Question. What has over 800 legs, 400 brains (some of them covered by the most impressive eyebrows), several purple shirts and yet still can’t come to an agreed mind on the introduction of women bishops. Answer (if you still hadn’t worked it out) – The General Synod of the Church of England.
Since July’s stormy session, a drafting group has gone away (minus Ft Jonathan Baker who felt unable to continue as part of a committee implementing women bishops, given his conservative stand) and produced not just some legislation to consider but also a code of practice to look after those who simply couldn’t accept the ministry of a woman bishop (or even in most cases a woman priest). The problem with the code of practice for traditionalists is not that it doesn’t provide some good cover for those who dissent from the majority line of Synod. Indeed, the extension of cover for dissent to individual clergy rather than just churches (at the moment parish councils – vestries for those in the US) have to pass one of three specific resolutions in order to avoid having to consider female candidates for incumbency, or even to place themselves under a “flying bishop”. No, the issue with the code of practice is that it misses one word in front of it – “binding”.
Without those simple seven letters the Forward in Faith and Conservative Evangelical camps can’t be guaranteed anything anywhere. It just takes one slightly snarky bishop to not want to implement the code of practice and the assurances in paper become worthless and as good as a pile of shredded remains. This remains then the sticking point – what provision can be put in place (beyond a fast train to the Vatican) for traditionalists who simply cannot operate under female episcopacy? For those like Inclusive Church and WATCH the opposite perspective on the legislation is the aim of the morning – to move towards a single-clause measure which simply introduces women bishops and provides absolutely no cover for traditionalists whatsoever. The battle-lines are drawn (again).
The debate opened with a speech by Nigel McCulloch. Bishop of Manchester and chair of the drafting group. He reported that Synod had now arrived at “A new stage” – the question as to whether the church wanted to talk about women bishops and whether it wanted to have legislation put forward have been settled. The discussion was now about what form the legislation will take.
Issues of jurisdiction though were problematic – McCulloch raised the issue again as to whether the Church could have parishes, for all intent and purpose, moving under a different bishop? “No” was the conclusion of the drafting group and so the draft code of practice went only so far. That said, clause three of the Amending Canon 30 was still controversial as it insisted that dissenting clergy should accept the legality of ordinations and consecrations (even if they don’t accept their sacramental role).
McCulloch’s address was followed by 90 minutes of debate, trying to cram in 80 requests to speak, not all of whom got called. The first speaker was Christina Rees (Inclusive Church and WATCH) who described the proposals as “a jigsaw put together with a hammer”. She focussed on the specially nominated suffragan sees. In particular, what would the relationship be with these bishops with other male bishops and the general House of Bishops, which would in time include women? Given that the House of Bishops was a constitutional body in Parliament, how would the supplementary suffragans’ presence affect that status?
Finally Rees objected to the idea of supplementary bishops, themselves ordained by men and perpetuating an untainted line of clergy and episcopacy. How did that fit in with notions of equality? Answering her was the Bishop of Beverley Martyn Jarrett, one of the Suffragans in York Diocese. He noted that the proposals couldn’t settle the issue of jurisdiction – priests operate on the authority of their bishop, especially sacramentally. No complementary bishops or traditionalist clergy could operate ultimately under someone who they simple did not recognise as their “Father in God”.
Martyn Jarrett conjectured that as soon as the Act of Synod was passed, there would be elements in Synod that would attempt to wittle away the authority of the Code of Practice and protection put in place for tradionalists. He called on Synod to protect his tradition to enable all of the church to travel together.
Kevin Carey of Chichester (a liberal) thanked the drafting group for giving Synod a basis for moving forward. It would be an extreme position therefore not to send the proposals to a revision committee. And why was the focus on limiting pain to those who dissent, most of whom were ordained knowing this was the direction the church was going. Why shouldn’t we address the pain if this motion fails? Have progressives not got feelings too? Short of quoting from the Merchant of Venice, Carey was passionate in supporting the motion, even bringing the Magnificat on board to gather votes.
Bishop Peter Price of Bath and Wells hoped the revision committee would find ways of expressing support for women in the episcopacy in the measures. Was our preoccupation with gender issues of power and control stopping Synod from seeing other issues. We should have an anthroplogical discussion on the nature of gender and ministry apart from ordination, he proposed.
He was followed by Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury, for those who haven’t caught on yet). He explained that he abstained last time round because he could not endorse the motion presented. He thought that a large number of members wanted to vote for a motion that was good news for all members. His concern was whether the proposals now are good news either for women or those who oppose their ordination. Would the revision committee have space and representation to cover the variety of amendments that would be presented to it. Though Synod was close to a position which might command a large degree of support, there was still an issue around whether Clause 3, subsection 1 adequately provided for traditionalists. Is the “almost there” gap able to be closed, or will we have to accept there are things that we simply can’t agree on. He hoped to be able to vote positively for the motion, but only if it truly provided good news for everyone.
