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Posts Tagged "Women in the Church":

The Two Integrities: Andrew Phair


These notes, or reflections, come with a massive health warning. I am not a member of Synod; I don’t follow this argument closely in the press and I am quite sure I have got my wires crossed on many issues. But the nature of this web site speaks of securing the views of lay people from the pews of Anglican churches. Well, that sums me up. A very ordinary person sitting in a pew, mystified by what I recently saw at the altar; and the subsequent processes I then went through to make sense of it and to achieve some sort of peace within myself. I feel I can now cope with the behaviour of the traditionalists such that it does not rankle so much and disturb my prayerful approach to the Sacraments.

The Two Integrities

In 1992 an accord was made concerning the ordination of women that those traditionalists who could not accept the decision could remain in the Anglican Church,  would still be valued and would have their own Bishops.

Like many, I applauded the decision to ordain women and could not even conceive of anyone objecting to the change. How naive I was! After that, women became a quite normal presence at the altar. It was one of those moments that sort of passes, an important watershed moment, but nevertheless a passing one. I did not notice the silent, quiet unrest among the traditionalists. I never noticed their refusal to accept consecrated bread and wine from a woman Celebrant. But, when I did notice it (only a few weeks ago) I was incensed. All the usual objections were made (to my wife): how dare they; society has moved on; Jesus welcomed women as much as men; their behaviour is an example of all that is wrong with religion (but not with believing); what about equality between the sexes and so on. I railed against the issue; raised it at a PCC meeting; tweeted on the subject (and got back some helpful, reassuring responses); searched the web and quietly fumed.

With nothing to lose, I tackled one of the said traditional priests and he patiently walked me through the issues and the arguments as he saw it. It was a Damascene moment for me. It certainly reminded me of the merits of listening to all sides of an argument before fulminating in my armchair. Whilst acknowledging his position, I also have to firmly state I am still wholly of a mind that women priests bring many benefits to ministry and I welcome them as Bishops (in other words as equal to men in every regard) within the Anglican church.

But my kindly traditionalist priest-friend helped me to see the importance of being obedient to God’s truth, wherever that might take one. He spoke of it not being about majority votes in Synod or elsewhere but about searching for truth and integrity. In respect to ‘voting’ he argued this cannot apply to all aspects of faith: would I vote for a fascist party even if the majority of people were doing so but which I knew to be wrong? In responding to the inner voice (the Holy Spirit?) we may well be prompted to take an opposing position to the majority. It is clear that the Holy Spirit has guided peoples’ faith journeys down many different expressions from Quakers, to Methodists, to Baptists, to evangelical house churches and so on.  None of us can dogmatically say their church is exclusively the right way. I was clearly demonstrating appalling inflexibility of mind and personal arrogance.

If promises were made in 1992 and since then about protecting and honouring the position of the traditionalist, then why are they now being broken or dismantled? Why are the traditionalists being discriminated against? Are they being squeezed out? I hope not. The Anglican Church is, if nothing else, an amalgam of masses of different forms of expression and none of us has the right to shoehorn everyone into one model, however attractive that sometimes might feel.  I would still want to argue my corner that there is nothing flawed with women priests presiding at the Eucharist; there is nothing lesser about the elements I receive which have been consecrated by a woman and -most importantly- I welcome the ministry they bring.

But my earlier seething has subsided and it served as a reminder of the need to hear all sides of an argument before getting on my high horse. It is clear that outside the UK the Anglican Church may well be more in tune with the traditional approaches, in particular in the African church. What right have I to impose my one-sided beliefs on those who choose to adopt a quite contrary position? The worldwide Church has changed dramatically over 2000 years but the traditionalists argue the male priesthood has been around since the time of Christ. All these issues made me stop and think a little more than a mere knee-jerk response that characterized my behaviour at first.  I would like to think this example has reminded me of the need to show greater tolerance than hitherto.

Will the liberals and evangelicals similarly show greater accommodation to the needs of the traditionalists?


