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Posts Tagged "Women Bishops":

Look What They’ve Done To Our Lord…

In the beginning, twelve apostles followed Christ and changed the world. There was neither Jew nor Greek, there was neither slave nor free, there was no male and female, for they were all one in Christ Jesus. They followed the ten commandments, bearing in mind ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’


That is Christianity in a nutshell. The early Christians did not need a Covenant with each other to tell them what Christianity was – they had it from the source. Inevitably, over the centuries that followed, human institutions sprang up, each with a slightly different understanding of the small print, and some so fixated on the minutiae of ecclesial procedure that there was a danger of losing sight of the wood for the sake of the trees.


A tiny illustration – Gaudete  (and Laetare) Sundays. I spent the first 62 years of my Christian life in complete ignorance of these, in company with most of my fellow mid-candle members of the Church of England, including all of my local congregation. Then, out of the blue, a pink candle appeared in our Advent wreath, with no explanation. The flower ladies were outraged and regarded this as an unforgiveable innovation by the vicar- ‘everyone’ knows church candles are white (well, cream). He then took great delight in explaining his liturgical justification, making the congregation feel both ignorant and rebellious. It was hard to escape the feeling that the delight was in the symbol, rather than in what it symbolised, and this reinforcement of clerical one-upmanship.

The simple church of the top illustration has been transmogrified into the ornate, coral-encrusted structure of the lower picture. Like Ariel’s song:

Full fathom five our Saviour lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
    Die-hards hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

But ( to get to my point!) we have an opportunity to begin the process of de-scaling, cleaning and polishing this edifice that is the Church of England. Before the end of this month, General Synod will have voted on whether to appoint women as bishops. This is a momentous decision and I pray that the vote will be in favour.

I am of course by no means the only one calling for us to follow the teachings of Galatians – on this occasion I am in the company of Bishop Stephen Cottrell on the specific point:

And the Archbishop of Canterbury has wisely seemed to ask, if he cannot have the Covenant,  for raising women to the espiscopate to be the great achievement of his tenure. Bishop John Inge and Bishop Pete Broadbent have also recorded youtube videos, as have Mark Russell and Rebecca Swinson of the Archbishops’ Council.


The photographs are by Stephan Kerkhofs, via Shutterstock

The Revd Janet Appleby Saves the Day (DV)

Time for a little rapture, I think. Calm, cool and collected Anglican rapture, of course.

Oh, in case you haven’t heard this morning’s news, the Reverend Janet Appleby, a member of General Synod, has come up with a means of extricating the Church from the pit it had dug itself into over women bishops. The Church of England issued a press release yesterday:

The House of Bishops has today by an overwhelming majority settled the text of the legislation to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England. The House of Bishops made clear its desire for the draft legislation to be passed into law when it goes forward for final approval to the Church of England’s General Synod in November.

Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke as follows (you can hear him here)

“…the Bishops have discussed the measure again and are now bringing forward a new text that expresses both our conviction of the need to see this legislation passed and our desire to honour the conscience and contribution of those in the Church of England whose reservations remain.

“It is particularly significant and welcome that the new text emerged not from the House of Bishops itself but rather from a serving woman priest. [my bolding]…

“I am convinced that the time has come for the Church of England to be blessed by the ministry of women as bishops and it is my deep hope that the legislation will pass in November.”

The press release continues:

‘At its meeting in July the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to reconsider a provision in the legislation – Clause 5(1)(c) of the draft measure. The new amendment submitted by the Rev. Janet Appleby during the consultation process received overwhelming support from the House of Bishops in both their discussions and in the final vote. In discussion the Bishops welcomed the simplicity of the new text, its emphasis on respect and the process of dialogue with parishes that it will promote.

The final text proposed by the House of Bishops is:

Substitute for the words in clause 5(1)(c):” the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3″ ‘


This is extraordinary on at least two counts. First, and of course very important, it should enable us to have ‘women bishops’. This is the first step, of course, in having simply ‘bishops’, but that will have to develop from the first crucial step.

But secondly, looking at it from a lay perspective, the House of Bishops has just handed an area of decision-making over to PCCs, in other words, the laity. In the long run, if I have understood correctly what has happened (and maybe I haven’t?), the hierarchy of the Church of England has agreed to be influenced by what Lord Baden-Powell called ‘the boy’, inverting the normal decision-making pyramid.

Has a chink of light broken through?

