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“A Very Significant Tipping Point”: The Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley

 

Okay, well, my thoughts are very much a work in progress and others have surely voiced them in their own way already, but for what it’s worth …

 

Essentially I think that this is a very significant tipping point. It was just so shocking to be in the public gallery and witness the result of the vote. The feeling of devastation was palpable. The message to women – lay and ordained, within and beyond the Church – is unequivocally negative and deeply undermining.

 

The claim that this was all about the provision not the principle rings pretty hollow to me. People had had 12 years, since the motion was first proposed, to say what they wanted about the provision – and everything had been said. Nothing new was voiced at Synod on that issue, absolutely nothing. The Legislative Drafting group had heard it all before via several hundred submissions from groups and individuals, and had bent over backwards, and backwards again, and backwards again, to find the best possible way forward for everyone. So to hear people in Synod promise that if the Measure was defeated they would get round a table and talk about finding a solution – as though the debate had only begun on Tuesday – then tell the media afterwards that there was ‘no provision’ for those who cannot accept women bishops, was just astounding.

 

At the end of the day the circle can’t be squared. Conservative evangelicals who believe that women cannot be in authority over men (and this is NOT what most conservative evangelicals believe, it’s the view of SOME people from that tradition) will never accept a Measure that allows a female diocesan bishop to delegate authority to an alternative bishop. For them the authority is still delegated, and delegated from a woman, so it’s not satisfactory. Anglo Catholics (again it’s only some Anglo Catholics) who do not believe it’s possible for women to be ordained at all are also asking to be kept more than one arm length’s away. Both positions require a ‘church within a church’ – and that’s just not Anglican and not the CofE. It doesn’t work that way. It never has.

 

Meanwhile this has exposed serious issues with our governance structures because 42 out of 44 dioceses voted for the Measure, but the General Synod voted against. 75% of laity on Diocesan Synods voted in favour, but in General Synod only 64%. That doesn’t stack up. Especially as the Measure had been amended between those votes to offer more provision for those who are against.

 

I don’t know what we do about any of this but I do know that women clergy are getting sympathetic handling in the media, and many, many messages of support from those to whom they minister, from people across the world, and from lay men and women want to say ‘not in my name’; that there’s a spirit of incredulity and shock, some very deep anger and hurt, but overall a renewed conviction that whatever a minority may think, we are called to serve God in the three-fold ministry of the Church and that until we are able to contribute as bishops the CofE is impoverished and less than whole – as some bishops have so eloquently said.

 

Finally I am astounded at the resilience and faith of so many I know who have simply got out of bed every morning since the vote and got on with the job that they do so well, serving communities up and down this nation with their usual spirit of generosity, wisdom, commitment and grace. And that will not stop, ever. And we are not going away, or leaving the Church we love to a minority who seem to care for only certain parts of it. In the spirit of Anglicanism and because we are called, we will stay.

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There has been much outpouring of reason and emotion since Tuesday on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. This was a comment of Rosemary’s on Facebook, which I felt at once should not be left to disappear under subsequent layers. She kindly agreed to let me put it here in the form of a guest blog post. Thank-you Rosemary.

The illustration is by Simone Conti via Shutterstock.

30 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...
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A powerful expression of feeling and it describes exactly the issues which face the church. For some, there will never be a situation where the ministry of women is recognised – so, my question to them must be, why are you here?

The ministry of women is valid, is recognised and accepted by the majority. Any expression of doubt is drowned out by the calls of sorrow and pain of the majority who are literally astonished that it should be any other way.

Phil Groom said...
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They are here, brother, because here is home: where else can they go? We cannot sweep them out, we dare not do so, they are not detritus, they are part of us, part of this festering wound in the side of our always crucified Lord otherwise known as the Church of England. Blood and water flow mingled down the spear-shaft of hatred and intolerance and together we must weep until the Hand of Love seals that wound with equity and grace.

24 November 2012 21:42
24 November 2012 20:35
Kathryn de Belle said...
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Agreed, agreed, agreed! Why are they still here? They are hurting us.

Phil Groom said...
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Hurting us they may be, but they are still part of the broken, bruised and bleeding body of Christ. Their pain must and always will be our pain and we must enfold them in love, invite them to dance widdershins around us if they must (as I do all the time in this twisted church!), and carry on.

Yes, they have betrayed their positions of trust; but we must show them the way of love. They live in fear; but perfect love drives out all fear.

Lord, have mercy.

