Crunch time for the Church of England

It is make your mind up time for the Church of England this week on the question of whether to move to open the Episcopate to female candidates. Somehow or another the synodical process in England has reached what seems to be a very unfortunate place. After many compromises to ensure that those who are opposed to the change could remain more easily in the C of E, legislation was drafted and send around their dioceses for approval – 42 out of 44 agreed to it. It was then sent to their House of Bishops who had a go at tinkering with it. It is that tinkering which has caused all kinds of bother. In short, the bishops made more explicit in the legislation some of the compromises that had been made earlier. Now their synod can only choose whether or not to return the legislation to the bishops to ask them to think again or agree to it and implicitly accept something that many, including many senior women clergy (and Lucy Winkett) find unacceptable.

Looking on from outside, I think I feel that too many compromises have been made of over this already and I hope I’d have the courage to vote no if I was on a synod that had to made its mind up. Better, I think, to wait for a more equitable way forward, than to enshrine inequality in legislation that will be almost impossible to undo later on.

The central problem is that the C of E managed to develop this system whereby some people within an Episcopal church could think that some bishops do not have the power that real bishops really have and that some priests may not really be priests at all.

We don’t have the same issues in Scotland. You can think your bishop is not a real bishop all you like, but our canons don’t allow you to behave as though that it true. In England, that’s much less clear.

At the centre of it all is this idea of “taint”, surely one of the most unpleasant theological concepts doing the rounds. Everyone says they don’t believe in it – however, the idea that a parish could require the supply of an alternative bishop who shares their theological convictions against the ordination of women, has never ordained women himself and has not been himself consecrated by someone who has consecrated or ordained women himself does rather look like a system which regards some people as tainted.

Why should we care about this in the Scottish Episcopal Church? After all, we believe in the autonomy of other Provinces, don’t we? Well, the implications for us are quite serious.

At one of our Episcopal consecrations not that long ago, we had a female co-consecrator from Sweden. (I tried to teach her the Gay Gordons at the party afterwards). The bishop whom she helped to consecrate has himself joined in, with all our other bishops, in the consecration of two more bishops.   And our Primus joined in, on our behalf, in consecrating the new female bishop in Iceland just a few weeks ago.

Now, where does this leave us. I’ve an uncomfortable feeling that right now, those signs which hang outside some of our churches proclaiming us to be in full communion with the Church of England make a statement which, if tested, might actually be found to be untrue.

With regard to the Church of England, this idea that you can choose your bishop according to your own theological peccadillos has done untold damage to the Anglican Communion. Its theology lies behind so very much of our recent sad history.

I believe in Anglican Churches being broad churches. However, I can’t see how one can really have a church which legislates for people who don’t believe that some of its bishops are bishops.

So, hoping and praying that someone manages to pull a rabbit out of an ecclesiastical mitre. Otherwise, sisters and brothers – Just Say No!


  1. Elizabeth says

    A bishop who ‘has not been himself consecrated by someone who has consecrated or ordained women himself’
    I had no idea that the compromises went so far. This is incredibly pernicious. I find the wrangling over women bishops south of the border painful and ludicrous, in equal measure. Either one is a bishop or one is not. I agree that enshrining these compromises in legislation will store up all kinds of trouble for the future. Not to mention the present.

  2. Emlyn Williams says

    Last night I went to a Deanery Synod meeting in Southwark diocese. There had been some questions about bias against “Evangelicals” expressed at the last meeting so we debated two motions on the general subject. The 1st motion from an Evangelical PCC wanted the Synod to express its concern at the under-representation of Evangelical Clergy at senior levels in the diocese. The 2nd from a liberal PCC stated that “This Synod: a) values the diversity of the C of E, among other things. The Evangelical gentleman who was supporting the 1st motion said that he could accept the 2nd as long as “diversity” was removed from it. I’m glad to say that in spite of the mover of the 2nd doing her best to reassure that in this case they had not been thinking of “diversity” in sexual terms, but only in the general meaning, the Rev gentleman was not assuaged. We did vote the 1st down and the 2nd was passed by a 2/3rds majority.

    This is against a background where a number of Evangelical parishes are withholding their contribution to the diocesan purse.

    One wonders if the C of E is still one church?