So who is the Reverend Janet Appleby? Well, she is delightful. She seemed a little surprised when I telephoned her this morning but agreed that it was indeed her in the above photograph (the one with the dog collar, in case you were wondering!).

Here is Crockford’s:

* APPLEBY, Janet Elizabeth. b 58. Bris Univ BSc80 MSc81 Newc Poly BA90. Cranmer Hall Dur 01. d 03 p 04. C Newc H Cross 03-06; TV Willington from 06; Dioc Ecum Officer from 12. 

Her degrees are in Mathematics and English, two equal loves, apart from her theological degree from Cranmer Hall, Durham. Now in her early fifties, she became a deacon in 2003 and was priested in 2004, only eight years ago.

She is a member of General Synod. After the meeting in July, GS members were  asked for input for the meeting of the House of Bishops which has just been held: seven different options were suggested. Here I think she was helped by her logical brain (the mathematics), her experience as Diocesan Ecumenical Officer, and the fact that she had not been priested for long enough to fail to see the wood for the trees. For whatever reason, she could see that the key was involving the PCCs concerned, on a case by case basis.

Janet, if I may, we hereby award you one of our ‘Lay Anglicana Lollipops from the Laity’ , and our eternal thanks.

Now, General Synod, the House of Bishops have played their part, please please agree the Appleby Amendment in November!

As Bugsy Malone said, You give a little love, you get a little love and it all comes back to you: a vision of November General Synod:

The Priesthood and the Fatherhood and Motherhood of God

This stained glass depiction of ‘St Swithin’ or, as we call him in Winchester, ‘St Swithun’, is so androgynous (in the Pre-Raphaelite manner) as to be more believably female than male. ‘Her’ rather modest mitre is in becoming contrast to some of the rocket mitres seen on the heads of our more exuberant episcopal overseers, which look as if they might take off for the moon at any moment. (And yes, I do know ‘episcopal overseer’ is tautological – the joys of being one’s own editor!).

Can I make a plea to my fellow members of the Church of England to see our clergy as asexual beings.  I am not suggesting, of course, that our priests (including our bishops) should be asexual. As far as I am concerned, their sex lives can be whatever they wish so long as they do not do it in the street and frighten the horses.  It is not properly of any interest to me.

The clergy exist to channel God to their congregations, and to channel the prayers of their parishioners to God. They are there to teach us about the life and teachings of Christ. They are there to encourage us to read the bible. They are there to foster the body of Christ  in their communities.

If you start from first principles, not by reference to the history of the Church, there seems no good reason why these functions cannot be equally well fulfilled by men or women: to put it bluntly, whether one’s genitalia are external or internal is irrelevant to one’s ministry. I wrote previously about Aristophanes as the original ‘complementarian’. This word has unfortunately been co-opted by those who believe that the role of each sex in the Church is biblically ordained. I suggest instead that God would expect his followers to agree with Marx: ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs‘. Twenty years of ministry by women in our Church is all the QED anyone could need that the distribution of spiritual gifts is not dictated by gender.

I beseech you, Archbishops Council and General Synod, to remember the words of Dame Julian of Norwich, pray to the Almighty, take a deep breath and step out into the future:


I saw no difference between God and our substance, but saw it as if it were all God. And yet my understanding accepted the fact that our substance is in God; that is to say that God is God and our substance is a creature in God. For the Almighty Truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he made us and preserves us in himself; the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our mother, in whom we are enclosed; the lofty goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us…

And thus in our creation God Almighty is our natural father, and God all-wisdom is our natural mother, with the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit. These are all one God, one Lord. In the knitting and joining he is our real, true spouse and we are his loved wife and his fair maiden. ….

In our Father Almighty we have our preservation and our bliss, as far as our natural substance, which we have from our creation without beginning, is concerned. In the Second Person we have our preservation, in wit and wisdom, as far as our sensuality, our restoring and our saving are concerned. For he is our mother, brother and saviour. And in our good Lord the Holy Spirit we have our rewarding and our harvest for our living and our bitter labour, endlessly surpassing all that we desire in his marvellous courtesy from his lofty, plenteous grace.

All our life is in three modes. In the first is our being. In the second we have our increasing. And in the third we have our fulfilling.

The first is nature. The second is mercy. The third is grace.

….The Second, most precious, Person, who is our substantial mother has now become our sensual mother, for we are double by God’s making, that is to say, substantial and sensual. Our substance is the higher part that we have in our father, God Almighty. The Second Person of the Trinity is our mother in nature, in our substantial making. In him we are grounded and rooted, and he is our mother by mercy in our sensuality, by taking flesh.