Lay Anglicana said...
Phil Groom said...
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I do now: thank you, sister *does little jig*

24 November 2012 23:01
24 November 2012 21:56
24 November 2012 21:31
24 November 2012 20:47
Phil Groom said...
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we are not going away, or leaving the Church we love to a minority who seem to care for only certain parts of it

A wholehearted Amen to that!

Kathryn de Belle said...
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Isn’t everyone part of the body of Christ? Regardless of denomination? That can’t be altered. So I’m confused by that argument.

Phil Groom said...
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I think the clue is in Rosemary’s capitalisation of the word “Church” — she’s referring specifically to the Church of England; and the girls aren’t going away! Indeed, where would they go? As Sue Dowell, quoted in the Guardian, puts it rather more belligerently:

“If you won’t stay and fight, you’re not in the wrong church, you’re in the wrong bloody religion. Whatever Christianity offers, it is not a place of safety, where you remain unchallenged.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/23/female-bishops-feminist-christians-defect

Joyce said...
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Kathryn,yes,yes,we are all part of the Body of Christ. You are right. There are many different’clubs’as I once heard Juan Carlos Ortiz call them, of Christians,or denominations as we tend to call them,all organised by human beings.All with committees of one kind or another that run them. Even in the days of the apostles the Church at Antioch would have been very different from the Church at Jerusalem.We can still read how Paul and his pupils addressed the sort of issues that were brought up in the new Christian Body as it spread. The congregations were concerned about differing earthly practices such as what food to eat and how to arrange money matters. They were nevertheless The Church albeit in different places with different earthly matters impinging on their lives.They were still the one Body. As are we today.
In England the only protestant denomination that can claim priestly ordination in unbroken succession from Jesus Himself by the laying-on-of-hands is the Church of England. Many believers of all levels of churchmanship set a lot of store by sacraments and who performs them. We retain them mainly because some pre-date Jesus’ lifetime on earth,are detailed in the Old Testament and were followed by Jesus when he was corporally on Earth. The reality is that there just isn’t anywhere else but the Church of England for those protestants to whom such things matter.
Because among them/us us,there remains a stranded ‘minority’ who believes in certain beliefs and practices that the Church of England club committee held to until less than a generation ago, and for all any of us know may go back to,we have to save room.It’s not British to be unfair,telling them they are baddies and causing hurt because they cling to what they have a right to believe is right.After all,it’s not as if they’ve come up with something new they’re imposing on us. We are the ones doing that to them. They are conforming to decisions made centuries ago by spiritual ancestors whose other decisions we still go along with.We who are seeing scripture differently in the light of changing times shone by a living God are the newcomers and it is wrong to shove out the existing residents – members of our own body when all’s said and done – because they want to stay in their own home.

25 November 2012 14:32
Rosemary Lain-Priestley said...
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Yes, I meant the Church of England!

26 November 2012 22:05
24 November 2012 23:44
24 November 2012 23:27
Chris Bainbridge said...
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The “conservative evangelicals” would like us to think they are the original truth. But the references to female deacons and a female apostle says that at least initially women were seen as equal. Then read this blog http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=6755 which is fascinating in giving a historical view of the last century. Perhaps women’s ordination is not such a new thing after all.

26 November 2012 19:25
24 November 2012 21:25
RosailndR said...
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Some one on another page and post made a very good distinction between those who dissent from women’s ordination (ie they can’t accept it/find it hard to accept) and those who deny it. The authority of priesthood and episcopate, in an episcopal church is essential to the way the church is able to hold dissent. But when we try to carve out bits of the church which are no-go areas then we re actually creating another denomination because it is for those who deny that ohers are truly ordained. Just as a person cannot in the end believe two totally contradictory things to be true, neither can an institution. WE can continue to fudge but only with trust and mutual respect – there was very little of that in evidence amongst those who voted against the measure on Tuesday (please don’t tell me it was both parties – those opposed continually accused the bishops of being untrustworthy but without evidence. Yes, broken, hurting – but healing come s in many ways. God and the church are , thankfully, bigger than us.

Lay Anglicana said...
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Thank-you for commenting, Rosalind. What struck me very forcibly listening to the debate as disembodied voices, as it were, is how unlike the proceedings of a Church they sounded in many cases. Over and over again, people were saying that they did not think the Code of Practice was strong enough [to protect us from the wickedness of you lot, by implication]. As ++Rowan said, we have to trust each other, or there is no Church. Once you have to start legislating to prevent people from ‘getting away with things’, there is no end to it.

