Showing posts with label women bishops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label women bishops. Show all posts

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's statement on the vote to allow women bishops in the Church of England:
Today's overwhelming vote demonstrates the widespread desire of the Church of England to move ahead with ordaining women as bishops, and at the same time enabling those who disagree to flourish. There is some way to go, but we can be cautiously hopeful of good progress. The tone of the debate was strikingly warm and friendly, and a great debt of gratitude is owed to the Steering Committee for the draft legislation, and to those who facilitated the meetings so effectively. The more we learn to work together the more effective the church will be in meeting the huge challenges of spiritual renewal, and above all service to our communities, so as to both proclaim and demonstrate the reality of the love of Christ.
Am I alone in detecting a bit of dissonance in the archbishop's acknowledgement of "the widespread desire of the Church of England to move ahead with ordaining women as bishops" paired with "and at the same time enabling those who disagree to flourish"? His choice of the word "flourish" for those who disagree with the vote seems an odd choice of terminology. I expect I will never understand archbishopspeak.  The word mealy-mouthed comes to mind.  I don't know what Justin Welby is trying to say. By guarding his words so carefully, he ends up making no sense at all to me. Is a mandatory crash course in archbishopspeak (aka obfuscation) required after appointment as ABC?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Wake me when the first woman is ordained bishop in the Church of England.
Since the defeat of the motion in General Synod to allow women bishops, I have grieved along with my friends in the Church of England, especially my women friends, both clergy and laity. The vote was a slap in the face to all women, within the church and without. Although I've read pages and pages of discussion and opinions on the fix to allow women bishops, and I've even gone so far as to watch videos of English Parliament arguing the question, I have no idea how the Church of England will resolve the matter. Now I shall take a break from it all it and wait to hear the good news (soon, I hope) of a resolution and wait even longer for the announcement of the choice of the first woman bishop and for the date for her ordination to be named.

Whenever the remedy to this great injustice comes, I pray the resolution will honor the women who have faithfully served the church for so very many years.  Joy on the occasion of the acknowledgement of women as equals in the sight of God and of humanity will be tempered by the exceedingly slow and grudging process of giving assent.  In the case of women bishops, the moral arc of the universe in bending toward justice is, indeed, long.


Photo from NASA.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


One wonders if there are any three English bishops out there with the guts to get together and do what the Bishop and the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen and the Bishop of Ross and Caithness did for the Episcopal Church in consecrating Samuel Seabury (our first bishop) on November 14, 1784: consecrate a woman as a bishop in England.

Probably not.

It’s hard for a leopard to change its spots. (Nigel Taber-Hamilton)
As the English already know, we are a rebellious lot here in the US, but the Church of England is no less so, having broken the yoke to the Church of Rome some hundreds of years ago.

Several of us discussed this approach to having women bishops in England on Facebook, and the conclusion for most was that it couldn't be done for various reasons. I say, "Why not?" Kudos, Nigel for your what-if.  Other suggestions may be found in the comments at Daily Episcopalian.   

The Rev. Nigel Taber-Hamilton is rector of St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods Episcopal Church on Whidbey Island, WA.   Nigel came to the US from England in 1979.

The painting by Peter J Morgan depicts the consecration of Bishop Samuel Seabury by three bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

UPDATE: You may want to read Lay Anglicana's post titled "Who’s Queen? – & Is She Not Also A Bishop?: John Adams".

Friday, November 23, 2012


Presiding Bishop Katharine
carries her mitre
Sometimes those outside see inside more clearly than the insiders.   From Christchurch, NZ, Bosco Peters' writes an excellent post on the defeat of the motion to allow women bishops in the Church of England. 
Obviously my bishop, being a woman, cannot function as a bishop in England. Since this week’s vote in the Church of England’s General Synod, one can no longer make polite English excuses about this being an accident of history. It is now an intentional decision.

I have a … (how can I say this on a family-friendly site?)… ummm…I have a Y chromosome and I was ordained by someone with a Y chromosome, etc. all the way back to the earliest church. I can function as a priest in all of the Church of England. Some, however, who were ordained by someone who has no Y chromosome, even though they themselves have a Y chromosome, will find some places in the CofE where they cannot so function. We are a commnon.
No, the last word in the paragraph is not a misspelling, although Firefox or some other power in charge of internet spelling says otherwise.  Bosco has coined a new word for us which is not yet accepted in the lexicon of the intertubes.  Click one of the links to read how Bosco 'splains it all.

I joke around some here (you laugh, or you cry) , but Bosco shares seriously good thoughts about what is and what is not communion and various other matters. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012



My sympathy to all my friends in the Church of England, especially to women friends and women priest friends. Whenever the next opportunity to vote on women bishops comes around, the measure must be a single clause - the Church of England will ordain women as bishops. Take it or leave it - no ifs, ands, or buts.