Andrew phairI am becoming increasingly brave at pestering people who express interesting views on twitter to write for Lay Anglicana, and I must thank Andrew Phair for having good-humouredly (and promptly!) succumbed to my blandishments. Andrew sums himself for his twitter profile – @Andrew_Phair – as “Interests in healthcare, politics, literature and justice. Professed Christian often poor exponent. England” (Editor)

The illustration was chosen by me, partly because of the androgynous appearance of the priest.

 Note by editor on ‘The Two Integrities

As a reminder for anyone who has come late to the debate of what ‘the two integrities’ means,  the then Archdeacon of Richmond, the Ven Janet Henderson, summed it up in 2012 – no longer available on her blog, it survives on Kiwianglo’s website:

…For 18 years the Church of England has been trying out an approach that says, in effect, ‘both groups are right’. A lot of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other group would eventually become less sustainable. How else are decisions made and people able to move forward? You pray, you argue the rationale, you try things out, you put it to the vote. In the Church of England, we seem now to be saying that however small the number of people who want to be protected from women priests becomes, we will continue to order the life of the church for their benefit and at the expense of all who want to see women in leadership.

Well, I can see that to pass legislation that is completely unacceptable to those who do not want women priests and bishops is a very hard decision to take (and not, at this point, one that is open to Synod) but let’s look at the cost of continuing with this ‘two integrities’ approach

It seriously endangers the coherence of episcopacy in the Church of England. The bishops will be trying to move in two directions at once over a good number of issues to do with gender and the ordering of the church.
It will cause arguments in parishes where there is a divergence of view about women’s ministry, particularly as the ‘supply’ (to use the bishops’ word) of clergy gets smaller.
It makes for a national church that treats women as second class, something parts of the church have to be protected from. How proud of that can we be?
It means that language about ‘taint’ and ‘the unsuitability of women having authority’ will continue to be a norm of church life. (As Desmond Tutu so famously pointed out, what you say about people in fact shapes the possibilities of your behaviour towards them.)
It endorses the notion of different churches within the Church of England needing different types of theological leadership – will other grounds for being able to petition for a different bishop begin to emerge? This leads to chaos!

“Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy & the Search for Fabulous Heels”: Review -Wendy Dackson

Where God hides holiness2

This is the debut book by the co-authors of the blog ‘Dirty, Sexy Ministry ’—and fabulous heels really do not feature at all. If you are looking for fashion advice or insights for ministers of religion, you’re better off with Beauty Tips for Ministers , where the author attempts a combination of theological insight with snarky, appearance-based judgmentalism worthy of Ugly Betty.

Laurie Brock and Mary Koppel are two (US) southern women ordained to the priesthood of the universal church under the worship, doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church (USA). In Where God Hides Holiness, each woman tells the story of her own heartbreak, occasioned by human relationships in all their complexity, but more tellingly, how the Church they serve was in some ways the worst heartbreaker of all.

‘We are beautiful messes, we two women. On a good day.’ These are the first words of the book’s introduction. Each woman, in turn, tells how she became a ‘beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) mess’ as she first attempted the corporate-ladder climbing of a career path in the Episcopal Church. Trying to be ‘perfect’ priests, especially as each was the sole woman on the staff of a church with multiple priests, and coping with being a modern woman (relationships, divorce, miscarriage, attempts at adoption, both failed and successful), each author has written approximately half the book and told her story of heartbreak in the service of the church. They both do this colloquially, eloquently, poignantly, and often shockingly. They tell of being diminished as women by having to play the role of ‘sassy girl priest’ even when it felt inauthentic to their truest selves, enduring sexual innuendoes from male priests while needing to maintain the faҫade of being ‘friends’ with their harrassers, having their competence questioned for no apparent reason, and (in an incident I found personally upsetting) being slapped by the rector of the parish. This is the story of how each of these women managed to keep their love of God and to feel safe in the presence of Jesus, even when the church that is supposed to be the Body of Christ was failing and abusing them. Moreover, it is the story of how they both found joy in their ministries when the odds were stacked against them.

Where God Hides Holiness is not a perfect book. The women claim to be best friends (and their blog would confirm that claim), but Mary figures far more prominently in Laurie’s narrative than is true of the reverse. I personally would have found more satisfaction if I had heard of the advice and support Laurie had given Mary during her divorce and the adoption of the child that Mary so desperately wanted, as well as the path to finding a new call. Laurie’s narrative includes far more of the friendship, and this gives an unbalanced feel. The book might have benefited from an afterword or a concluding chapter co-authored by the women; this omission leaves the reader with the feeling that the book stops, rather than finishes.