Edward Keen of the CofE Youth Council (CEYC) made a maiden speech explaining that in the CEYC there was a huge level of support to protect traditionalists, even though the CEYC was a majority female institution, even more so in the executive (and which has always had a female chair). What does the Lord ask of us, asked Micah? Do just justly, love mercy, and that required making provision for all.
Sister Anne Williams from Durham Diocese and on the Drafting Group shared how despite the group having different views and perspectives, there had been the emergence of a common mind that looked to providing for all. She reflected that in the early 90s the debate had been over “justice and equality”, not theology. That was in some sense a mistake. However, now that women were priests, there should be no glass ceiling. At the same time, provision needs to be made for traditionalists like Anne who will accept the existence of women bishops but cannot accept their sacramental role. There should be a way to meet the needs of everyone.
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Universities) was surprised at how Bishop McCulloch seemd to so quickly dismiss the prayerful discernment of the last session. As to the new Clause A4, it is logically incoherent to validate both perspectives (though your blogger suggests that it already manages that on homosexuality, theology of the Eucharist etc) and we need to have one clear Church of England stance on the validity of women in the clergy and episcopacy.
Archdeacon Norman Russell (Oxford Diocese) shared how he supported both the elevation of women to the episcopate and adequate provision for traditionalists. He could not therefore support the current proposals as the Statutory Code of Practice was not sufficient. The word “statutory” made no difference to the Code because Para 11 of the draft Code showed very clearly that it was not binding. There was no protection for those who as individuals or PCC wanted to legally challenge violations of the Code, an expensive process.
Rod Thomas (Exeter and Chair of Reform) asked why when such efforts had been made to make provision, traditionalists still felt excluded? The answer is that the Code of Practice is so uncertain and only becomes clear when examined in a court of law, and only operates under the discretion of the Diocesan Bishop. Therefore traditionalists feel that their ministry is being barely tolerated, rather than being encouraged to flourish. What would happen to ordinands who are traditionalist? He encouraged voting against moving forward – firstly because despite the fact that the “no” vote would lose, there would be a clear indication of the substantial discomfort in Synod with the present proposals.
The Bishop of Norwich saw a legislation that would so damage the nature of episcopacy that it would be a disaster. The proposals would allow parishes to petition for a complementary bishop where a woman diocesan was already in place. The current Resolutions A and B didn’t even permit parishes to pass such motions if a female incumbent was already in place. Despite being in favour of the principle of women bishops, he would vote against the motion because he didn’t believe that there was the same move of the Spirit that accompanied the previous vote on women priests. Instead there was a spirit of discord – we need to remain one church, holy and apostolic.
The Bishop of Lichfield (Jonathan Gledhill) rejected the idea that traditionalists were promised ongoing protection after the votes in the 90s. The minority should not be able to affect the timing of the debate. Furthermore, nowhere in the New Testament is a Code of Practice outlawed (laughter in the chamber). We need to trust Bishops to do what is right – we can’t support a binding arrangement as it would produce “a structural ghetto”.
Anne Martin of Guildford, a “despised wishy-washy liberal” as she called herself, wondered what would happen if the draft legislation was rejected and Synod went back to the drawing board? How would the wider church react? It would just prolong the agony to go back to the beginning. The debate today is about compromise and working together, not about discussing again whether we want women bishops.
Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London) said he felt forced from the life of the church, labelled “extremist” simply for being traditionalist. As a lawyer he likes due process, but we need to be careful that Synod acts out of love and charity, not just getting things done. If there are genuine reservations about the starting point (the current provision for traditionalists), how can we set off on the journey confident of reaching the destination?
The Archdeacon of Chichester felt that Synod was in danger of losing sight of the fact that we are united as a church. He is committed to a genuine working relationship working with those of different convictions in proclaiming the Word. However, he feels he is being told by a Code of Practice that he has a reduced place and his future is not provided for. He felt like saying “Aggh!” A Code of Practice was not binding in law, could be misused, ignored or become a point of contention and was therefore unsafe. He called on Synod to reject the current measure.
Revd Maureen Hobbs (Lichfield – Advisor on Womens Ministry) supported the provision and pointed out how far the Code of Practice called on progressives to “Bend Over”. The presence of women has enabled the talents of all, male and female, to be encouraged. But where is the “parity of esteem” from the different sides? Who cares for the layity? She would receive communion from any lawfully ordained priest – others couldn’t and that was “the church’s tragedy”.
The Bishop of Chelmsford (“the Olympic Diocese”) reminisced how back in the 70s after a parish discussion on female ordination one of the layity asked “Are we allowed to vote?” It’s important in this process that we don’t compromise the nature of episcopal ministry. If the ministry of women is “hemmed in” the whole of the episcopacy is damaged.