  3. Brother David says

    A bishop who ‘has not been himself consecrated by someone who has consecrated or ordained women himself’

    How retroactive is the taint? What if he ordained and/or consecrated you before he was ever involved in ordaining/consecrating women? 😉

  4. Rosie Bates says

    The sad, disgraceful and painful truth is that the Church of England has been in obvious spiritual schism for many years. I am among many female priests who were ‘crunched’ a long time ago in the legislative machinations imposed on our Priesthood. I was so happy to be chosen as the first female incumbent in the Oxford Deanery. It only took a week to discover that the majority of my male colleagues looked upon me as a shocking disgrace! Many of us ‘pioneers’ broke down under the constant weight of abuse and critcism. No disgrace in this as one cannot be wholesome in a sick environment. The legistation gave great opportunities for all that is against the Love of God, the very devil. It was hard not to be angry when one observed what was going on in the Oxford Deanery. One young man stopped me in the street, as I was wearing a dog collar, and cried that he had been expelled from St Ebb’s because he was homosexual. I comforted him and told him to ‘thank God for his deliverance’ and come and join our community. It was an unbelievably sinful and destructive Deanery in terms of personal ambition opposing truth seeking on all sorts of issues. As a female liberal Anglo Catholic I walked the Way of the Cross for years on end before choosing early retirement. The definitive ‘crunch’ time for me was the non appointment of Jeffrey John following withdrawal of funds and support by the Evangelical parishes who were cash rich and spiritually impoverished. Sharp practice locally against Bishop Richard, although I believe Archbishop Rowan was ultimately responsible. Oxford Deanery was and remains a place of pockets of extreme darkness where many presume to understand God’s judgement and head up the opposition to loving ministry. I chose to be penniless rather than receive a stipend in those awful circumstances. It seemed like a ‘Judas’ option at the time and I have no reason to reflect differently right now. Some may say I took the coward’s way out after nine years but I needed to breathe cleaner air. I found myself laughing endlessly at their ridiculous postering but cried when it became effective. I listened to sad and true stories of appalling bullying and abuse and patronising comments and was subject to it myself daily, which interestingly increased even when they believed they were victorious. The ‘there, there, you poor deluded fool who shouldn’t be a priest anyway’ stuff. We were and reman ‘Prisoners for the Lord’s’ sake.’

    Why Oh why am I living in France in the Diocese of Europe?! Our local Synod totally ignores the fact that women are ordained priests in the Church of England and a recent Synod report in Christ Church Brittany Newsletter refers to the priest as ‘he’ throughout although there are women priests officiating in other parts of France. Imagine! This is all deliberately set up by our present Bishop and the ‘Backwards in Doubt’ brigade. I believe I am here just to pray because a soul journey is not without power. The Roman Catholics here are very welcoming and at parish level quite open and well informed and more liberal than the Pope would appreciate! I was recently invited to preach at a Roman Catholic wedding. It was indeed a joy. This begs the question ‘What is Church and would the real Jesus please stand up?’ I have grown careless about not being allowed a full priestly ministry officially because the powers that be cannot actually prevent this in Kingdom terms. However, I pray for progress because I know of intelligent, holy young women who are too scared to respond to a call in the prevailing circumstances and I do have grandaughters who are subject to this pernicious atmosphere.

    It is unbearably sad but necessary to say ‘No’ because why would we wish any female Bishop to suffer further discrimination as it does undermine the power of the Holy Spirit. We should recall Bishop Penny of New Zealand commenting many years ago ‘I would not wish this on my worst enemy’, Unfortunately, the majority of parishioners and PCC members remain ignorant of what is going on in the Church of England underworld and as a result many Deanery Synods are ridden with apathy as long as their members can get what they as individuals desire from their Sunday worship. Many prefer to remain on a bland diet without any truly prophetic ministry which could lead to genuine healing and peace, not to mention mission. They engage in Christianity on a ‘Why should the Gospel be disturbing?’ basis. I presume they do not read, mark, learn and inwardly digest because the outward show is so important to them and they are quite content to consider others damned. Dis-ease is the result of such Christianity. I am sure Jesus weeps with those of us who weep for all the damaged souls and the missed opportunities for mission. I understand why many folks do not attend their local church because they find the worship judgmental, boring and depressing and yet they lead loving, prayerful lives. There are, of course, exceptions and many open and inclusive churches proclaim Good News where God is worshipped, adored and enjoyed, thank God.They will only survive and prosper if we all pray with evangelical fervour for their strengthening. There are swathes of desert places with Christians living in exile. Folks like Kelvin and others keep me from utter despair. Too many people with influence are still remaining silent on several vital issues rather than risk sacrificing their own personal ambitions. It was ever thus and Jesus has plenty to say about such scenarios. ‘The rabbit’ will hopefully be prophetic debate aided by our prayers. ‘All along the watchtower’ ministry breeds ‘joined up church’ and we expect our hearts to be pierced. We have to trust times of Crucifixion because the Lord of Life who is full of grace and truth and dwells among us will be open to our longing eyes and ears. Kingdom power is not instant magic but an eternal promise of abiding, costly, glorious Presence.

