Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So Where Now? After the Synod's 'No'

It’s a dark evening for the Church of England.  The Measure to allow the ordination of women as bishops failed at the General Synod by six votes in the house of laity.  The Church remains a place where discrimination on the grounds of gender is permitted.  How can we seriously proclaim a God who loves all people, when we qualify how different groups of people are to be treated?  How can we expect people to take seriously the discussion tomorrow about the Living Wage when we institutionalize treating some people as less than others.  This is a night of sorrow, of grief and of anger.

Earlier this evening, leading evening prayer at the Cathedral I prayed for the Synod (then in the last throws of the debate) that the Holy Spirit would guide them.  I can’t honestly say that I believe that the result was the will of God.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to learn.

First of all, buried in the agony there is in fact something to celebrate.  42 of the 44 dioceses voted in favour of the Measure.  In the dioceses, 86% of the Bishops, 76% of the clergy and 77% of the laity voted for the measure.  In the General Synod today the House of Bishops was 94% in favour, 77% of the house of clergy voted for it and 64% of the House of Laity voted for the Measure.  Across the Synod over 76% of the members voted in favour.  Surely it is now time for us end the idiotic notion of a “period of reception” and fully endorse the ordination of women as the normative practice of the Church of England.

Second, the structure of the General Synod, and especially the House of Laity, needs some close examination.  When the will of the Church of England is expressed as clearly as it was by the Dioceses, it is clear that the House of Laity does not represent the Church of England, nor even the laity of the Church of England.  It is disproportionately conservative, and the manner of its election needs scrutiny.  It is also made up of those with the time and resources to travel to London mid-week for a three or four day meeting.  That hardly leads to a Synod representing the majority of the Church of England.  There are hard questions to ask, but they need to be asked because at the minute the General Synod looks like it is an unrepresentative body that is bringing the Church into disrepute.

Third, and finally for tonight, there is already talk of making the legislation better.  I may be alone, but I actually thought the legislation was excellent.  It provided for bishops on equal terms without watering down their nature.  It provided for those opposed to women bishops by assuring them of a validly ordained male bishop and priest.  One of its real strengths was that it provided for women clergy in a diocese governed by those opposed to the ordination (and this was too often overlooked).  It dismantled the parallel church built up by Forward in Faith, and gave us a framework for living together.  None of this should be lost in the coming weeks.  The proposal was just on the right side of coherence.  We must not lose that coherence in the name of getting women on the bench.

Tonight is not a good night to be an Anglican.  But through the night of sorrow we are called on to the joy of the morning.  There is a huge affirmation of women clergy there to be drawn on.  There are real questions to ask of the way in which the General Synod is structured.  There is hard and serious thinking to be done about the way forward.  But tonight there is also sorrow and pain.


RobTyley said...

Well said Simon. I feel dismayed and ashamed to be an Anglican. Another missed opportunity and another reason for the church to be seen as out of touch and irrelevant.
We have to get beyond this barrier - discrimination is not indicative of an "inclusive" church.

Portia said...

Thank you for this, indeed a night of sorrow and pain, but we are not alone, our God walks alongside ....

Bernard Randall said...

I have to believe that the Holy Spirit was at work (otherwise we should look hard at the 1992 decision too).

Like it or not, we cannot yet say that the ordained ministry of women has been received by the Church of England - the vote would have been far stronger in favour if it had.

But what is the Holy Spirit saying to the Church now, at his time? The next task must be to work on that question. Quite likely part of the answer is the reform of Synod.

Only then should we ask why reception is not yet complete.

Helen said...

I'm glad you wrote this. I've been wondering today how my friends in the church can work through something like this, how you can reconcile your personal beliefs and integrity with a decision taken by a body that you have such loyalty to (and, in your case, are employed by, if a decision by the synod counts as a decision by the church?). Thank you for not just going along with it.

Simon said...

Thanks for the comments.

Rob and Portia, I agree. Thank you.

Bernard, how strong did the vote need to be? Across the dioceses and the Synod as a whole, over 70% of God's people are in favour of women as bishops. Do we need 80%, 90% 100% agreement? INdeed, even the strongly opposed are this morning saying that they understand we need women bishops, we just need to agree how. Sounds like an end to reception to me.

Helen, thanks for your comment. Please don't confuse the church with the Synod, even if the church lets the Synod make decisions for it!

Bernard Randall said...


I would hold to a very high thresh-hold for true Reception. I would say that a doctrine has been Received by the Church if there really isn't any debate anymore. And debate needs to die out naturally, rather than being excluded by some kind of imposed decision. What is not received wihters away; it does not need to be cut from the vine.

That doesn't mean we need unanimity before we move ahead with any decision at all. Reception is one thing, agreeing to differ but move forward together is another. The latter is a perfectly proper thing for a Church to do, and what we should aim to do in this case.

I'm concerned to properly understand Reception, that's all