Mixed feelings about the Church of England vote on bishops

I’ve very mixed feelings about the vote that has just taken place in the Church of England Synod regarding the question of whether that church should allow women to be able to made bishops.

On the one hand, I know some of the women who are likely to be made bishops and I know the joy and the thrill that will be theirs in taking on this role which previously was denied them. They will make fantastic leaders.

However I also know that the C of E has fallen a long way short of equality. It will still be the case that people will be able to behave in that church as though women are not really bishops at all.

Here in Scotland we’ve been able to have women as candidates in Episcopal elections for some years now however we’ve not elected anyone who happens to be a woman yet.

However if a bishop is ordained in Scotland then she is a bishop. Should someone not accept that, she may take whatever action she needs to take in order to facilitate the governance of the diocese. (She might invite another bishop to work with her or she might not, as she judges appropriately). In England, it will still be possible for someone unable to accept that a women can be a bishop (or even a priest) to simply request a male one.

It is a profoundly different state of affairs and this will embed into the Church of England the notion that the ordination that women receive, whether to the presbyterate or the episcopate can be accepted or rejected by anyone who choses to do so. The same doesn’t apply to men who are ordained.

For that reason, whilst wanting to get all excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead for friends down south who will make brilliant leaders, my fear is that in due course, women and men alike will regret the decisions that led to women being appointed as bishops on these terms.

A single measure clause which simply allowed women to be candidates for the Episcopate would have been just and right. This solution feels far from that.

I know women and men in England who know that this is a vote in favour of allowing women to become second-class bishops.

I have to admit that my sympathies largely lie with them today.


  1. Thanks for clarification. Twitter seems full of unwonted thankfulness, if the above is the case.

  2. Nick Porter says

    Why should a parish be forced to deal with a female bishop if it is against their conscience? Between leaving CoE and being able to have a male bishop, wouldn’t you want those people to have a way of remaining in CoE??

    • No. The idea that a person’s consecration may be optionally recognised by the people of God is too great a departure from catholic order for me.

      • Nick Porter says

        So you rather they leave the church instead? hat doesn’t sound very “inclusive”.

      • Nick Porter says

        For some, though not myself, having women in the episcopate is just as much as a departure from catholic order.

  3. Nick, if the C of E decided in 1992 that there was no reason why women could be debarred from ordination to the priesthood, it would have had to work very hard to find logical reasons why women were ineligible for the episcopate. The Synod seems to have decided that no such logical reasons exist. If we get into the situation where congregations can withhold recognition from a woman’s orders as bishop or priest, then there is nothing to stop them from denying the validity of the orders of red-haired Azerbaijani men, or any other group they happen to dislike.

    • Catherine Demetriadi says

      Indeed — just replace the word ‘woman’ with ‘black’ or ‘Asian’ or indeed, in an alternate universe, ‘man’, and the injustice of this vote screams out. I am glad it passed, though, because I cannot believe second-class bishops are a solution (again in quotation marks) that can hold.

      • Nick Porter says

        Catherine, race and gender aren’t the same thing, especially when it comes to Biblical leadership. Personally, I have no problem with female ordination to any of the orders but I also understand the strongly held objection. Bishops are supposed to represent unity as well, am I correct? If a parish can’t get behind their leadership, should they not have the opportunity to be led by someone they can get behind? Wouldn’t that be inclusive?

        • Catherine Demetriadi says

          I expect the church to lead when it comes to fighting discrimination. Being inclusive at any cost is impossible, so it must make some tough choices. The sooner the better. And how on earth is race or ethnic or sexuality or marital or nationality discrimination one jot different from gender?

          Which Bible are you reading — the one that God personally wrote?

          • Nick Porter says

            There is a traditional case for male only leadership in the church. Like I said, I have no problem with ordination to all orders for women. I know some very good women who are on fire for the Gospel, and I know men who need to leave ordained ministry and find another profession. I think people first of all, need to refrain from looking at ordination as some kind of a “right”. No one has a “right” to ordination. So lets start there,Catherine.

          • No, no one has a right to ordination, but you will forgive me if as a woman I am viscerally horrified at the notion of women, as a concept, being a thing to be dealt with, as compared to an individual of either gender being a person to be pastorally responded to.

            This is not semantics.

          • Catherine Demetriadi says


          • The above was a reply to Nick. Apologies, Catherine.

          • Not a right to ordination, but a right to be considered for ordination? To have their gifts and calling examined and a determination made? I would suggest that all members of the church have that right, even if the result of the determination is that their vocation is not to ordained ministry.