My dear English friends, perhaps now you can put behind you feelings of sympathy for those with  tender consciences that can be appeased only by assigning others to a lower place. You may not wish to put so crass a name on such a practice, but I call it what it is - misogyny.

Blessings and peace.

UPDATE: The Second Church Estates Commissioner Sir Tony Baldry:
There have been some suggestions in the press that it is impossible for the Church of England or General Synod to return to this issue until after a new General Synod has been elected in 2015. That is not correct: the rules prevent the same Measure from being reconsidered by the General Synod without a special procedure. It is perfectly possible for a different and amended Measure to consecrate women bishops to be considered by the General Synod. Although this is for the Church of England to resolve, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, I suspect that there will also be those in the Church of England who will wish to consider whether the election process to the General Synod is sufficiently representative, particularly of the laity of the Church of England, as Tuesday’s vote clearly did not reflect the overall and clear consensus of dioceses across England in support of women bishops.

It is my earnest hope that during the time I serve the Queen—whose appointment I am—this House and the Church of England as Second Church Estates Commissioner it will prove possible for me to bring before this House a Measure that will enable women to be consecrated bishops in the Church of England.
Thanks to Erp for the link.  I've heard various opinions about when a measure may be brought up again at General Synod, but Baldry's words seem to settle the matter.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Although he's fourth in line behind Christopher Cocksworth, Graham James, and John Sentamu, Giles Fraser likes Bishop of Durham Justin Welby for Archbishop of Canterbury.
Paddy Power has him as 6:1 to be the next archbishop of Canterbury. But Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, is having none of it. He really doesn't want the job. "Lets be clear, I'm one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England," he tells me. I'm not taken in by this disarming self-deprecation – something for which Old Etonians like him are not especially noted. No, there is nothing remotely thick about Bishop Welby. 
Ah well, I don't know whether Bishop Welby is thick or not, so I'll take Giles' word for it that he's not.  For the sake of my English friends, I hope and pray for a wise choice by the Crown Nominations Commission.  For the sake of the Anglican Communion, too, although I hope the leaders of the Episcopal Church will never again be as obsequious to another Archbishop of Canterbury as they have been at times to Archbishop Rowan.  I also nurse a small hope that the next ABC might like the members of the Episcopal Church just a little and have the occasional kind word for us, unlike Rowan Williams who seemed so often to scorn, scold, and lecture.
"I have tried to avoid saying anything," he admits at the end of the interview. Well, I'm not sure he succeeded. On many levels he seems like a central-casting Church of England bishop. On the subject of women bishops he speaks of the need to square the circle, reconciling those who think it a theological necessity and those who think it a theological impossibility. How do you do this? "Well, you just look at the circle and say it's a circle with sharp bits on it."
On the question of women bishops, Bishop Welby surely succeeded in not saying anything to me, for I have no idea what he means by his "circle with sharp bits on it".  Still, he'd have Giles Fraser's vote, if he had a vote, which should count for something.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Well, Diarmaid MacCullough is our man in a way, as he's a member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.  In his latest article in the Guardian, MacCullough notes that despite claims to the contrary, in the early church the label "apostles" is not limited to the 12 named in the Gospels.  Paul, writer of the epistles to early churches, emphatically claimed the title of apostle, and, in his letters, he speaks of women in leadership roles and named Junia as an apostle in the letter to the Romans. 
The great distorting factor in Christian history which transcends denominational and many other ecclesiastical divisions is that most history has been written by men. And the truth is that men are for the most part not very interested in women, except in certain very specific ways – most of which have been officially out of bounds, because of the general tendency of past Christian historians to be not just men, but celibate clergymen.
(Pause)  All right, I had to stop for a chuckle.
There is another wild card to take into account in history: the way that something which once seemed so important to everyone can suddenly seem of no significance at all – and then all the worries are rapidly forgotten, as if they had never been. Let me point you to one of the most long-lasting examples: the Christian ban on menstruating women from participation in the sacraments or even from approaching the altar..
Oh ick!...and another chuckle.  Men!

MacCullough doesn't mention Mary Magdalene.  Earlier in the article the writer reminds us that apostle means messenger, and the Magdalene was the messenger at the tomb whom either Jesus (John's Gospel), or the young man in the white robe (Mark's Gospel), or the angel (Matthew's Gospel), or two men in dazzling apparel (Luke's Gospel) sent to the disciples with the good news that Jesus was alive.

Do read the entire article, as it is excellent.   In the end, MacCullough advises the male bishops to just get on with the business of ordaining women bishops.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Let's hope and pray that will not be the case.  The following poem was written by David Booker, a former colleague of themethatisme.  David kindly gave me permission to post his poem.
The case for clause 5. 1c

You are not like me.
The difference is obvious,
as plain as the nose on your face.
I am sorry to say
that although I have nothing against you
and although some of my best friends are like you,
I cannot, in all conscience,
accept the gift you offer.