Thus our mother, Christ, in whom our parts are kept unseparated, works in us in various ways. For in our mother, Christ, we profit and increase, and in mercy he reforms and restores us, and by virtue of his passion, death, and resurrection joins us to our substance. This is how our mother, Christ, works in mercy in all his beloved children who are submissive and obedient to him….

Our substance is whole in each person of the Trinity, which is one God. Our sensuality is only in the Second Person, Christ Jesus, in whom are the Father and the Holy Spirit. In him and by him we are powerfully taken out of hell, and out of the wretchedness on earth, and are gloriously brought up into heaven and blissfully joined to our substance, increased in richness and nobility by all the virtue of Christ and by the grace and working of the Holy Spirit.” (pages 187-189)

“[Christ] Our natural mother, our gracious mother, because he willed to become our mother in everything, took the ground for his work most humbly and most mildly in the maiden’s womb…. Our high God, the sovereign wisdom of all, arrayed himself in this low place and made himself entirely ready in our poor flesh in order to do the service and the office of motherhood himself in all things.

“To motherhood as properties belong natural love, wisdom and knowledge – and this is God. For though it is true that our bodily bringing forth is very little, low, and simple compared to our spiritual bringing forth, yet it is he who does the mothering in the creatures by whom it is done.

The natural loving mother, who recognises and knows the need of her child, takes care of it most tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will do. And continually, as the child grows in age and size, she changes what she does, but not her love. When the child has grown older, she allows it to be punished, breaking down vices to enable the child to receive virtues and grace.

This work, with all that is fair and good, our Lord does in those by whom it is done. Thus he is our mother in nature, by the working of grace in the lower part of love for the higher. And he wills that we know it, for he wills to have all our love fastened to him.

In this I saw that all the debts we owe, by God’s command, to fatherhood and motherhood by reason of God’s fatherhood and motherhood, are repaid in the true loving of God. This blessed love Christ works in us. And this was showed in everything, especially in the noble, plenteous words, where he says, ‘I am what you love.’ ”




The stained glass window depicting St Swithun was made available via Shutterstock under licence. Unfortunately, there are no details of where this window is (can any of our readers help?)

The statue of Dame Julian is by David Holgate and is at Norwich Cathedral. The extract from her writings is of course part of ‘Revelations of Divine Love’.

Finally, if you think this post has echoes, yes you are right. It complements Chris Fewings’ post of 15 July ‘Love Divine, All Loves Embracing‘; that is to say the topics are similar but different.

Time For A Little Introspection in the Church of England?

Some may object to the title of this post on the grounds that we seem to do nothing but gaze at our collective navels in the Church of England. But I think General Synod has just shown us that collective thinking about our future too often becomes simply a restatement of each lobby group’s point of view. Each statement becomes progressively louder, more clearly enunciated and more deeply felt, and positions become ever more entrenched.


I am an insider in the sense that I have been a member of the Church of England for 63 years and, through social media, engage with people involved in the Church from top to bottom of the candle. But I am really an outsider, as I sit on no synods and currently hold no position in the Church. I therefore lack detailed knowledge, but this very weakness is perhaps the strength that I can offer to those who take decisions on behalf of the Church as a whole: I ought to be in a position to see the wood, not just the trees.

The Anglican Communion that is the Church of England

When we say, as we frequently do, that the Church of England is a broad church,  we are considerably understating the case. It is more like a coalition. Because of its historical position as the established state Church of the whole nation, it has always attempted to represent the whole nation at prayer. But a visitor from outer space would find it very difficult to understand that worshippers at, say, Walshingham or St Mary’s, Bourne Street belong to the same denomination as, e.g., Holy Trinity, Brompton.


The Anglican Communion Covenant: Lessons and Parallels?

I listened to the live streaming of General Synod in York, and I have checked the agenda, but could find no mention of the fact that diocesan synods recently voted to reject the Covenant, despite, for the most part, strong episcopal pressure for its adoption. I hope that, behind closed doors if not in public, there has been a post-mortem on the reasons why this should be so, and whether there are any lessons to be drawn from it. ‘Peasant Revolts’ on this scale only come along every few hundred years, and their origins and causes are likely to be significant.