          • Nick Porter says

            Jo, I would have to disagree with you there as well. No one has a right to the sacraments, no one.

          • Nick Porter says

            Beth, please do not take my comment out of context. Thank you.

          • I’m afraid your second statement doesn’t seem to correspond to the first, Nick – I haven’t said there is a right to the sacraments at all, certainly not to ordination. I refer only to a right to expect that your call is assessed – the answer will still often be “no”, and it is the duty of the church to make that decision, but I think there is nothing wrong with expecting to have your call taken seriously.

            On the wider point of a right to the sacraments, should we not, in fact, baptise anyone who asks for it? Is that not a de facto right to the sacrament? Would any of us deny someone who came, asking to be baptised?

          • Nick Porter says

            Jo, if they are willing to follow what entails with Baptism under the covenant, then yes. I’ve known priests who said they won’t baptize children if the parents were doing it to appease grandparents and have no desire to raise the child in the faith. There are still responsibilities involved with Baptism. There are still conditions involved. Would you grant the sacrament of Reconciliation to someone who said they have no desire to turn their life around and said they will go out and to the same thing again?

  4. Richard says

    There is no equality without the same measure of authority. To be able to waive authority is akin to having no authority at all.
    I agree with Kelvin that it is something to be celebrated for those women in Holy Orders to be a part of this new process.
    It does not, however, detract from the fact that an escape
    clause undermines the rights of women.
    It is true that there is no “right” to ordination/consecration. Once ordained or consecrated, however, there should be no tiers of subjective validity or recognition.
    I admire the courage and conviction of those women prepared to enter the process as this waiver provision will ensure that they will have to be vigilant to fight the fight against bullying and discrimination.

    • Nick Porter says

      So what you are saying,Richard, is that those parishes that want to maintain tradition should just leave? Shouldn’t they be able to be ministered to as well? Do they not count anymore? It’s not like everyone wanted this to happen. At least respect their beliefs. I’m sure the majority of parishes won’t request to have alternative episcopal oversight, but if that keeps the CoE from getting even SMALLER, why not oblige them?

      • Nick

        You probably don’t realise how strange what you are saying sounds to people who come from other parts of the Anglican Communion. The idea that you can have a bishop whom people don’t recognise as a bishop within their own diocese just makes no sense to some of us. We shouldn’t have to apologise for that. It seems from my point of view far more normative of the tradition of the church to expect the parishes in a diocese to be in communion with their bishop.

        People talking about tradition who want to argue for having a church that is not in communion with itself seem to me to be standing on pretty rocky ground. That is not the tradition of any form of Christianity that I understand.

        • Nick Porter says

          Fr.Kelvin, are you familiar with the The Episcopal Church? In 2004, our House of Bishops authorized what we call (DEPO) Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight so that parishes that are theologically incompatible with the bishop would have a way of remaining in the church by being under another bishop in the church. If it wasn’t for that, there would be hundreds of thousands more that would have left. The CoE is not exactly in a position to put a “submit or leave” clause on anyone, nor is The Episcopal Church. Tradition has been broken in many ways. I find those who complain about this compromise to be on rocky ground as well.

          • Nick – my apologies. I wrongly presumed you to be in the Church of England.

            However, is it not the case that DEPO requires the consent of the bishop of the diocese and also the case that it can and has been used in cases where there are strained relationships between congregations and their bishop over issues that are wider simply than gender?

            I’m aware of at least one US parish requesting their bishop to allow them to receive the ministry of a more liberal regime as well as there being cases where more conservative oversight has been sought.

            It simply isn’t the case that DEPO is the same as what has been enacted in England.

            That, I think, is the point.

  5. Lawrence Rosenfeld says

    Perhaps this is splitting hairs – I think not. I am American and Episcopalian. Clearly there has been a lot of turmoil and torment here over whether the American potion of the Anglican Communion is going to be Liberal or “traditional” (to use Nick’s word). Perhaps if I simply say is that I attend All Saints’ Parish in San Francisco, everyone will know where I stand on this continuum.

    I think that there is a significant difference between a group of people (a parish for example) who ask to be permitted to bring into their congregation a leader who reflects their leanings, and the notion that an individual could say to a Bishop “no! not you, a real one.”

    Actually I wish my Roman Catholic friends here in San Francisco could say that to Archbishop Cordilione.

    • Nick Porter says

      Well Lawrence, to me there really isn’t that much of a difference. Either way, they feel that they cannot be properly ministered to by that individual. In effect, the parish is saying that you really shouldn’t be a bishop to begin with because of your leanings. The rest is semantics.