IMHO, it’s not just because we are trying to bring about God’s kingdom on earth, it would apply if we were the BBC or Sainsbury’s. Can you imagine them having to draft office rules to protect one department against another?

In the end, now that we have been through the pain of the last week, I hope it will be possible to enact a measure which simply says ‘Women shall be admitted to the episcopate’.

Joyce said...
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I’ve never been on the board of anything as big as Saisbury’s but from what I’ve heard,big firms and public corporations do discuss how to protect existing members from internal changes and from external take-overs.They put packages in place for those who are told,’If you don’t like the new broom,sweep off,’ and who then accordingly depart.
I think there’d be much sadness if the CoE lost members that way but I agree it could happen.It remains to be seen whether when women are admitted to the episcopate in practice anybody really moves away and creates a new denomination. Not impossible: a new denomination by any other name has been formed in the USA. It’s leading to land disputes in court and all sorts. However, a triggering event such as the actual enthronement of a woman might be years away and the zeitgeist could be totally changed by then. I can imagine many of those contemplating schism waiting to see if an event truly occurs. If at the time the measure to admit women to the episcopate is passed all the best candidates for the vacant sees for the following twenty years happen to be men,for instance,it could well fade away as an issue.

Phil Groom said...
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Seems to me that what the naysayers have rejected isn’t so much the measure for women bishops – that’s going to happen anyway – as the measure for their own protection … in other words, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Very sad 🙁

Rosemary Lain-Priestley said...
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I think you’re right, Phil. I don’t believe that the provision for those who disagree could have been any more generous than it was. Which is why all the promises to ‘get round a table tomorrow and find a better solution’ sounded so out of touch with reality. I think there was a real opportunity for people who radically disagreed to go forward on the basis of a Measure that was a compromise for those on both sides of the argument. It was a stretch for everyone, but I do believe it could have been made to work. And it was rejected outright.

26 November 2012 22:02
26 November 2012 19:06
25 November 2012 17:27
25 November 2012 16:34
25 November 2012 15:43
Chris Bainbridge said...
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We can love them and we do despite their intolerance and bigotry. What we must stop doing is saying that both views are valid. they are not. Either women can be ordained or they cannot. The Judaisers were upholding their interpretation of scripture and Peter was pulled in and deceived as the church is at the moment. We need to say with Paul. This is the truth and you are wrong. We both love The Lord but you are in error. We will not make provision for you except that you can stay in your little holy huddle. I don’t think Paul suggested a Jewish presbyter would be established in every church he set up to cater for them.

Chris Fewings said...
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A very good point, but there are must be something to learn from the ‘de-Judaising’ of Christianity (I don’t know what; I need your help). Of Paul’s Jew/Greek, slave/free, man/woman unities, this was the only one he followed through on in practical terms (perhaps the others were just too counter-cultural). But it didn’t work out well.

We’re too used to following the line that the first century had something called Judaism and something called Christianity and they drifted apart. I suspect scholars know much more about this period now and there may be probably a different academic consensus, but it hasn’t filtered through.

Judaism as we know it today was something that evolved gradually after the destruction of the Temple. If I remember rightly the Ebionites were ‘Judaising Christians’ discernible as a body for centuries. The first and second centuries must have had all sorts of JudaeoGraecoChristianities, but history is written by the victors. Judaism was already very influenced by Greek culture, with many centres outside Palestine. The Prophets were highly ambivalent about temple ritual. It just doesn’t fit with a new-covenant-succeeds-old-covenant model. As for gentle-jesus-meek-and-mild takes over from angry YHWH, don’t get me started.

And yet we had nearly two millennia of often murderous Christian anti-semitism, and people thought it was justified by the New Testament.

So my question is, are there any lessons to learn from that as we work on “nor is there male and female”?

26 November 2012 10:24
25 November 2012 21:30
Chris Bainbridge said...
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I think we have to decide what is true. Either women can be ordained or they cannot. It is something you can legitimately have two views on. Sure you can like or dislike candles on the communion table but this is almost foundational. It is in my opinion as important as whether Gentiles should be circumcised (men only) or not. The church has been too careful to not upset these people and we need to decide once and for ever what the truth is. Paul still loved the Judaisers, but he did not let them establish Jewish presbyters in every church he founded. In fact he told them to go castrate themselves.