As a ‘draft’, may I suggest the following:

  • The Covenant arose from a desire to draw up a document which would strengthen the bonds of unity between the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It attempted to do so by imposing bonds of uniformity, a very different thing.
  • It ran into difficulties because of, e.g., widely differing cultural attitudes towards LGBT individuals. Whereas in Britain it is illegal to discriminate against them, in parts of Africa –notably Uganda– homosexuality is criminalised, with attempts to introduce the death penalty in certain cases. The respective Churches broadly reflect their countries’ social norms, although in theory  ‘practising’ LGBT individuals in the UK are not ordained. In the ‘old Commonwealth‘ countries, there is generally no bar to the ordination, or indeed consecration as bishops, of the LGBT community.
  • With hindsight, strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral might have avoided the whole problem, relying on its provision for Anglicanism to be  ‘locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples.’

The Measure on Women Bishops

  • Whereas consideration of  the proposed Measure, with the controversial addition of amendment 5.i (c), was postponed until November to allow for further episcopal consultation, and whereas Sir Tony Baldry, Church Estates Commissioner, declared that Parliament would not pass any Measure which discriminated against women purely on the basis of their sex, it is expedient for the Church to amend the Measure once more. (Apologies for the cod legalese, it is catching).
  • All attempts to square the circle by inducing those who are against the ordination of women as priests, let alone bishops, to sign up to a measure committing the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops are doomed to failure, no matter how much time is allowed to lapse, or indaba sessions are undergone, if the Measure is to apply to the Church as a whole. This is because of the physical laws of geometry and the universe. It is unreasonable to expect the Holy Spirit to change the laws of the universe to suit the Church of England.
  • Therefore, a means must be found to agree that the Church of England be ‘locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the‘ congregations, as in the Chicago-Lambeth formula.


A Suggested Way Forward

  •  All those who at present believe themselves to be members of the Church of England may continue to do so.
  • In view of the overwhelming support for the Measure on referral to diocesan synods, the Church of England will seek the approval of General Synod to proceed with the submission of the Measure to parliament for approval (as it stood when referred to the dioceses).
  • All members of the Church of England will be required to accept the authority and oversight of their diocesan bishops, whether male or female.
  • Those who are unable to accept the validity of ordination by a woman priest may choose to form their own congregations, in effect form a denomination within the denomination of the Church of England. In addition to ordination  by a Church of England diocesan bishop, they may seek further sacramental measures by a subsidiary bishop of their own choosing, such bishop also to have been consecrated within the main framework of the Church of England. These subsidiary bishops will have no geographical designation, but be available to all.
  • The Church of England will seek to re-vitalise its efforts at mission and evangelism, that is to look outwards rather than inwards.
Of course, the finer details would remain to be worked out!
But I hope that the idea might receive serious consideration. I draw a parallel with the distribution of the eucharist. Some (though I know not all) Roman Catholics are at liberty to take communion in the Church of England on the basis that, while not valid as communion, it promotes ecumenism. Similarly, I hope that Anglo-Catholics who do not accept the validity of women’s ministry would be prepared to take part on the grounds that it would not be harmful and would promote their membership of the Church as a whole. They could then follow up with additional sacramental ministry by the subsidiary bishop.

The Message from John’s Gospel

Whatever happens next will not have a successful outcome unless we remember:

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Disastrous Shortage of ‘Untainted’ Bishops: A Proposal

Let us suppose for a moment that the Measure on women bishops were to pass, as it stands, complete with amendment 5 (i) c, through Synod and Parliament. What would be the result?

Simon Cawdell, writing for Fulcrum, succinctly explains the scope:

Whilst (as my own Bishop has pointed out in a pastoral letter to his clergy) the amendment does not mention the theology of ‘taint’ (that is to say that ordinations by any bishop who has ordained women are in particular doubt [and those of the women certainly in especial doubt]) it does very clearly enable the view that parishes and priests holding this view, widely held by petitioning parishes under the Act of Synod 1993 may expect a bishop of this theological persuasion. Thus they must be allowed the ministration of a male bishop who has never ordained women.

Short List of Untainted Bishops

At Petertide, the Church of England ordained a large number of women priests. By my reckoning, the vast majority of bishops are now ‘tainted’ under this definition. I have arrived at this statement by checking in ‘The Church Times’ the bishops who ordained female priests (deacons don’t count, apparently). Assuming for the sake of this exercise that all Church of England bishops were untainted before Petertide, according to my calculations the following bishops (who include suffragans) remain untainted by virtue of their having ordained no women in June:

Burnley, Lancaster, Horsham, Lewes, DURHAM, Beverly, Stafford, Richborough, LONDON, Edmonton, MANCHESTER, Kingston and Ebbsfleet.