But the honesty, courage, and hope evidenced in the writing are positive attributes that far outweigh any criticisms. Although the book is by and about two female priests, it speaks to anyone whose heart has been broken by the church, especially anyone (lay or ordained) who has attempted to give the best of their talents and energies to the church and had them rejected, ridiculed or abused. It is a starting point of encouragement for people to find their own voices and name their own situations, which may be very different from those of Laurie Brock and Mary Koppel. That alone makes it worth reading.

Wendy Dackson

 By Laurie M. Brock and Mary E. Koppel. New York: Morehouse, 2012. 185 pp. $19.00 (paperback)

‘Like The Wideness Of The Sea’ by Maggi Dawn

I looked forward to reading this book as I knew that the author of ‘The Accidental Pilgrim‘ would have written more than a moaning diatribe against the treatment of women in the Church of England. And indeed it is so –   Maggi Dawn’s prose is a sheer delight for anyone with an ear for language, and I can well understand why liturgy and new liturgical forms are a major part of her ministry. She draws you in with the (unconscious?*) Celtic spirituality of her first paragraph:

The beach is like a liminal space between daily life and the mystery of the deep; the ebb and flow of the tide measureing time in a powerful, dignified way. Like the repeating pattern of the Daily Offices, it seems the same and yet is never exactly the same as the day before; although it is changing constantly, those changes are almost imperceptible to the human eye…Here, then, I find a picture of God that is at once constant yet not static, dependably predictable while my own life unfolds year by year. Summer or winter, the water’s edge is a cathedral in the open spaces, a place…where I can think clearly and catch the whispers of God’s voice.

The book is divided into a brief history of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and the recent attempts to consecrate women bishops; some thoughts on the spirituality of waiting (“I wanted to explore the idea that we are mistakenly urging each other to wait for God while the possibility hangs in the air that God is waiting for us“); and lastly, an account of her own unfolding vocation.

Woven throughout the book are the threads of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Faber’s hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy‘ (see below), with metaphorical insights into the life of the Church which lift this book way above mere political polemic:

Waiting for a moment when the Church will move forward with one mind is, like the Mariner’s ship, an idea removed from reality; the truth is that as long as we wait for complete unity on one issue, we will remain immobilised and parched on the silent sea. We need, rather, to allow ourselves to look for some signs of life, even if they initially seem threatening, to lead us out of paralysis.

A dream deferred and the ‘process of reception
In a curious incidence of synchronicity, Maggi Dawn suggests the Church draw inspiration from the wisdom of Gamaliel to: move forward…[by] allowing for a provisional decision to be moved and acted upon (p.18).  Meanwhile on 8 February the Church of England announced that eight senior women clergy would be allowed observer status in the House of Bishops. This sounds very much like an attempt to emulate Gamaliel. So either Maggi or her publishers had a quiet word with the powers that be at Church House or the Church is on occasion capable of swift action when it sees the need. Either way, we must hope that this step leads to a concrete outcome.

Her personal story
For reasons of space, I won’t explore here (which the book does) the call to ministry. Instead, we must look at some of the pain that was inflicted on her by the institutional church. There are numerous examples, starting with the leaflet pushed under her  door in the first week of theological college: ‘A woman’s place is not at the altar but in the kitchen. Put on an apron, get back to where you belong’. This was 1993. She gives many examples of similar difficulties. You might be forgiven for thinking she must be exaggerating, but sadly I have only to point you to the 207 comments of the (favourable) review of this book on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog to show that nastiness of that kind is alive and well, twenty years later.

Reader, I wept. Much of what she said resonated only too clearly with me, although I did not even seek ordained ministry. I wondered why she used the word ‘disenable’, which my dictionary says is ‘very rare’, rather than ‘disabled.’ But she is right. The Church first of all enabled women’s ministry and then in some quarters has set about disabling those whom it previously enabled.  I hope and pray that the chink of light offered by the admittance of “the eight” may grow and illumine the hearts of us all.

