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Posts Tagged "Female bishops":

The C of E: Are All Her Ways Of Gentleness?

And another thing…

The archbishops and bishops of the Church of England are holy men. They have to be holy in order to make the grade. Their eyes have to be fixed on ‘another country, [whose] ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace‘. This makes them qualified to run the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not, unfortunately, make them necessarily fit to run the very human institution of the Church of England. The reason that all those jokes about the bishop and the actress are funny is because of the unworldliness of the archetypal bishop.

Here is the statement of an apparently very holy, but very unworldly bishop. In his diocesan letter for June, the Bishop of Ely writes:

I was party to the decision of the House of Bishops to make two amendments to the draft legislation to enable women to be ordained as bishops in the Church of God. I wholly supported the clarification about the derivation of episcopal authority from ordination. I am sure that the intention of the other amendment was to provide more secure clarification of the terms on which a male bishop would be chosen by a diocesan bishop to serve parishes asking for such extended care. This may now make it possible for some more conservative members of the General Synod to vote for the legislation if it advances that far.

I fully appreciate, however, that there is a difference between intention and effect. The draft legislation was already a compromise and enshrined further discrimination against women. The amendment has created great hurt among many [although it has given hope to others].

Any army officer, politician, teacher or manager would throw up their hands in horror at this naïvety. If you hope to ‘manage’ measures through General Synod and eventually Parliament, it simply will not do to say that you did not take the likely effects of your action into account. If I have not been offensive enough already, let me put it even more simply: those amending the measure, drafted with exquisite care to enable as many as possible to sign up to it, without properly considering whether their intervention was likely to be helpful, must be stupid, wicked or intent or destroying the measure. One bishop may be wicked, but I cannot believe that they could have taken a collectively wicked decision. So the unanswered question is whether they are stupid (unworldly, if you prefer the more polite term) or bent on destroying the measure. Every member of the Church of England will have to decide the answer to this for him- or herself.

In the face of this ‘unworldliness’, a measure of worldly wisdom would seem to be the only chance of escape from perdition. Let us look back to classical times for our inspiration. What we need is Ulysses, a master of strategy, and his Trojan Horse, defined neatly in Wikipedia as  “any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space.” It is interesting to me that Tiepolo must have had the present situation in mind when he painted my illustration: the men are all pushing the horse into Troy for all they are worth, pulled by the few women bishops that have already been appointed. Every school boy and girl knows what happens next – under cover of dark, swarms of women bishops emerge from the belly of the beast to ensconce themselves in the citadel.

What worries me is that women already in leadership positions in the Church are showing signs, not just of holiness, but also of unworldliness. Principled, noble, high-minded, yes. Prepared to sully their hands and stoop to low cunning to win the day? Possibly not.

“Say not the struggle naught availeth, the labour and the wounds are vain, 
The enemy faints not, nor faileth, and as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars; it may be, in yon smoke conceal’d, 
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers, and, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making, comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only, when daylight comes, comes in the light; 
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly! But westward, look, the land is bright!”
‘The Procession of the Trojan Horse’  (1773) by Giovanni Tiepolo (1727-1804) via Wikimedia under CCL

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!

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