That is a total of 13. Some of these will not have ordained women priests simply because there were no female candidates for ordination, in other words there was no policy decision on their part (I am guessing that Durham, for example, would fall into this category). Anno Domini and the great Personnel Officer in the sky will further reduce this list if, as I imagine, fewer and fewer future candidates for ordination would, if they were bishops, refuse to ordain women.

It is extremely easy to become tainted, according to those who subscribe to this theory. If, as a male priest, you were ordained at the same time as a woman, you are tainted on the grounds that you are being ordained by a man who became tainted by virtue of  ordaining a woman.

It must therefore  be highly questionable whether amendment 5 (i) c* is actually workable.


 What Is To Be Done?

Logic would suggest there is only one answer. From the above list, we must seek bishops who are willing not just to fly, but to become anchorites. This is why I have chosen Mount Athos to illustrate this post. A suitable version must be found in England – I suggest the obvious place is the Tower of London.


To be sure that all possibilities of taint are reduced to the minimum, no female should be allowed within 200 yards of the premises. Bishops should be detained ‘at Her Majesty’s pleasure’, although they might be allowed visitors, so long as these can be guaranteed untainted unto the third generation. The Beefeaters, one hopes, would be willing to add feeding the episcopal anchorite to their list of duties.

If it is hoped to continue with an ‘untainted’  priesthood into the next 20 or 30 years, thought will need to be given to the training of candidate ordinands, which could perhaps be part of the duties of the anchorite. They might also need to be incarcerated, in order to maintain their purity.

Purity is all

For those to whom purity seems to be the over-riding Christian principle, it must be hoped that my suggestion might provide a way out of their difficulty. Although self-sacrifice will be needed, surely there is none who would refuse to do so for the sake of continuing this form of ecclesiology?


◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

*There is useful background briefing by the BBC on the Measure here.

*A Church of England press release about the amended Measure is here.

This amendment adds to the list of matters on which guidance will need to be given in the Code of Practice that the House of Bishops will be required to draw up and promulgate under the Measure. It will now need to include guidance on the selection by the diocesan bishop of the male bishops and priests who will minister in parishes whose parochial church council (PCC) has issued a Letter of Request under the Measure. That guidance will be directed at ensuring that the exercise of ministry by those bishops and priests will be consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women which prompted the issuing of the Letter of Request. Thus, the legislation now addresses the fact that for some parishes a male bishop or male priest is necessary but not sufficient.

The method of discerning ‘tainted’ and ‘untainted’ bishops is highly open to error, and I apologise to any bishops whom I may have inadvertently mis-filed. I would of course be happy to correct my text. I have removed the name of the Bishop of Bath and Wells from the ‘untainted’, since I am assured by one of his flock that he has cheerfully ordained numerous women, and must therefore be counted amongst the tainted. I have been shown a photograph of the Bishop of Wakefield ordaining women priests last year, and have therefore removed his name for the same reason. Another source has suggested we include the (suffragan) Bishop of Pontefract as one who does not ordain women priests.

The illustration is of the monastery of Simonos Petra on Mount Athos, Halkidiki via Shutterstock vlas2000

Perception and Reality: A Modern Parable about Women Bishops

How’s your French? I first realised that there was a difference between objective reality and our perception of it in the 1960s, when listening to a pop song by Antoine called ‘Madame Laure, Messenger de Dieu’. Here are the lyrics:

Madame Laure Messenger habitait une grande maison
Vide où elle gardait pour seuls compagnons
Deux poissons rouges fort jolis
Qu’elle nommait Claude et Jérémie

Madame Laure Messenger soignait fort bien ses poissons
Tous les jours, à cinq heures, elle changeait avec précaution
L’eau du grand bocal brillant
Claude et Jérémie pouvaient être heureux vraiment

Claude et Jérémie se disputaient parfois
L’un disant «Dieu existe», l’autre «Dieu n’existe pas»
Jérémie a eu le dernier mot
«Bien sûr Dieu existe ! Qui crois-tu qui change l’eau ?»

God exists. Or he does not exist and has never existed. Or he is dead. That is the objective reality.

All the rest is our perception and understanding as mere mortals. We are the goldfish.