Please don’t feel this secondary issue
in any way makes you second class.
Rather marvel at my exegetical acrobatics,
turning up to down, and north to south,
and Galatians 3 verse 28*
into a culturally bound reflection
we cannot be expected to take literally.

You must allow bigotry to triumph over grace
because unity demands the majority be silent.
As good Christians you must respect me
even when I refuse to recognise you
or eat from a table you may once have used
for fear of contamination
and deliberately airbrush you out of scripture
by mistranslating your name to suit my prejudice.

Yes, although our Church recognises
there is no theological objection,
you must turn a blind eye to injustice,
chauvinism, sexism, poor scholarship
and an incredulous watching world,
to guarantee a perpetual place for my ignorance.

After all, the permanent no go areas
we are asking you to create
will not stop those of others races,
or those with a yet incurable disease,
from exercising their ministry.
No, we only want to protect ourselves from women
and we really don’t understand the fuss.

David Booker

*Galatians 3v28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus
I can not support the amendment 5. 1c and dearly hope that it will be removed.
The statement on clause 5(1)c from the website of the Church of England.

WATCH (Women and the Church) on the clause:
But the amendment to Clause 5 has caused widespread dismay. It would entrench discrimination against women in the Established Church and place a permanent question mark over the validity of women's orders.  The confusion over its interpretation amongst commentators demonstrates that it would prove to be bad law
Sign the petition requesting the House of Bishops in the Church of England to withdraw clause 5(1)c.  You don't have to be English to sign.

Friday, May 25, 2012


(1) “This isn't, of course, about gender. Perish the Thought.”
This assertion is a lie. It is, and it always was. Discriminatory is as discriminatory does. It is not for the discriminator to judge the matter, based on their intentions, but those discriminated against, based on what actually happens. All else is illusion.

(2) “This is about theology not discrimination.”

This assertion is a lie. However you tart it up, Trevor Huddleston showed us years ago, discriminating is actually a theological assertion. Imagine, as I have attempted sincerely to do, that there is a theology that justifies treating women, against their will and calling, as inferior. I can't conceive of such a thing, but let's suspend disbelief for a moment. What is the difference between that noble theology and cultural prejudice dressed in voodoo? At no time in the past five years has anyone showed me. All that unites reactionaries in this matter seems to be a cultural prejudice against seeing women in positions of authority, reinforced by a reactionary subculture. It is every bit as much drawn from the contemporary world’s values as progressive aspiration. It’s just drawn from the reactionary quarter of them.
Read the entire excellent post.

If the amendments to the legislation on women bishops from the House of Bishops were not so tragic for the Church of England, I could view the entire enterprise as farce.  42 of the 44 dioceses have spoken that they want women bishops.  General Synod has voted for women bishops, and yet the senior bishops in the church do not get the message.  As Bishop Alan says:
Many of our senior men probably thought on Monday that all they were doing was giving the women what they wanted whilst being as nice as possible to the other lot.
It appears to me that the House of Bishops plays a game of chicken with the members of Synod, but perhaps, as Alan says, many of them are merely clueless. The diocesan synod votes and the vote in GS should have put the senior bishops a bit more in touch with the rest of the church.

From Thinking Anglicans:
The Synod has no power to amend the legislation further but can adjourn the Final Approval debate and invite the House of Bishops to reconsider the amendments that they have made. If such an adjournment motion were passed the House would have to meet again-and would at that point have power to make further amendments- before the Final Approval debate was resumed. An adjournment motion in July would mean that the further meeting of the House and the resumption of the Final Approval debate would have to happen at a later date. The earliest that the General Synod might be able to conclude the Final Approval Stage in that eventuality would, therefore, be in November.
There you have it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I have not done a post on the amendments from the Church of England House of Bishops' meeting (all male, of course!) to the legislation on women bishops which will be presented at General Synod, because I could not understand the meaning of the amendments from the poorly-written press release.  As I've said elsewhere, my initial reaction was that it appeared the writer(s) of the press release attempted to send out a double message to soothe both sides, with the result that the release does not make much sense.

Bishop Alan Wilson courageously provides a priceless explication for us, titled "Swimmin with the Wimmin part 94".  The title alone is worth noting.  A brief quote, and you can read the rest over at Alan's blog.
The result, in true C of E fashion, is a curate’s egg, but probably not such a rotten one as to send the whole process around again in five years time.
From Thinking Anglicans:
WATCH (Women and the Church) is deeply disappointed to hear that the all male House of Bishops has, in a closed meeting, decided to make two amendments to the draft legislation on women bishops that had been so carefully crafted after years of debate and scrutiny from all sides and had commanded the support of 42/44 dioceses across the Church of England.
Read the rest of their press release, which makes much more sense to me than release from the House of Bishops meeting.