  6. Meg Rosenfeld says

    As canny readers will discern, I’m in the same parish (and the same house) as Lawrence Rosenfeld, and have a question regarding the selection of bishops in England: Are they not elected by delegates from the diocese? That is to say, democratically chosen? If so, then, you’re stuck with the majority’s choice. We’ve weathered some real doozies here, and survived. 😎

    • No Meg, Bishops in the Church of England are not elected. My understanding is that they are chosen by the Crown Nominations Commission, which consists of the two Archbishops (as Chair and Vice Chair), six members of the General Synod (three clergy, three lay), six members elected by the diocesan Vacancy in See Committee (at least three of them lay), and the two Appointments Secretaries (as non-voting members). They work through a short list and come up with two names, one of which is identified as the preferred candidate. The preferred candidate then has to go through a number of other hoops, including being approved by Downing St and the Queen.
      And new Bishops are announced by Downing St…. so whilst the dioceses get a say, it certainly isn’t a case of democratic election of a Bishop. It very often appears to be much more of a political issue.

  7. Dear Kelvin, do you not think it possible that the reason you have no women bishops yet in the Episcopal Church in Scotland may be because no diocese has yet found the courage to elect one of them? It may possibly be that some people in the S.E.C. are – in the event – still biased against women bishops, not because of the theological problems that have already been disposed of in your Synods, but because of individual prejudice still remaining among the rank and file?

    • No. I don’t think that. Only having seven dioceses, there are not that many elections anyway. Our last one in this diocese had both male and female candidates. The electors were astonished to see a press corps outside on the day of the election and many asked why. When told it was because we might elect a woman they were bewildered. Gender simply didn’t play a part in the election. The people choose the candidate they wanted who happened to be a man.

  8. Jemima P says

    I am agnostic, but reading sexist and archaic opinions like Nick’s steers me away from ever wanting to be a part of any church! No wonder a lot of local congregations are dwindling when there’s rubbish like this being circulated. Just an ‘outsider”s opinion!

    • Nick Porter says

      Jemima, How am I sexist when I said I have no personal issue with women’s ordination to ANY of the orders? HOWEVER, I respect people’s right to operate by their own conscience. You’re not in church because you don’t want to be there, plain and simple. The church is not there to cater to your leanings but is a hospital for sinners.

  9. Nick’s absolutely right folks but hasn’t gone far enough. Biblically, to support tender consciences, with the backing of St Paul and Noah, we need to take a determined stand against White servers, deacons, priests and bishops. Out with them all. Root and branch. No, you may laugh, but this is entirely following Nick’s logic. Kelvin, sorry, when I meet you at the Squiggly Bridge for Pride the Lord has laid it upon me to confront you with the truth: you’re just too peelly-wally to serve. 😉

    • Nick Porter says

      Alan, you’re being disingenuous. Read what I said and don’t take it out of context.

  10. ‘a leader who reflects their leanings’ – yes, the very nub of the question: ‘We want a bishop who will never challenge us or take us out of our comfort zone’.

    • Nick Porter says

      Eamonn, what is the job description of a bishop? From the Book of Common Prayer: “You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the
      Church; to celebrate and to provide for the administration of
      the sacraments of the New Covenant; to ordain priests and
      deacons and to join in ordaining bishops; and to be in all
      things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the
      entire flock of Christ”

      No where does it say anything about taking someone out of their comfort zone or challenging their beliefs. They are to guard and teach the faith once delivered from Christ and the apostles. That is their duty. If you want to be activist for your pet social view, ordained ministry is not for you.

      • We don’t have such a prayer in the Scottish liturgy for consecrating bishops and obviously we don’t use the American Book of Common Prayer.

        Notably, we don’t call our bishops to guard or maintain the unity of the church at all. We call them to call others into unity, which is quite different.

        We do call them to be attentive to the Spirit and to proclaim the gospel to the World in succession to the Apostles. It is difficult, I think, to understand that as not including some prophetic element.

        • Nick Porter says

          That’s very interesting. Are Scottish Episcopalians free to reject what your bishops consider to be “prophetic”? Or are they bound to accept it?

          • Is this a serious question?

            In what possible way could one bind a Scottish Episcopalian to accept anything?

          • Nick Porter says

            Yes it was a very serious question. So basically what is considered “prophetic” is in the mind of the beholder?