Meanwhile, ‘Like the Wideness of the Sea’ also offers us hope and remains a delight to read, you could not wish for a more stimulating companion on the voyage.

* I think it perfectly likely that this echo is entirely conscious and deliberate, but I shall never know. Her book on pilgrimage is full of such teasing invitations to take diversionary paths and the reader is unable to decide whether the author is nudging us or not…

“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.


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.

Love Divine, All Loves Embracing

This is a guest post by Chris Fewings, who says he “is a not-very-faithful Anglican, glad of the welcome offered by the Church of England to drifters“. He writes at He prefaces his post with the following:

“I was delighted to be offered to contribute to Lay Anglicana and so clarify my own thoughts on two current debates. I offer this reflection in the hope of learning more through dialogue.


Some argue that disputes about same-sex relationships and women bishops are distractions from the central message of Christianity. I’m not so sure. What does the church have to offer? At its best, an invitation to humankind to explore together the witness of the one who stretched wide his arms for us on the cross. Jesus was counter-cultural in defying religious authority, undermining rigid interpretations of scripture, including women and foreigners and outcasts, and inviting us to search our hearts rather than our rule books.

In the sixties, an unmarried mother, or indeed a black person, would have been enough to have many Anglicans shuffling uneasily in the pews. Far from being counter-cultural, religious beliefs often reflect the prejudices of their time. Even Luther became rabidly anti-Semitic. Even some Quakers once owned slaves. Large organisations with an ageing leadership are often slow to respond to changes in the conscience of a nation, but why is the church particularly slow?

Because it can appeal to a higher authority, variously invoked as God, the Bible, Tradition, and in our case, the worldwide Anglican Communion. However, many scholars have brought learning, humility and reason to bear in painstakingly teasing out historical accidents from the great tradition of love incarnate, which is the best of the church in all times and all places.

So let’s imagine a little of what love might mean to us now as we seek a Christian response to a changing culture, new understandings of human nature, new legal frameworks, and the challenge of sharing a global village with sincere Christians who reject gay relationships and women’s ordination. Christians in the first century, the fourth century, the sixteenth century pondered, debated, and evolved: so will we.

First, let’s stop de-sexing the love of God. We might start with gender. Beyond the talk of Jesus’ all-male apostles (they were also all Jewish) there is the fact that Jesus was male and unmarried, and a hint that God is usually, conventionally, or mainly male. In the fourteenth century an Englishwoman of quite exceptional insight wrote that as truly as God is our father, so just as truly he is our mother. (She even wrote of Jesus as mother.) A subtle undercurrent of the motherliness of God is common to the Abrahamic faiths. But most Christians keep this insight peripheral. God can be mother occasionally perhaps, but “just as truly” is psychologically unsettling. Exploring this dimension of God is a growth point for faith.

And let’s add sexuality and passion back into the love of God. A friend wrote a book with the working title, Is God Sexy? The publisher couldn’t pre-sell the title to Christian bookshops, so it was changed. They had found the ‘Christian’ answer to the question before a page of the book was read. We’re told the Song of Songs is an allegory of the love of God. So let’s go there. Let’s read it and get stuck in, and let God seduce us.

Second, let’s refine our understanding of love as welcome. Oppressed people get damaged by power, but we’re selective about which kinds of oppressed or previously oppressed groups we welcome into church, and on what terms. Some kinds of oppression are particularly damaging because they try to preclude solidarity by isolating the victims. Those of us who now recognise that committed gay relationships were once made furtive and extremely difficult by legal and social norms need to open wide our arms, not only to individuals, but to gay couples holding hands, celebrating their love, if not in same-sex marriages then in public blessings which flaunt this divine gift of commitment to each other, this fulfilment of created sexual excitement.

Third, let’s explore the effect of oppression on the oppressor. Oppression uses power to block love, which seeks to flow. Love’s risky. It usually entails loss and pain. I block the love in me for safety, but find myself drying out, because the economy of love and loss engenders new life. Withdrawing from this economy, unacknowledged loss and pain become fossilised in me – and may turn to hate.