25 November 2012 21:38
RosalindR said...
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In answer to Joyce – well an answer of sorts – there was the sort of package that was put together when it was agreed to ordain women priests. Parishes could sign up to Resolutions A and/or B which allowed them to say they did not want a woman to administer sacraments or to be the incumbent. There was also a compensation package for those clergy who, in the end, decided that the C of E had changed too much for them and who resigned. This compensation was payable up to 10 years after the measure became law..and quite a lot was paid out (some of those who took compensation even returned to the C of E)though much less than the doom merchants had predicted. The Act of Synod and Resolution C was introduced to appease Parliament who was getting a lot of pressure from “anti’s” and to prevent any diocese from becoming a “no-go” area. The “promises” etc that are being claimed come from speeches made at the time of Act of Synod, but often taking phrases rather than whole speeches into account. So one could argue that when the legislation to enable women to become bishops began to be prepared, 10 years had passed and there could be a reasonable assumption that all those in the C of E now accepted the ordained ministry of women (and the likely consecration of women as bishops) even if they did not totally like it. Sadly, people are not logical…..

Joyce said...
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Thanks, RosalindR. I understand it the way you put it. Those details were over my head at the time.
Ten years might have seemed like enough time but if,illogically,ordinands opposed to woman priests have been admitted to training every year since then the situation will last a lot longer.

Rosemary Lain-Priestley said...
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Arguably, what was on offer in the now-failed legislation by way of provision for dissenting parishes, was actually better than the provision they have had for the past 20 years. Under the draft legislation they could not only have asked for an alternative bishop, they could have had one who was in sympathy with their theological views about the ordination of women. Whereas currently the flying bishops provided are all of one tradition – ie Anglo-Catholic.

Joyce Hackney said...
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“an alternative bishop ……. in sympathy with their theological views about the ordination of women.”

What Rosemary has said there has just sunk in with me.
All these years I’ve imagined these bishops would come from among the the ones in post at the time the first women were priested but that,I now realise, was so long ago the majority of them must surely have retired. So where do the alternative ones come from now ? Have they been deliberately chosen to serve congregations and priests who adhere to the old theology? Somebody must have been picking bishops who are out of step with where the CofE is going.

Lay Anglicana said...
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Joyce, you need look no further than Martin Warner, who was enthroned as Bishop of Chichester two days ago. He will not ordain women as priests, but he has apparently said he is willing for women to be ordained in his diocese as a special act of, what, clemency?

27 November 2012 16:29
Phil Groom said...
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Indeed so, Joyce – amidst a certain amount of controversy: when the original ‘flying bishops’ flew the nest to Rome, ++Rowan appointed replacements: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/05/archbishop-canterbury-flying-bishops

27 November 2012 20:03
27 November 2012 14:55
26 November 2012 21:56
26 November 2012 13:42
25 November 2012 23:53
Mike Stephenson said...
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Well said. Thank you from the other side of the pond.

26 November 2012 00:15
Julia Williams said...
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I’m not an Anglican, having been brought up as a Catholic, but I was stunned last week to see the minority overcoming the majority in this way. To outsiders it makes the Church look out of touch & is baffling. Having grown up in a religious family, I can see that applying rules that work in the real world to what is happening here isn’t quite so straightforward as some commentators would believe, but it does seem like a retrograde step. If the Church of England has accepted women priests (which, incidentally, is more then my church has done), then the logical conclusion surely is that at least one among them might end up good enough to be a bishop (and I am being ironic here, I know it will probably be many of them).

I hope that someone is bold enough to tear up the rule book and start again, and that those who are as bigoted as the man I heard on Jeremy Vine the other day, claiming that women are incapable of the spiritual calibre required for bishoping, can look to their hearts and wonder if the Jesus who let a prostitute wash his feet really believes that.

26 November 2012 13:40
John Gilbert said...
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Please see the link of the “Reform Organisation” They are tea party right wing radicals who should now be fought hard by the kinder conservative liberals in the church. They have been ignored too long as they have quietly worked to block progress by packing the synod.

http://reform.org.uk/resources/media-downloads/src/article/5/title/men-women-and-the-trinitarian-life-transcript

26 November 2012 13:53
David Warnes said...
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I think that ++ Rowan is right – trust and the lack of it are at the heart of what has gone wrong. The majority have gone the extra mile (or two!) to try to safeguard and respect the minority, and the minority have responded with an unwillingness to trust the majority. Is it time for the minority to reflect on what their inability to trust the majority means for their continued membership of the Church of England? It is a very sad question to have to ask, but I think it needs asking.

26 November 2012 18:00

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