  11. Shona Boardman says

    Hi Kelvin

    As I have been saying all along to anyone that listens: if the ‘issue’ at hand was whether priests of colour or differing abilities were/were not ‘allowed’ to be bishops, the issue at hand would never be tolerated. It would be named for what it is: discrimination/oppression. However, the ‘issue’ here is in regards to women (ie gender) and for some reason (I have my theories) the issue of gender never seems to be viewed as an issue of oppression and discrimination. During my time on the Isle of Lewis, I tried to raise the gender issue with both my bishop and the Primus and I was given two separate responses: ‘maintain a dignified silence’ and ‘this issue is between you and your bishop.’ No one wants to name this entire process for what it is: MISOGYNY. Plain and simple.

    My preference would have been a ‘no’ vote. What we are left with will be enshrined in canon law. We are second class citizens in the Church of England. Shame.

    • Misogyny is intolerable, Shona, It’s lamentable that you don’t feel supported by the people whose ministry it is to help promote, develop, and sustain the ministries of ALL their clergy.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      The worrying thing is that it is misogyny supported by women, or by a small minority of women. It is beyond me to understand without getting into the kind of psycho-babble I am not really qualified to speak or understand. But yes, it is misogyny – a belief that women are not really people, which is why failing to recognise a woman as a bishop insults ALL women, not just the ones with the ability and calling to fulfil that particular role.

      • Nick Porter says

        I never heard one person say that women weren’t people so they shouldn’t be bishops. You’re taking this a stretch too far aren’t you,Rosemary?

        • Rosemary Hannah says

          It is the argument though. Women cannot represent Christ, because Christ was incarnate (in their view) as a man, (not as a human) which is something quite different from being a woman. Or else that women cannot take leadership roles, because they cannot have authority. both arguments depend on women being something less than fully human. Real and full humanity is (according to both arguments) only present in men.

          • Daniel Lamont says

            No, Nick, I don’t think Rosemary has taken this a stretch too far. I have heard people express the same sentiments, if using different language. As Rosemary in her second post says, if people deny full equality to women, they are being treated as less than fully human. I don’t buy the ‘complementary’ or ‘separate but equal’ arguments. What happens is is that you get the separation alright but you don’t get the equality. While I am delighted by Monday’s vote, I share Kelvin’s misgivings because the CofE is still allowing discrimination and misogyny in some parts of its domain.

            Daniel Lamont

          • Nick Porter says

            Daniel, Rosemary, how would you minister to the parishes that don’t believe that women should be bishops? Do you tell them simply to just leave the CoE? Do you think the CoE is in a position to say such a thing, given how many people have left and are actual practicing Anglican Christians?? What really bothers me is how people are looking at consecration to the episcopate as some kind of a “right”, when NO ONE has a right to ordination, either men or women. Just like I told someone else above, no one has a “right” to the sacraments.

  12. Daniel Lamont says

    I seem to detect a somewhat authoritarian sub-text to Nick’s posts. Speaking for myself only. I would want to make two replies to Nick. 1) As a member of the CofE who frequently worships in Anglican churches in Scotland and Canada, I do feel free to reject my bishops’ pronouncements on anything whether or not it be prophetic. I adhere to Hooker’s classic summary that the CofE is based on the three legs of faith, tradition and reason and I don’t leave my reason at the church door. Merely because someone is a bishop does not mean that ipso facto I accept what they say. A bishop has to provide leadership – though I find that sadly lacking on the English bench of bishops at the moment, who generally are theologically under-educated- but he/she cannot compel my agreement since I am nor ordained. I listen seriously to what they say and and weigh it up but a Bishop has to earn respect and also establish a ‘track record’. Thus I always take seriously what Bishops Nick Baines and Alan Wilson in England (and, for that matter Kelvin) have to say because they have established a pattern of thoughtful and considered comment over the years. Thus reading Bishop Nick and Kelvin on assisted dying has forced me to reconsider my views. We are a Reformed church and the SEC’s ordinal has a lot to commend it. 2) What I consider ‘prophetic’ depends on my own thinking, what members of my church say, what I read and hear in discussion and then come to a conclusion which might be tentative.

    It might be worth pointing out that the Scottish Episcopal Church is the only Anglican church not to emerge from the CofE. The Reformation in Scotland has a very different history from that in England.

    Daniel Lamont

    • Nick Porter says

      Thanks for your response Daniel. I frequently ignore my own bishops and priests on social issues here in the US.