I remain in the dark as to how the amended legislation will play out in practice if it passes all three houses of GS with a two-thirds vote.  We shall see.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Passage of the Anglican Communion Covenant was supposed to be an easy task in England. But then people started reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the document and found it gave them stomach cramps. And this has made Bishop Yellow Belly "very, very angry."
H/T to SCG at Wake up and Live.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Read David@Montreal's post at LGBT Vocations about his conversation with a friend in England. Here's a brief quote:
When V. called she was tears, having read a news story of the on-going antics in the British Synod over the proposed ‘protection’ of the delicate sensitivities of priests and parishes unable to accept the oversight of women bishops in the English Church.

‘Rowan is actually tying the English Church into a legislative straight-jacket to normalize misogyny within the Church.’
Sad but true. Read the rest of David's account of their heart-rending conversation, and pray for our brothers and sisters in the Church of England.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I don't know why the English always have to find a more complicated and painful way of doing simple things. It's clear as a pikestaff from everywhere else in the world that the kindest, as well as the least histrionic way to do this is just to do it. As John Harvey Jones used to say, you can only get shot once. Then sit down with everyone it impacts and go to the greatest lengths possible, with great kindness, to help them in any way that's possible. This is all the more so in England because the variety among the tiny company of people impacted negatively is immense - for some episcopacy is actually of little to no account, to others it's the core of their ecclesiology, for some it's about preaching, for others the Eucharist. Listen carefully to the real issue and then respond kindly to real issues as they arise. That way everybody ends up in the best possible place.
Bishop Alan's suggestion for a simple and straightforward way for the Church of England to include women in the order of bishops seems so eminently sensible to me. The CofE is not my church, and perhaps I should not even express an opinion, but the process at General Synod is painful to observe.

Alan is area Bishop of Buckingham in the Anglican Diocese of Oxfordshire.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


From 'When is a bishop not a bishop?' by Nelson Jones in the New Statesman:
The big decision won't be taken until July: this week, the Synod has been debating proposals aimed to protect male clergy who oppose women's ordination from finding themselves under the authority of a female bishop. Rowan Williams, introducing this quintessentially half-baked compromise, spoke today of seeking to respect the "theological integrity" and ensure the "pastoral continuity" of opponents. But his proposal hasn't gone down well with many in the church, who argue that it would make women bishops inferior to their male counterparts; and in any case it doesn't go far enough to satisfy diehard opponents.
So. Defenseless male clergy in the Church of England need protection from the invasion of women bishops into the heretofore all-male, pure line of bishops who watch over them, and Rowan wants the clergy protected.

From 'Fratricidal tensions at the Church of England Synod' by Michael White in the Guardian:
If you think David Cameron frets about his uppity Lib Dem coalition partners and loses sleep over eurosceptic Tory hooligans at Westminster, trot across Parliament Square to Church House this week and weep for a leader with serious problems and conflicting thinktank advice that goes back 2,000 years.

In fairness to the Synodistas, both sides were studiously civil and constantly invoked the importance of mutual tolerance and their cherished Anglican heritage, which is strong on inclusivity and diversity. Wishy-washy C of E, as the more authoritarian papal model might put it. The Vatican would have handed this lot over to the Inquisition via rendition the moment it heard a bishop saying "bishops do not dissent lightly from the views of their archbishops".
In her article in the Guardian, titled 'Church of England reaches compromise on women bishops', Riazat Butt summarizes the proceedings at General Synod and makes the most sense for me, although I'm still not entirely clear on the substance of the agreement reached today.
The archbishops of Canterbury and York has avoided humiliation in the Church of England's law-making body, the General Synod, by putting off a split over the ordination of women bishops.

The synod voted against measures that would have given traditionalists the legal right to ignore the leadership of women bishops. The proposal by the Manchester diocesan synod would have accepted that parishes opposed to female diocesan bishops could be ministered by male bishops.

But the synod also rejected an attempt by the Southwark diocese in London to ensure bishops press on with legislation to introduce women bishops.
H/T to Peter Owen at Thinking Anglicans for the links to the press reports.


From the BBC:
A compromise to try to meet objectors' concerns will be presented by the Manchester Diocesan Synod at a meeting of the Church's ruling council later.

It would give a greater measure of autonomy to male bishops appointed to oversee traditionalist parishes.

But many supporters of women bishops oppose the plans, saying they would make women second-class bishops.

The intention is to meet traditionalists' objections that a male bishop appointed to look after them would derive his authority from the female bishop who appointed them.