We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.

Or it is fed and watered by the forces of nature with no divine supervision.


All religions are based on perception, which may or may not match objective reality. As Bishop Desmond Tutu famously said, ‘God is not a Christian’, but for Christians, Christianity is our map of the universe, how we perceive it. (Bear with me, I’m nearly there!) And for members of the Church of England, including its priests and bishops, the Church of England represents the model which we find most congenial as a framework for worshipping God.

When it is said that the Church of England represents the Conservative Party at prayer, this is taken as mocking criticism (and it was indeed probably intended that way). But it is the Conservative Party at prayer. And the Labour Party. And the Liberal Democrats. And even UKIP. It is the Church of the people of England.

Two things which should be quite distinct have got muddled, in my opinion. The collective faith of members of the Church of England in God is not negotiable. But the way in which the Almighty is worshipped is something else again. If our way of worshipping God does not reflect the way the people of England live, move and have their being it will die. It is showing signs of this already, and the refusal to appoint women bishops will only distance the Church of England from the realities of life of the people whom it exists to bring to God.

Women have taken their place among men as leaders of the nation: to state the obvious, we have just celebrated 60 years on the throne of our Queen, and we live in a post-Thatcher era which is now part of our history. Women are surgeons, professors, bankers, politicians and, yes, church leaders. They are not yet bishops, but an overwhelming majority of dioceses (42/44) voted in favour of the raising of women to the episcopate on the same terms as men.

I am sorry that there are those in the Church who feel that their ways of worshipping God are being ignored. But it is important that the Church continue to reflect the community as a whole: it is a physical impossibility to alter the geometry and square the circle.  There is no principle of any value at stake here, merely the force of ingrained habit.


Mrs Laure, messenger of God, lived in a large empty house with only two goldfish for company; she named them Claude and Jeremy.She looked after her goldfish very well – at five o’clock sharp each day she changed the water in their bowl. Claud and Jeremy really had good reason to be happy. But they argued sometimes, one saying ‘God exists’, the other ‘God does not exist’. Jeremy had the last word on the matter: “of course God exists! Who do you think changes our water?”

The Day May Yet Be Saved!

I have been uncommonly quiet, as the observant amongst you may have noticed. This is because, mindful of Clement Attlee’s  rebuke to Harold Laski, ‘A period of  silence on your part would be welcome‘, I have been holding my breath.

The Measure on women bishops, which I (with the vast majority of the Church of England) hope against hope might be passed in the form agreed at the last meeting of General Synod, i.e. before the two unhelpful amendments, is due to come before General Synod in York from 6-10 July.  The concerns expressed by Women And The Church are set out here. Today’s edition of the Church Times, has the following comment:

THE General Synod is in trouble. In ten days’ time, it is to consider giving final approval to the consecration of women bishops. In the normal run of things, this would be the stage for a general debate in which the participants return to first principles, examine whether the legislation does or does not fulfil their wishes, and vote accordingly. This debate looks increasingly unlikely to happen.

Women And The Church is now petitioning  the House of Bishops through as follows:

The House of Bishops [of the Church of England]: Withdraw Clause 5(1)c

Please, if you agree that the amendment which formalises the establishment of two classes of bishop in the Church of England should be withdrawn, Sign the petition.

To paraphrase the poet Drayton:

Now at the last gasp of women bishops‘ latest breath,
When, its pulse failing, the Measure speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by its bed of death,
And Principle is closing up his eyes,
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given it over,
From death to life thou might’st it yet recover.


As I write, the petition has reached 109 signatures. Will you please be the 110th signatory?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: the Establishment’s Secret Weapon?

This is the Morning Room of the Athenaeum Club, to whom I am indebted for the loan (from their website) of this photograph. As wikipedia puts it,

It is noted for its large library, and for a bas-relief frieze decorating the club house exterior. It was long regarded as a clergymen’s club and today includes Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, Peers of the Realm and senior bishops amongst its members.

A member of the Lay Anglicana forum and regular contributor to the blog, Charley Farns-Barns (possibly a nom de plume) had already suggested in the comments that the answer might be a Trojan Horse, to which I responded in my last post. Now I hand over the reins to him, as he explains to us his version of recent events:


 Part The First

It’d been a fine dinner but with the port, biscuits and cheese the bishops knew it hadn’t been a success.

“Well” said +Bath & Wells as he coughed and blew crumbs over his neighbours, “I think it’s time to call for Machiavelli”.

