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 email@example.com 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.
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.
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 http://www.cartoonchurch.com/ under licence. Thank-you Dave: a copy of this sits on my desktop as my daily motivation and encourager!