Many conservative Evangelicals also oppose women bishops because they believe the Bible requires male "headship" in the Church and in the family.
How insulting, patronizing, and downright tedious to read of this sort of nonsensical discussion in this year of 2012. For heaven's sake, the Church of England has had women priests for 20 years! How long, O Lord!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Don't blame me. Blame Mr C. In my heart, I can't blame him at all. It's way past time for the misogynistic nonsense to be over.

In the event that you don't understand Mr C's every word, the transcript is at his blog and at YouTube.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Andrew Brown in the Guardian:
The Church of England's House of Bishops – for which, read the archbishops of Canterbury and York – has explained how they hope to mollify the opponents of female clergy. The proposals are breathtaking.
From the Code of Practice suggested by the two archbishops:
The House of Bishops does not wish to see any outcome that would entrench radical division or give any impression of a 'two-tier‘ episcopate. Because of their commitment both to this principle and to the most adequate and sustainable provision for theological dissent over the ordination of women, they are seeking a balanced provision within the overall framework that will allow all members of the Church of England to flourish and to pursue the mission to our nation and society that we share.

We are aware as bishops that there are very difficult decisions ahead for many of our clergy and faithful; we want to honour the desire of all who wish to remain loyal Anglicans, fully engaged in this mission. And we are not thinking in terms of a time-limited provision, mindful that such a suggestion was rejected at the Revision stage of amending the legislation under discussion.
Despite the statement above, in the suggested 'Code of Practice' the two archbishops in the Church of England are quite determined to enable prejudice against women bishops and, further, to assure that prejudicial attitudes and practices remain entrenched in the church.

Andrew Brown:
The archbishops envisage that the Church of England, once it has female bishops, will continue ordaining men who do not accept these women, finding them jobs they will deign to accept, and promoting some of them to be bishops who will work to ensure the continued supply of male priests who refuse to accept female clergy. In fact, the church will pay three bishops (the formerly "flying" sees of Ebbsfleet, Richborough, and Beverley) to work full time against their female colleagues, and to nourish the resistance.
Funds are scarce, and yet the CofE will support three bishops to continue to ordain priests who would not consider ordination by a female bishop as valid, because, not only would the women not be real bishops, but they were never even real priests in the first place. How is the support of bishops to prevent candidates for ordination from besmirchment by the laying on of hands by a woman bishop not entrenchment of division?

Code of Practice
In the light of our discussion, the House will continue to uphold these three principles:

• Bishops will continue not to discriminate in selecting candidates for ordination on the grounds of their theological convictions regarding the admission of women to Holy Orders;

• In choosing bishops to provide episcopal ministry under diocesan schemes for parishes requesting this provision, diocesan bishops will seek to identify those whose ministry will be consistent with the theological convictions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate underlying the Letter of Request;

• The archbishops and bishops commit themselves to seeking to maintain a supply of bishops able to minister on this basis. This will obviously have a bearing on decisions about appointments and on the role of bishops occupying the sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough (which will, as a matter of law, continue to exist even after the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod has been rescinded).
Andrew Brown
Despite all these concessions, there will be female bishops, as there are already female priests, and these will be treated exactly the same as male ones – except by the men who don't want to treat them equally and who believe that God has called them to undermine women's authority wherever it appears.

This is apparently Rowan Williams's idea of justice.
The two archbishops could not get their desired legislation through the previous General Synod and are aware that church members, bishops, and clergy are embarrassed and weary of efforts to cater to the prejudicial "theological convictions" of the squeamish, so now they attempt a new tactic by calling the effort to prolong discrimination against women by a different name, a 'Code of Practice'. Do the archbishops think that by this blatant attempt at subterfuge through name change, they will get the code passed? Perhaps they will. I hope not.

UPDATE: The official title is 'The Illustrative Draft Code of Practice'. I was tempted to omit the letter 'r' from one of the words in the title. The word starts with 'D'.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The Rev Vanessa Herrick is a priest in the Church of England, which is presently engaged in deciding through legislation in General Synod whether women bishops will be allowed to serve with the same degree of authority as male bishops.

In her splendid statement which follows, Vanessa covers all the bases as a clear and eloquent voice for justice and equality for women in the Church of England. Her message applies equally to other Christian churches. Although the Episcopal Church has ordained women as priests for 34 years and women as bishops for 22 years, certain Episcopalians have not yet accepted the church’s policies. Vanessa’s words may be helpful as an educational aid to those who still oppose women priests and women bishops to help them catch up with the official policy of the church and the rest of us who believe that all the baptized are to be treated equally.

As the first woman ordained to the episcopacy in the Episcopal Church, The Rt Rev Barbara Harris said, "How can you initiate someone and then treat them like a half-assed baptized?"