The Archbishop nodded and someone rose and went out. Sir Humphrey Appleby entered and slumped into a chair.

“I think you know our problem” said the Archbishop, “What is your advice?”

“Well, it’s very difficult. You’ve allowed women parish priests and they’re now bumping up against the glass ceiling and you’ve chosen the time of the Queen’s Jubilee which has demonstrated sixty years of benign and clever female rule. Not to mention the Thatcher Years of forthright and determined leadership. I don’t think it could be much worse.”

“So you mean to tell us that nothing can be done” declared +Bath & Wells.

“Ah, I’m sure if I meant that, I’d have found the form of words to say so” said Sir Humphrey smoothly. “Women bishops are inevitable of course, but I suspect you might be content if you never yourselves have to meet any.”

The bishops looked at one another and thought of what they had said about them in past. Sir Humphrey could see they’d got the point.

“No, what you need is a form of words that will incense the Sisterhood so much that they will strike down this measure themselves. You need to suggest they have some rottenness, something bad – no that’s too strong – some slight but fundamental unsoundness”.

“A taint?” someone said.

“Ah! That’s just the word!”

It had been a long time coming, thought Sir Humphrey, but they’d got there in the end. If they got it themselves they’d be pleased and feel a sort of ownership.
“Yes that will upset them nicely, enough to make them force the measure down. And it shouldn’t come back until after you’re all retired. It’s about the best you’ll get”.

Sir Humphrey pocketed the cheque and left amidst profuse thanks. He was always surprised and pleased how profitable retirement was.  As he made his way to Paddington for the country, he once again reflected that the essence of acceptable advice was to tease out what the customer had in his own mind and then just polish it up a bit.

Part The Second

Sir Humphrey Appleby strolled back home from St Dodo’s across the village green at Bishop’s Codpiece.   He was enjoying his retirement as a churchwarden, for the experience as Permanent Under Secretary had come in very useful in dealing with the arcane issues of the Church of England.   And then he saw the limousine parked in his drive.

He recognised it immediately, of course – clearly ++Rowan needed “Another Chat”.  He ushered Rowan in and waited for Mrs Blossom to put down the tea and cakes and leave the room.   With the formalities done, Rowan began to open up.  It was as Sir Humphrey thought; he noticed Rowan’s finger nails were chewed down to the quick.  As expected, the Sisterhood had risen to the bait, had bridled at the implication of “taint” and at first had declared that they wanted the amended motion on women bishops to be voted down.   But, while a section of them continued in this vein, the main body of women priests now began to see the advantage of at least some female bishops.  The idea had formed of a Trojan Horse, that once some female bishops had been created then others would inevitably follow, indeed, the floodgates would be opened and others rapidly follow.

Tired and weary, Rowan asked “What can I do?”

“Well” said Sir Humphrey, “not much.  After all, the idea of “taint” was a last desperate throw.  They’ve done the logical thing, they’ve seen that once there’s one female bishop she’ll show the sky doesn’t fall in and so others will follow and all resistance will fall away.   You’ve lost it, Rowan”.

Rowan chewed a nail and was silent.  Sir Humphrey sensed there was more and then saw a way to ease it out.   “Rowan, think of happier times.  Remember when you met the Pope?  All that pomp and ceremony?” Rowan stirred.  “Do you know, I think that any disinterested party, say a newly arrived Martian, would see those two, the tall bearded chap in a golden cloak and high mitre next to that small simple fellow in a linen habit and he would have thought you were the Pope and the little man the Protestant!”  He saw Rowan smile and knew he was close.   “And you’re a scholar too; I bet you speak better Latin and Greek than most of them in the Vatican”.

Rowan looked straight at him and said “You’ve guessed haven’t you?”

“Well it’s not been difficult” replied Sir Humphrey. “First there’s your early retirement and then I always thought that your Covenant was an attempt to ease the dear old CofE closer to Rome.   But these women bishops will make Rome run screaming.  Rome’s where your heart lies, isn’t it?  But you’ll leave a recent interval after retirement won’t you before you do a Newman and swim the Tiber?   Say six months?  And if you value your scalp I wouldn’t tell the Queen if I were you.”

Rowan sighed and got up to leave. “I have your confidence?” he asked.

“As always” replied Sir Humphrey, “and I’ll watch your progress with great interest”.

“Ah, that old Civil Service curse” said Rowan as got into the back of the limousine and was driven away.

