life helping ensure that his diocese was split up (and his political power therefore curtailed) by sending an ambassador to the Pope in support of the Archbishop’s decision. She advised the great and the good. She nurtured the talents of Caedmon, the first recognised English poet who adapted folk-songs and traditional tales for evangelistic use. Whitby Abbey became a centre of evangelism, using Caedmon’s words and songs to spread the Gospel throughout the north and sending out many very significant bishops.

Hild accepted what seemed to her an imperfect reality. She had strongly supported the Celtic traditions yet went along with an outcome she did not want, but used the power which came with adopting the new status quo to achieve a lot.

A cautionary note: her monastery was destroyed by vikings 187 years after her death.

Depends which longer view you choose to take, perhaps?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Nick very much for this.
I hope that any readers of this might visit your blog post on the subject at Unshaun Sheep’s page:
“I agree with your final comment: I do not believe I am alone in being pulled in several directions at once in this matter.” And also your suggestion that the Holy Spirit is at work – it would be hard to classify the Church of England as moribund on this evidence, I feel!

30 May 2012 09:39
29 May 2012 18:13
Charley Farns-Barns said...

Like others, I was dismayed at this amendment and appalled at the concept of “taint” but on reflection of the fears that a defeat of the measure would be a Pyrrhic victory for us I now prefer another metaphor.

How about the Trojan Horse? Once inside the golden city I’m sure our valiant warriors will emerge and open wide the gates for the invaders.

So let’s make the best of it
– and CHARGE! Regards, Charley F-B.

PS Will I be able to insist on a female bishop to avoid not so much “taint” but rather stupidity?

Lay Anglicana said...

Brilliant! I have passed both suggestions on to the WATCH national committee for consideration – they meet tomorrow.

30 May 2012 09:23
30 May 2012 06:44
Nancy Wallace said...

I am (reluctantly) coming to the same conclusion as you Lay Anglicana. I don’t want to see further delay in the possibility of consecrating women in the episcopate, but the compromise for those of us who support this is huge and I am sure will create problems for the future, which hopefully can be unravelled later.

Lay Anglicana said...

I think it boils down to pragmatism versus principle. Although I don’t want to be thought unprincipled (which I expect I shall!) for me the importance of the goal is over-arching.

I also wonder what the ‘poor bloody infantry’ in 42 out of 44 diocesan synods will make of it. We ask for their support. They give us overwhelming support. We throw it back in their faces. Will they understand why it was felt that the principle was so strong that it outweighed the adoption of women bishops?

Unfortunately, I think there is no right answer. One of my correspondents makes the point:

Waiting with integrity is better than compromising justice just to get purple shirts in women’s sizes. This opens a very dangerous door to our understanding of the sacramental nature of authority in the church. I think there are much wider consequences than anyone imagines than simply women in the episcopacy

She is not wrong.


Charley Farns-Barns said...

OK Laura,then tell me what’s right about it.
To be a bit rude, it seems to me that your correspondent is shouting “Boo!” to scare us. That there’s always unintended consequences is always true but as I see it, justice is always a compromise and is never perfect; you do what you can to catch the villians but you can’t catch them all, and those you do catch often get away.

But in this case we can get at least a few women bishops in, and that done we can build on them. The idea of “taint” will be seen for the absurdity it is, and the quality and skill of the women bishops for what that is too.
I trust them, Charley F-B.

31 May 2012 07:07
30 May 2012 09:05
30 May 2012 08:11

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