Vanessa's words:
Over the past ten years, many words have been spoken. But what has been noticeable is that the voice of women themselves has been relatively quiet. This comparative silence has been the product of generosity, patience and respect. Generosity, because we recognise the pain women bishops would bring for some; patience, because we know it takes time to listen, reflect and work out a way forward; respect, because we value and treasure the rich inheritance and diversity which we share as Anglicans. Indeed, over my own journey of discipleship, I have travelled from roots in the conservative evangelical tradition, through charismatic renewal to a place where I am now most at home in a more catholic setting for worship and a less conservative stance theologically. I love the Church of England – though it can sometimes be the most frustrating institution in the world!

But the voice that has not really been heard is the voice of the women themselves. The ones about whom we are talking. As so often in the history of the church and of the world, it’s the voice of those who’ll be most affected by a decision made about them that sometimes seems to go unnoticed: the voice of women who, at present, have no voice in the House of Bishops; who are unable to respond to a vocation to the episcopate; whose priestly ministries are, in the main, accepted or tolerated but sometimes despised; the ones whose lives, ministries and even identities may be further affected by not being able to enter this third order of ministry. And that’s why I ask that you listen to just a few more words – explanatory and personal – which, I hope, may express something of the feelings of women who are ordained – but also of those – lay and ordained, male and female – who long to see women as bishops in the Church.

So let me offer some brief responses to the key theologically issues.

First, the issue of headship. Much rests (from the conservative evangelical viewpoint) on the interpretation of key texts from Genesis and from Paul. The equality of men and women as being made in the image of God is not disputed. (See Genesis 1.26-28) Where the difficulty arises is in respect of Genesis 3.16 which, as a consequence of The Fall, places the woman as functionally subordinate to the man. This is then further interpreted by Paul as the foundation for a range of understandings both within the church and in respect of marriage and family life, whereby male headship and female subordination becomes the norm.

Amongst others, I believe this interpretation to be mistaken because:

-it fails to acknowledge the fact that the overall trajectory of Scripture is one in which the essential dignity, equality and complementarity of the whole of humanity – disrupted by the Fall – is then fully restored in the New Testament as a result of the work of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit; in short, it undermines the efficacy of the work of Christ in bringing about the New Creation;

-it fails to account for the extraordinarily counter-cultural behaviour of Jesus in the way he both related to, affirmed and commissioned women during his time on earth;

-it fails to acknowledge the cultural context in which the early church emerged – one where in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman world, women were given no place in public life but were largely confined to the domestic sphere;

To suggest that women should always be subordinate to men is, to my mind, to misunderstand what Scripture says.

Second, there’s sacramental assurance… For me this view is, at best, theologically incomprehensible and at worst positively distasteful. First, I believe it offers a distorted view of orders, for it seems to rest more on the perceived power of human lineage than on authority given by God. Whilst I do believe in the importance and significance of ‘succession’ in the sense that episcopal ordination is the appropriate outworking of the Church’s responsibility only to ordain those whose call has been tested by God and by the Church, a person’s ordination is not, to my mind, dependent upon gender or ‘pedigree’. Ordination is – as with every sacrament – an invitation to the Holy Spirit to pour out the grace of God upon those who seek him. Our authority and assurance in respect of orders therefore comes, primarily, from God – not from anything intrinsic to the character, gender or adequacy of the bishop ordaining. Just as the celebration of the Eucharist does not depend on the worthiness of the President of that Eucharist but (as Article 26 says) is “effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise”, so, I believe, the sacrament of ordination is made effectual by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, irrespective of the gender of the bishop ordaining.

But there is another aspect which troubles me. To say that a woman cannot be a bishop simply because she is a woman and Jesus was a man – and hence a woman cannot ‘represent Christ’ at the Eucharist, (or indeed in any of the other functions vested in episcopal office), is to deny the ‘female’ in God. For, if (as Genesis 1 tells us) human beings are made in the image of God, male and female, then logically, there is male and female in God. And if Christ himself is, as Colossians tells us, “the image of the invisible God” then it follows, by extension that there is male and female in Christ. The priest or bishop thus represents Christ in being human rather than in being male.

But the most uncomfortable – and most distasteful – aspect of this part of the traditional catholic response is the way in which it tells me, at a ‘gut’ level, that I am somehow a charlatan; second-class; incomplete; inadequate. I am sure that those who take this view would deny this outright. But let me ask you: how would it be if, in all these debates, we replaced the word ‘woman’ with the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Jew’ or ‘black’? We would be horrified at some of the statements that are made….

Third, there’s unity – both within the Church of England; and in respect of ecumenical relations. For some, a woman bishop would be a focus of disunity rather than unity. Some parishes and clergy will not be ‘in communion’ with her. Moreover, the bishops themselves would not be ‘in communion’ with one another – for some will be deemed ‘pure’ and others ‘tainted’; thus the very source of the Church of England’s unity will itself be compromised. Yet, sadly, in practice, our communion is already impaired – even within this Diocese. To ordain women as bishops will make little difference.