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

Episcopal Ministry: the effect of the amendments on the Church of England as a whole

A woman parish priest has kindly allowed me to turn her comment into a ‘right to reply’ blog post. Her concerns, as you will see, are with the episcopate as a whole, not just the position of women in the Church, so I have chosen this mural of an Umbrian bishop to illustrate some thoughts about the overall effects that these two amendments would have:

I fear I disagree with your conclusion about this sorry mess. And this is not from a petulant impulse to “show the bishops and make them sorry” because we shall (nearly) all be sorry if we do not have women bishops some time after 2014. The Church will be the loser for so many gifts are not currently available to the bishops. Listen to experienced women clergy speaking and preaching.
But we need to take the views of people like Janet Henderson very seriously because she is a senior ordained woman who works as part of a diocesan senior staff and so knows what is possible in that context, and what passing this apparently innocuous amendment would do to the ministry of bishops from now on – not just women either. Some have argued that this is “just about women” – take care with this argument as it is then clear discrimination which Parliament has also said that it is very concerned about if it is in the measure (the law of the land) itself. But experience from 1993 has taught that what may have been granted through generosity for the sake of the unity of the church will be taken and used to set up ever more separate groupings within the church which share none of the characteristics of church: recognition of each other’s ministry and ordination, one bishop for one diocese and the eucharist.
It may be possible (and is) for a woman parish priest to have a fulfilled ministry in her parish and win over those who at first were concerned about a woman. It’s different on a national level where your ministry takes you into all the parishes of a diocese (and worth noting that, after a comment on another blog, there have been women archdeacons in the C of E for over 10 years now and the (female) Archdeacon of Canterbury deputises for the Archbishop when installing new diocesans in their cathedrals!!)

But there are two real issues: one is how we live with difference –the same sort of issue that was underneath all those covenant debates. Women wanted a single clause measure – one that just said women can be bishops – and then leave sorting out how to include those who found this hard or impossible to local solutions – which would include extended Episcopal oversight and everything that is in the legislation and probably more besides. This is the way of trust,. reconciliation and relationships which is at the heart of Christianity. It is exactly why a lot of people were so concerned with the 4th section of the covenant. It became clear in the debates 2 years ago that the C of E was not ready for this sort of trust ( sad, but realistic) and so WATCH and others accepted the legislation that has now been debated through the diocese – but key to this acceptance and compromise was that there would be nothing in the measure itself that implied that a woman was not a bishop on the same terms as men, nor the theology of taint. The amendment about requesting a bishop on grounds of theological conviction once more opens the door to this sort of discrimination being in the legislation and it matters because we know from experience that it will be used to undermine the ministry of women bishops (in other workplaces this would probably be called bullying) . That there would be no discrimination in the measure itself was also one of the criteria of General Synod when it asked for legislation to be prepared.

Which is the second issue – the way that over the last two year the House of Bishops has continually tried to get this sort of ambiguity into the primary legislation (ie the law of the Church and the land) undermining the processes of Synod and the votes of the dioceses. Two years ago Synod debated the legislation which was sent to the dioceses. The legislation had bee prepared by a revision committee which had spent more than their allotted time on it because it was so difficult, but finally produced legislation which the majority supported (not all, but then all views were represented on the Committee–and both sexes and laity as well as clergy) Any law which has not been subject to this sort of revision potentially contains unforeseen outcomes because it has not been subject to scrutiny. The assumption is that all possible amendments wil be scrutinised by this committee. But after this report was published, the 2 archbishops produced their notorious “Archbishops’ amendment” which failed in the House of Clergy (and was voted against by nearly all the women clergy). When the legislation went round the dioceses many dioceses debated a “following amendment” which requested something like the Archbishop’s amendment – 30 of the dioceses rejected this. General Synod again debated whether this should go back into the legislation in February – again, rejected, this time in all houses. And always for the same reason – that this would introduce discrimination into the Measure itself. So this time the House of Bishops used the loophole that allows some very minor amendments (not of substance) to be made to a measure after Final Drafting – the time when all amendments are finally debated – to bring back something that once again brings ambiguity over the validity of women’s of orders into the legislation itself.

Is it surprising that women do not trust the bishops to fully support any woman who might be made a bishop if she is treated in a discriminatory way by some of the parishes in her diocese – let alone her colleagues? And that women clergy are not willing to vote for a law with even a whiff of the theology of taint?

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