The Bishop of Dover, Steven Venner (who was in tears during the last debate), joined those thanking the Bishop of Manchester for his work. He still had four major concerns. Firstly, the Code is a majority deciding what will satisfy the minority. The letter of the law will kill rather than give life. Secondly, the Code isn’t liked by anybody, so it doesn’t lift the soul or the spirit. The current proposals produce an unbalanced motion that still doesn’t celebrate all bishops. This could be solved by a “Fresh Expression” of Bishops, similar to non-parochial clergy (eg chaplains). He expressed he was in a quandry – he wanted women in the episcopate, but he will vote against.
Susan Cooper (London) said this issue was about what the Church could offer the country. The debate should not go on forever, nor should legislation be enacted that would require further work later on. The current measure was too restrictive. If the Act of Synod was sufficient to create the flying bishops, then the Code of Practice should be enough for providing for traditionalists. Special suffragans wouldn’t be proper bishops as they wouldn’t interact with all the church, only a theological sub-set.
The Archbishop of York (minus dog collar until Robert Mugabe is removed from Zimbabwe) talked about the degree of assurance that traditionalists and all church members needed. Would the Code of Practice help the Church of England remain Reformed and Catholic? The Code would only be “a promisory note, not gold bullion”. Futhermore, the Church cannot compel people to be in communion with each other – we need to be in “love and charity with our neighbour”. We have gone through so many groups and committees that it seems nonsensical to stop now. We should let the legislation go into committee, to allow us move forward. Remember, its when the legislation comes back to Synod, perhaps in a number of years, that we should make the final decisions. “Let us go forward and see what happens”.
Christine Hardman, Archdeacon of Lewisham, shared concerns that the Code of Practice is in danger of undermining women bishops, not just the functions to be delegated, but also the word “Complementary” suggests that there is something deficient in women bishops that needs adding to. Furthermore, how can clergy make two oaths of allegiance? There was a huge danger of seperating lawful ordination and sacramental ordination.
Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester) said he was a fan of the Elizabethan Settlement, but was struggling to find a place left for him. The Code of Practice was fundamentally flawed as it was essentially a “blank cheque”, able to be rewritten by future synods and committees thereof. He was horrified that the revision committee would meet in public – how could such an arrangement be different from the floor of Synod?
A Motion to Close was proposed and carried. Nigel McCulloch responded to the debate suggesting that everything mentioned in the debate could be looked at by the revision committee. He wanted to avoid the impression given that Synod had fallen at the first hurdle – it should go forward so that parishes and dioceses could get on with debating the issues. If however Synod votes against the motion, the legislative process would be at an end. It would be back to step one, but more than that, the Business Committee would have to consider whether to allow the Southwark motion (simply rescinding the Act of Synod) which has been parked since this process began to be debated and voted on.
Synod paused for prayer before voting.
A point of order was proposed to vote by Houses, which failed.
Item 507 (to ask the drafting group to continue to look at the legislation and to revise according to input as requsted) was voted electronically (which means that we’ll be able to know who voted which way).
For : 281 (68.8%)
Against : 114
Abstaining : 13
The previous vote in July was 263 in favour (66.75%), 124 against and only 7 abstentions, so very little movement on the numbers.
Item 508 (draft amending canon number 30 – to introduce a code of practice) was then debated. The Bishop of Winchester suggested that all bishops should be treated as complementary, not just the supplementary bishops.
John Freeman (Chester) suggested that episcopal authority should be vested in the House of Bishops over all dioceses. This might be acceptable to many Evangelical opponents of women bishops.
Geoffrey Rowell (Bishop in Europe) reminded Synod that Canon A4 was introduced to prevent supplementary ordination in the C17 by either Roman Catholics or Puritans. Situations have now changed, but the intention of the original canon was to affirm that the orders of the Church of England were the historic orders of the church. Can the authority of the Church of England change that which is held to be shared in common with other episcopal, catholic churches.
The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) said that he simply couldn’t seperate the sacramental from the jurisdical, so he couldn’t accept a woman bishop full stop. He simply could not give such a bishop an oath of canonical obedience, which would still be demanded even with the Code. What would happen if he got two different episcopal directions, one from his diocesan, one from his supplementary? Jurisdiction would need to pass entirely to another bishop in order to satisfy not just his conscience, but the legal quandries.
A motion to close was proposed and passed.
The Bishop of Manchester replied, assuring the Bishop of Winchester that he would take into account his concerns. There was now a clear choice in front of Synod – yes or no to adding the amending Canon to the work of the Committee, otherwise it couldn’t consider such an amending canon which does need to be looked at and considered.
A vote on 508 was taken.
For : 309
Against : 79
Abstaining : 14