The question of unity is also frequently cited in regard to ecumenical relations. However, in relation to Rome, Anglican orders are deemed ‘null and void’ anyway, so having women as bishops would make little difference. Moreover, the presence (for over twenty years) of female bishops within the Anglican Communion has not prevented the continuation of ecumenical dialogue, so there is no reason to believe that women bishops in the Church of England would do so. Indeed, many within the Roman Catholic Church are desperate for the Church of England to ordain women as bishops in order to strengthen their own – albeit muted – campaign to allow women to exercise ordained ministry at all. Add the fact that some of our protestant ecumenical partners will not move forward in partnership with us until the Church of England does fully open its orders of ministry to both genders, and matters are further complicated. Ultimately, the Church of England is part of Christ’s universal church, but its actions and decisions are not to be bound by the constraints of others – whether Catholic or Protestant. It makes its own decisions.

So is this legislation the best we can hope for?

No other province in the Anglican Communion has resorted to legislation to address the issue of women bishops. For some, trust in the generosity, sensitivity and care of one’s diocesan bishop is, it would seem, insufficient. Indeed, the proposed legislation offers those who cannot accept women bishops far greater security than they presently have in relation to women priests: all diocesan bishops will – in law – be required to establish a ‘scheme’ and have regard to the Code of Practice. The draft legislation is complex; it is imperfect; but it may provide a workable solution to the many dilemmas we have outlined.

Inevitably there are drawbacks and anxieties. For women, the drawbacks are significant: the possibility of rejecting their orders and ministry will be enshrined in law and those who so reject them will continue for the foreseeable future to be ordained as deacons, priests and bishops themselves. No other organisation would have to audacity to enshrine such discrimination in law.

In addition, it is likely that those who object to women in the episcopate will continue to press for jurisdiction for their own bishops ‘as of right’ rather than by delegation, by some form of legal ‘transfer’ of jurisdiction, or (as the archbishops attempted to do by their Amendment in July 2010) by some form of co-jurisdiction. This would so weaken the role of the diocesan bishop (whether male or female) that the office becomes untenable. In 2008, and again in 2010, I was a signatory to two letters from some fifty senior women in the Church of England- one to the House of Bishops, the other to the Archbishops. In writing, we indicated that if the Church decided to ordain women to any form of episcopacy that was in some way ‘watered-down’, then we would sadly choose to ‘wait’, rather than press forward. We will simply not comply with anything which would create a form of second-class female bishop.

So is now the right time to be moving forward?

There are those conservative evangelicals and traditional catholics who would say we should wait. But to do so would be incredibly destructive:

-it would prolong the agony of not having resolved this issue;

-it would continue to absorb time and energy and be a huge distraction from our primary task of mission;

-it would deprive the Church – and particularly the House of Bishops – of the wisdom, skills, sensitivity and insight of women in senior leadership in the Church;

More significantly, it would utterly undermine the Church’s credibility as an institution, for – whatever the niceties of theological argument – the wider society will simply perceive a negative outcome on this issue to be proof that the Church of England is anachronistic, out of touch with reality, misogynistic, and plainly discriminatory against women. For most people, the issue of women bishops (if they are interested at all) is one of justice and equality. A decision not to ordain women as bishops – or even to delay – would have a disastrously 0negative impact on the mission of the Church and on vocations. Whilst the Church should not ‘be conformed to the world’, I do believe we have to take very seriously our calling to ‘proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation’ – and that means not only ‘listening’ to our generation, but also being acutely aware of the messages we give by the actions we take.

Finally, something of my own feelings about all this. When I was asked to speak in favour of women bishops, I was reluctant to do so. Not because I don’t believe women should be bishops – I do; but because, for the past eight and a half years, I’ve tried to work as Director of Ministry and DDO with fairness and a degree of objectivity, suppressing my own feelings and sense of disquiet in order to work faithfully in a ministry I feel called to exercise. But I can’t deny in speaking today that there’ve been very painful moments for me as a woman priest in the Church of God. For example, what is it about me that means that the bishop who ordained me is ‘tainted’? Am I ‘unclean’ in some way? Women priests have had to get used to such things over the past seventeen years, but it has often brought tears. For my vocation and my identity can’t be separated: I am a priest. And when I’m told by some that I’m not a priest, then that is an affront to who I am – not simply a denial of my role or job. If women priests are firm and defend themselves, they are accused of being ‘pushy’ or aggressive; if they express their pain, they are accused of being ‘all emotional’.

I’m tired of being perceived as ‘a problem’. I simply want to get on with what I’m called to. God has called me to be a priest and I believe he is calling some of the women in my generation to be bishops. I dare to believe that the Church of England needs us. No one has asked what might happen if the three thousand women clergy in the Church of England were to decide that ‘enough is enough’, and move to another province where their ministry is welcome. No one has contemplated the effect of a further ‘rejection’ of their orders on those without whom the Church simply could not now function. Women clergy don’t wish to hold the Church to ransom: but they also don’t want to be taken for granted. So, please take seriously the pain that we also bear: for it’s very real; and allow us to respond to God within all three orders of ministry – and find ourselves welcomed.