      • I can understand why you might find that very polarised climate difficult, Nick. Over in old Blighty we’re all packed tightly into these funny islands and are more inclined to be arch with our ecclesiastical ‘enemies’ than to be directly aggressive. You seem to be seething with rage, which is good for neither body nor soul. I don’t jump on the liberal bandwagon for every issue and am conservative on some so I wonder if you’re feeling steamrollered by a community you feel kinship with but who appear to you to be betraying their values for reasons nothing to do with the Gospel. Actually, that sums up my feelings about my cradle Roman Catholicism, at least about the Scottish hierarchy. But it takes all types to make up the people of God. Would you not feel more at home in Rome?

        • Nick Porter says

          No Alan, because in good conscience, I cannot sign on to all of their teachings as I believe Rome is still in error. I’m not “seething with rage”, I personally have no issue with women in any of the holy orders, but I respect the parishes that don’t see it that way, and I would expect the church to minister to them. That’s not rage, that’s logic.

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    The problem is that the C of E has gone down a road of letting particular parishes paint themselves into corners. Rather than letting it be a matter of good pastoral practise to fit the clergy to the parish (as already happens with low and high church priests/parishes) they allowed particular parishes to set themselves in stone by adopting ‘resolutions’.

    I have expereince of a church in Scotland where one or two prominent older members of the congregation were against women priests. The then bishop formed the opinion that ‘that church should never have a priest who is a woman serve there.’ At that point, one member moved and another died. Coincidentally, a woman priest came to take a wedding of the adult offspring of a regular member. Attitudes changed. A different, incoming bishop who took soundings from the church was surprised to find that the overwhelming bulk of the congregation were open to having a priest of either gender, and one member had reservations but felt there might be a possibility of their changing their mind, which, when the next priest happened to be a woman, they actually did.

    Informal arrangements allow for flexibility. Arrangements to accommodate the weaknesses of of people’s faith are very different from trying to make honoured places for prejudices. Very few congregations have left over the issues over women priests, but the people who do not come to church are not simply motivated by feeling God is an implausible hypothesis or that they need a lie in on Sundays. Many do not come because they see churches as wedded to biased views which secular society has quite rightly binned.

  14. Rosemary Hannah says

    There can never be a right for a particular person to be ordained. But there are no different classes of people. Everybody is human. The only people available for ordination are human. It is splitting people into artificial classes which makes the trouble. It is arguing that gay people or female people or black people are not really human and so cannot be ordained that makes the trouble. Saying that a particular person lacks the gifts needed for ordination, and cannot serve the church in that way is a wholly different thing.

    • Daniel Lamont says

      Nick, I have carefully read once again both Kelvin’s original post and the comments. I think you are imputing to all of us views that we do not in fact hold. No-one here is saying that anyone has a right to be ordained, whatever people elsewhere might believe. Kelvin said ‘However I also know that the C of E has fallen a long way short of equality. It will still be the case that people will be able to behave in that church as though women are not really bishops at all’. The issue is a matter of discrimination. If you ordain a woman either priest or bishop but limit their authority and also where they might serve on the grounds of their gender and do not do the same for men, you are, ipso fact, being discriminatory. Had the CofE not secured exemption from UK equality legislation, the decision on Monday to consecrate women as bishops but place restrictions on their authority and how they may carry out their roles in ways that do not apply to men, then the Church would have been in breach of the legislation. That is the point that Kelvin has made. It is worth saying for the benefit of non-Brits that CofE canon law has the force of the law of the land in England.

      Rosemary has made an excellent point above about differences might be better managed without being entrenched in legislation and I agree strongly with all she has said. Hard cases make bad law. In order to secure approval to consecrate woman bishops, the CofE has had to compromise, and I understand that, but, as far as I am concerned, it has entrenched the right to be discriminatory. You argue that a parish should not be forced to have a male bishop and accuse those of us who disagree of not being inclusive. You also suggest that offering parishes the choice of accepting women priests or leaving the CofE would lead to the further decline of membership. Ii would counter that by saying that I am well aware of many people who will not join the CofE because it institutionalises discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexuality. It is sometimes possible to become so inclusive that you don’t stand for anything. You may have lived a more sheltered life than I have, but I have heard both anglo-catholics and conservative evangelicals speak of women in such appalling and derogatory terms that I am not sure that I wish to belong to the same institution. I think we are unlikely to agree so I will now fall silent other than to say that I strongly support Kelvin and other commentators here in their abhorrence of all kinds of discrimination, whether it be of gender or sexuality.

      • Nick Porter says

        I agree to disagree,Daniel. I think the people that won’t join because of those things would be joining the church for all the wrong reasons to begin with. But that’s another story.

Speak Your Mind