    Is this comment helpful or a long rant I ask myself?

    • “However, I pray for progress because I know of intelligent, holy young women who are too scared to respond to a call in the prevailing circumstances…”

      This hit a little too close to home. I often feel that way myself.

  5. It really is quite a mess, isn’t it?

  6. Rosemary Hannah says

    It is a mess, but increased appeasement is not the way out of it. I only trust that weasel words will not persuade GS to consent to enshrining yet more discrimination in law. I hope members are strong enough to say no.

  7. Ross Kennedy says

    Your use of the word ‘power’ in the last sentence of your third paragraph says much. The ladies who aspire to episcopal office obviously want to have the same ‘power’ as their male colleagues. Power? I thought that bishops were called to be the servants of the servants of God. But I suppose that is the ideal rather than the reality. Is ministry now more about being the boss rather than being the servant? Has career ambition and status replaced vocation?

    I sympathise with Rosie Bates experience as I do the position in which my dear old C of E finds itself as it tries to hold together two intolerant extremes. In the 1970s the General Synod of the C of E declared that there were no theological or scriptural reasons why women could not be ordained to the priesthood. Well let me ask is there any theological or scriptural reason reason why a lay person may not preside at the Eucharist? Just think what problems that could solve and it just might well stop all this silly wrangling over status.

    As for me if I enter a Christian fellowship where the Lord’s Supper is being presided over by a lay person (male or female) the question of ‘validity’ never enters my head. Of course, as an Anglican presbyter I abide by the canon law which prohibits lay presidency. But my priesthood can only function as part of the priesthood of all believers.

    • Rosie Bates says


      I was ordained priest in 1994. The liturgy used was according to The Alternative Service Book. I responded to the call because I believed in the divine power of the Sacraments. We sang on bended knee:-

      ‘Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
      And lighten with celestial fire;
      Thou the anointing Spirit art,
      Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart;

      Thy blessed unction from above
      Is comfort, life and fire of love,
      Enable with perpetual light
      The dullness of our blinded sight’…………

      In the same service book for the Ordination of a Bishop an Archbishop says to a Bishop

      Will you promote unity, peace, and love among all Christian people, and especially among those whom you serve? The response is:- By the help of God, I will.

      There is no comfort, life and fire of love in the notion of ‘Two Integrities’. Is there such a word in the Dictionary? Was the notion Divinely inspired? Does it produce wholesome servanthood? No, No, No is the response of our Creator, Redeemer and Liberator.

      The ‘power’ The Church of England is starved of does not accord with the suffering that produces disabled dis-eased servants. The political power and ignorance that prevails is a disgrace to the Word of Life we have vowed to serve and pattern our lives upon. Your priesthood is impaired by this ‘so called’ power. Kelvin’s point in the first place. How, therefore, can you ‘fully’ function ‘as part of the priesthood of all believers’? I lovingly suggest that you ask yourself this question next time you put your stole on.

  8. Rosemary Hannah says

    Ross, if bishops don’t have power there is no point in bishops. I understand that they have the power to ordain, and the power to make more bishops, and, in practical terms, administrative authority in their diocese, which, like it or not IS power. The fact is, that for things to run somebody has to run them. They don’t do it themselves.

    To this extent I agree with you: I am most comfortable (as many women are) with a pretty flat power structure. Even with such however, one needs people who can make decisions, and who are delegated the authority to do it.

    I don’t get the argument that it is fine for a bloke to feel called to that job and to be happy to take that responsibility and the power that goes with it, but if a woman feels called to it she is somehow after ‘power’ in a negative sense.