This draft legislation’s passage through the synodical process may well be difficult. Some, on both sides of the argument, will think it is not good enough. My own view is that it’s the best the Church can hope for – a credible way through the quagmire, but not perfect. To delay would, I believe, be a very big mistake – both for our own sanity as an institution and for the mission of the Church. So I hope very much that in October you will vote in favour of moving forward. In the meantime, I pray for all who disagree – that our relationships may be characterised by grace and generosity and not by that acrimony which the media so love. May the Holy Spirit of Pentecost hover over God’s Church giving us discernment, courage and healing as we share together in the task of decision-making and bringing in Christ’s Kingdom.

Vanessa Herrick

June 2011

Posted with Vanessa Herrick's permission.

H/T to Lesley at Lesley's Blog, who first posted Vanessa's statement.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


From the Telegraph:
A group of influential MPs will tomorrow call for Parliament to intervene over the historic reform as fears grow that the Church will reject plans allowing female bishops.

The cross-party group, including former ministers Frank Field and Stephen Timms, and Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, is concerned that the General Synod, the Church's parliament, may not pass legislation designed to end the glass ceiling for women clergy.

Traditionalists believe that a rise in the number of opponents of female priests to the Synod has improved their chances of blocking the law, which can only pass if it receives a two-thirds majority in the houses of laity, clergy and bishops.

Many of them feel that the current legislation does not provide sufficient concessions to those who cannot accept women as bishops.

However, Mr Field has tabled an early day motion, which could abolish the Church's current exemption from equality laws relating to gender discrimination and ultimately force it to consecrate women.

Go for it, MPs! Nudge the church over line into something closer to equality for women.

Unlike the US:
In the United Kingdom and the rest of the English-speaking world, a motion to place upon the table (or motion to place on the table) is a proposal to begin consideration of a proposal.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


From Thinking Anglicans

The answers to the questions asked at last month’s meeting of the church of England General Synod are now available.

Questions with Answers February 2010.

Our good friend Dennis points us to a gem, Question No. 53 (p. 34), and the answers by Archbishop John Sentamu.

53. Mrs Gill Ambrose (Ely) asked the Chairman of the House of Bishops:

In view of the slow progress towards the development of legislation to enable the consecration of women as bishops, would the House of Bishops consider inviting a number of female observers to its meetings so that the insights of women are not lost to the Church at this high level of leadership and policy development?

The Archbishop of York: The simple answer is No. Although I regret the length of our legislative processes, there are no short cuts. Granting some women – however they were chosen – observer status now would not grant them a full voice in the House and would risk being a diversion from the central task, namely how to find a way of admitting women to the episcopate which also enables as many people as possible to remain in the Church of England whatever their theological convictions on that issue. We must continue to hold on to the view held by the Synod and the rest of the Anglican Communion that those who are in favour and those who are opposed are both loyal Anglicans.

Mrs Gill Ambrose (Ely): Are we to assume then that the Church can still afford not to hear the voice of women at this level when issues on which women have important things to say come up for debate in the House of Bishops?

The Archbishop of York: Many women are, in any event, members of bishops’ staff in their dioceses. Members of the House will consequently have had the benefit of their insights in policy discussions within the diocese which will inform the thinking that they bring to the House of Bishops’ discussions.

The selection of women observers would itself be invidious, I think. Other interest groups, for example young people, could also argue for such representation. Women have been present at the House as supporting staff: currently the assistant secretary to the House is a woman in holy orders. Policy matters are regularly brought to the House on appointments matters, educational issues, HR and training matters by women in advisory roles.

Pursuing this further, it would be invidious to suggest, for example, that when the House of Laity is considering some rather difficult theological issue bishops should be there as observers.

Slow progress toward women bishops in the Church of England, or no progress? If you do not cry at the wrongheadedness exhibited by Archbishop Sentamu's answer, you will laugh. So. It is sufficient that the women underlings have every opportunity to speak plainly to their bosses, the men who have control over their lives. A greater voice would be "invidious", according to the archbishop.

And the folks who fear girl cooties must be given time for what? Does anyone think they will change their minds? Is the extra time necessary for for the powers to find a way that the women can be bishops but not quite real bishops?

For heaven's sake, guys, just do it already!

UPDATE: An Englishman explains it all for us:

themethatisme said...

It would be invidious were it not for the fact that the House of Bishops can veto anything that comes to the floor of synod from the House of Laity so having anyone there as observers would make bugger all difference.

Just keep on pissing in the tea girls.