And lastly, let’s face the painful possibility of greater distance between churches. Facing the possibility doesn’t mean seeking it. Our starting point should be that the churches don’t own God. She’s a loose cannon as well as a lawgiver. She gives religious leaders the slip at the top of cliffs. She’s found more outside the church than in it. If your partner said to you, ‘I want to stay with you forever, so you must never let your Jewish friends in my house again’, you might want to re-think the relationship from the ground up. You would start with discussion. You might go to a counsellor. You would question your own values and priorities. But in the end you might be forced to choose.

And in that moment you would need love more than ever, the hard sort. You might be tempted to fury or hate or contempt, or you might want to exercise your power over the other, to force them into line, or push them out. But maybe in the end, for the sake of the children, or for the sake of the rest of your life, you would get on your knees and cry to Love itself for compassion to break through, like a blind man in a crowd who is sure that there’s someone out there who can transform him.

This is no time for entrenched positions. It’s a time to step out of the boat onto the waves, fixing our eyes on love, daring to learn from each other.



The illustration is a 12th century Oranta Eastern Orthodox icon (with METER THEOU “Mother of God”) monograms from the Ukraine. Via wikimedia.


Women Bishops: Just Cut the Gordian Knot!

This is beginning to feel like the most drawn-out decision in history. Will the Church of England finally allow women to become bishops on an equal footing with men? You tell me – after yesterday’s press release, no one has been able to decide what it really means in practice. Nancy Wallace has blogged about it, and recommends Unshaun Sheep’s (very creditable attempt) at translation into plain English.

So far, the inference which I draw (possibly mistakenly of course) is that the obfuscation is deliberate. There is an interesting paper on the use of ambiguity in peace treaties, which perhaps the cogitating bishops are aware of. And there is the image of the duckrabbit, which can be seen either as a rabbit, or as a duck, but not both simultaneously. So is the Church’s new position that of a duck or a rabbit? You decide. But bear in mind that your neighbour may decide it means the opposite, and will have every bit as much justification for his or her point of view as you do yours.

It becomes more important than ever to choose an Archbishop of Canterbury who will give a steer as to how this whole muddle will be interpreted in practice. If the Church has decided (as it seems to have done) that cutting the Gordian knot is likely to ruffle too many feathers, then the raising of women to the episcopate will have to be managed by sleight of hand and fudge. Of course, some delight in these arts, and it is undeniable that the Church has had plenty of practice over the years.

We (ie ‘all right-thinking people’!) desperately need the next Archbishop of Canterbury to be in whole-hearted favour of women bishops. The website of Women And The Church (WATCH)  preserves the anonymity of the bishops who voted against by listing only the numbers of bishops in each diocese and the way they voted, so we cannot simply use their site to eliminate the bishops who voted against. One of those who did, was the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. However, if the Daily Mail is to be believed, he has removed himself from consideration for the post.

Th website ‘Oddschecker’ has a table of tables, with an average of all the bookmakers’ current odds. According to this, and leaving out +London, the top 10 as of today are:

Christopher Cocksworth (Coventry, open evangelical according to wikipedia)

Graham James (Norwich)

John Sentamu (Archbishop of York)

Nick Baines (Bradford)

Tim Stevens (Leicester)

John Inge (Worcester)

Justin Welby (Durham)

John Packer (Ripon and Leeds)

Stephen Croft (Sheffield, open evangelical according to wikipedia)

Professor N T Wright (open evangelical according to wikipedia)


I am afraid I do not know whether any of these bishops were among the few who voted against the elevation of women to the episcopate but suggest that, considering that 42 out of 44 diocesan synods were in favour, it would be very unfortunate if someone against so doing were to become our next Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, a check against the tables on the Modern Church website suggests that all the named bishops voted in favour of the Covenant. (I sincerely hope that this was out of loyalty to the system and Rowan Williams, rather than any deeply held conviction). Also, from a check of the WATCH tables it seems that the same bishops all voted in favour of women bishops (although I am not sure about the position in York, where the episcopal vote was 3/2)


Illustration:Medieval wall paintings  in Csaroda, Hungary.Attila JANDI /
Postscript: The Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, has now blogged on the intentions behind the amendments on women bishops here:

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