    On the matter of lay presidency the trouble is that where there is no selection by others, those who self-select are sometimes horribly inappropriate for the job. I have seen a paedophile who openly said he ‘saw no point in prayer’ offer for the job, several who felt their position in society fitted them for it, and some nice souls who did not have the spiritual depth or the humility, or the understanding to in any way take a spiritual lead in the church, but who simply saw a job needing done and felt they might as well do it. I think it is a thing which can only be done be rightly those with certain qualities, which include a preparedness to educate themselves in many and various ways including what we call ‘the academic’ – or more properly in an understanding of who Jesus was, what he actually did teach, how the church has been formed, and where she is today.

  9. Rosemary Hannah says

    I realise there is something else I need to say.

    It is not really about women bishops, not even women priests. It is about women. Are women essentially people in the same way that Jesus was a person? That Peter was a person? That Kelvin is a person?

    You see, I have no ability, call, or desire to be a bishop. Yet I do believe I am a person. When somebody turns round and says: ‘Angela, you have the right qualities to be a bishop, but you are not like enough Christ to be a bishop,’ what that individual is actually saying is: ‘Rosemary, neither you or Angela are fully people. You are deficient in something which gives Jesus, and Peter and Kelvin the ability to be fully human and to have authority.’ That is why many women find this so insulting. We are told we are not ‘really’ like Christ. We are as individuals quite happy to admit that (say) we don’t have the tack to run a diocese, or the resilience to handle an angry vestry, but we still believe that each and every one of us is like Christ.

  10. Ross Kennedy says

    Dear Rosemary,

    Methinks you protest too much. Of course women are the equal of men. Of course a woman could be as effective a chief pastor as any man. ‘In Christ there is neither male not female…. we are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Oops, sorry Kelvin – will I be banned for using a proof text?’)

    I am a retired priest who gets taken out of the cupboard when there’s no one else to do the job -I get dusted down and asked to get on with it. Am I any less of a priest because I do not have the authority of a rector? Is an assistant bishop any less of a bishop than a diocesan? Of course not! Why then is there all this fuss about a women bishop being regarded as less of a bishop if it is permitted for a male bishop to minister to a traditional congregation in her diocese? To be Christlike has nothing to do with being either male or female. It’s partly about letting go of the pretensions we have about our status in the church. (See Phillipiansi 2: 5-8) (Oh dear another proof test – i fear I am for banning!)

  11. Emlyn Williams says

    Dear Rosemary et al,

    What is happening in our world-wide church is about sex and the expression thereof. For far too many, anything other than a man and woman together in missionary position is an abomination that cannot be tolerated. Anything else is seen as against the norm and so not worthy of affection by the Almighty. Now who are we to know the Almighty’s mind? I am not prepared to put myself in that category; I’ll let Him do any judging that is required of His creatures. He made us as we are; I’ll let Him do the balancing.

    On the subject of Lay-Presidency, if we are Anglicans, we have some concept of order within the Church. I have tried without joy to put myself forward for consideration for selection, having had a number of clergy recommend me. Until such time as HMC (Holy Mother Church) sees fit to put me along that path, the last thing I would want is to suspend the Church’s historic view on discernment and ordination. [The reader in my congregation said awhile ago that she thought I was even more of a “priest” than she herself. If somehow we were removed from any normality and there was no priest at all, perhaps then in that extremis, I would consider presiding but only with the support of all those in that situation and on the understanding of all that any celebration was deficient of ultimate authority.] If we are to be Anglicans, then authority (power) has a source and that is the Church itself.

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    You miss my point Ross. I don’t want to be anything … other than the author I am.

    But to say somebody cannot be something just because she is a woman, demeans all women. Plenty of Rectors are male.

  13. Rosie Bates says

    The Church of England has been prevented from carrying toxic baggage by those who represent Wisdom. It is beyond argument that Wisdom was manifest in opposing sexual identity terms as the decision was arrived at faithfully by many thoughtful and well informed souls. We have continued reason to call ourselves a people Holy to the Lord as we have respected our eternal DNA. Thia cannot be removed from our mouths or shoved in an amendment or a cupboard forever and I am laughing and rejoicing at this thought. Alleluia!

Speak Your Mind