Women Bishops: Honour before glory

21 Nov

Definitions:

Honour – 2 the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right

Glory – 1 very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent

The last 16 hours have seen many tears shed and angry words spoken in the wake of the Church of England’s General Synod vote on women bishops. And alongside this has been many tweets from people giving honour to the women who have influenced their life and/or ministry. In the same way, I would like to do likewise.

I want to pay tribute to Rev. Sue Allen, curate for St Andrew’s, Goldsworth Park when I joined in 1996. I was there and took part in her first time presiding over communion and she was a key influence on my first involvement with working with children and young people. Indeed, it is quite possible that without her support I might not have gone in to youth work when I did, if at all. Sue is now Team Rector for Hemel Hempstead.

I want to pay tribute to Rev. Chris Harrison, also a curate, who I also met while at St Andrew’s, Goldsworth Park. She was very supportive to me when I first came to be a part of the PCC at St Andrew’s, encouraging me to be a part of a planning group for church social activities and also giving constructive advice after a youth event that I had been involved in organising didn’t quite go as it perhaps should have.

I want to pay tribute to Rev Chris Simmons, who I worked alongside when I was the caretaker for Christ Church, Woking. She worked tirelessly for the church, as associate minister, and it was a real privilege to work alongside her, particularly supporting her midweek communion service where she ministered to many elderly members of the parish.

I want to pay tribute to Rev Judi (Jude) Drummond, currently chaplain to the University of East London. She came and took at least 1 service, possibly 2, during the interregnum at my church, Ascension Church, this year. She is a bubbly, vibrant character with a heart for serving people and meeting their needs. I really enjoyed being a part of the service she did during Holy Week, as she hit the right level of humour and solemnity and was well received by all there.

I want to pay tribute to my mother, who has heavily influenced my theological thinking, particularly from her Celtic influences from the Northumbria Community, which have always given me a fresh insight into understanding spirituality.

I want to pay tribute to Alice Smith and Rachel Brett, area DYOs for Chelmsford Diocese, who have both been supportive and prayed for me during a 12 month spell at Ascension Church that was less than pleasant. They are awesome and inspiring people who seek to support young people and their youth workers in their walk with God.

I want to pay tribute to Liz Fisher and Becca Dean, both youth workers in the Church of England. They are thought-provoking people who do an awesome work with young people and also supporting fellow youth workers.

There are so many more women I could also pay tribute to, but I have another list I wish to pay tribute to:

I want to pay tribute to Rev Jim Charles, Vicar at St Peter’s, Bexleyheath, who has been supporting youth work for many years now through being involved in CPAS Venture Camps. Jim is currently the Head Chef for Brambletye (formerly Danehill) 1. Jim has also been supportive of me during my aforementioned difficult 12 months, meeting me for coffee and praying with and for me during that time.

I want to pay tribute to Rev Marc Lloyd, Rector for the benefice of Warbleton, Bodle Street Green & Dallington in East Sussex. Marc works tirelessly as leader for the Brambletye 1 Venture Camp, seeking to minister to young people aged between 11-14 to help them hear the Good News and put their faith in Christ. He is an inspiration as a selfless leader who puts others before himself as he encourages his team of both women and men, young and not so young, to work for the Kingdom in the lives of the youths we are responsible for.

I want to pay tribute to Rev James Oakley, vicar for St Mary’s Kemsing and St Mary’s Woodlands, who became my vicar while I was youth worker for St Mary’s, Kemsing. He supported me and prayed with and for me both during my time and after my time as youth worker. He did this all the way through my year of unemployment and also when I found out that my parents would be divorcing. He has been as big a support for me in the last few years as any others.

I want to pay tribute to Rev John Richardson, perhaps best known as the Ugley Vicar, who is currently minister for the churches of Henham, Elsenham, & Ugley. John has been tireless in his quest to see the Bible and the teaching of it put at the heart of the Church of England. He was partly responsible for the formation of the Chelmsford Anglican Bible Conference and an author of several books, in particular on seeking to convert the nation through his book A Strategy That Changes The Denomination. He is passionate about evangelism and seeing people come to know Christ as Lord. He is also one of the reasons why I have put myself forwards for election to the Chelmsford Diocesan Board of Education.

Adding 4 men after a list of tributes to women might seem a bit odd. However, my reason for these last 4 tributes are that these 4 men are all against the measure that was voted for, and lost, yesterday, indeed at least 3 of them were signatories of the letter to the Times saying that the measure as it stood was not good enough. They are good and honourable men of God, seeking His call on their lives and in their ministries. They are equally as awesome as the women mentioned (just as the women are equally as awesome as the men) for the dedication they show in their walk with God and His people.

And here’s where we come to the crux of the issue. In 1992 General Synod declared that whilst it was changing and becoming a church that included women priests, however it also said that the Church of England would retain an “honoured place” for those who could not agree with this on theological or traditional grounds. Indeed, the the Act of Synod 1993 (part 3 a) says the following:

The General Synod regards it as desirable that –

(a)     all concerned should endeavour to ensure that –

(i)      discernment in the wider Church of the rightness or otherwise of the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood should be as open a process as possible;

(ii)     the highest possible degree of communion should be maintained within each diocese; and

(iii)    the integrity of differing beliefs and positions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood should be mutually recognised and respected;

This holds true for BOTH positions, not just 1 over the other. So in doing this the Church of England has committed itself to keeping people of both persuasions within it’s fold. It cannot be taken seriously as a church if it does not continue to do so. This was the view of enough members of Synod, including some very well known liberals, to see the measure not pass the 2 thirds majority.

So where now? Well, there are 2 key things that need to happen. The first is that people need to get over the pain that this vote has caused so that level heads can come together and talk about a way forward. The second thing is that those against (particularly those of ReformForward in Faith and the Catholic Group in General Synod in particular) and those in favour (in particular WATCH) need to get together and find an agreement that they can all back. They can then take this to the presidents of Synod (The Archbishops of Canterbury and York) and the chairs of the houses of Laity and Clergy, telling them that they will tell all their members and supporters to vote for the measure and it can then be taken before Synod and voted for (please note, although it is being reported that it cannot come before the General Synod in this synod’s lifetime, the Archbishop of York did say that the above-mentioned line of communication could see it come in again during this synod of all the mentioned parties agreed to it).

What are the issues that need addressing? Well, the biggest one, which has been described as “squaring the circle”, is trying to find a way that provision for those against that will be enough for them whilst not making women feel like any women bishops will be “second-class bishops”. This is, sadly, a doomed argument. The Church of England has, in effect, declared this to be the case back in 1992 when it declared that it wanted to keep those against women’s ordination alongside those in favour. Those against women’s ordination and/or consecration will never hold that a woman can be a bishop and so will not recognise them as such. So the question has to be posed to those at the “extreme” (the word does not sit well with me, but it is the best I can think of at the time) end of those in favour of women, can you accept that there are some people that will never accept women’s consecration as valid? If so, then the argument about “second class bishops” MUST go out of the window! If not, this question then has to be put to the whole Church of England, do you still want to be a church that holds an “honoured place” for those that are against the ordination and consecration of women AS WELL AS ordaining and consecrating women? If the answer is yes then the solution as a result of question 1 becomes increasingly difficult. If the answer is no, then the last 20 years promise to those against are hollow and the Church of England really needs to take a good look at itself and where it is heading.

My hope and prayer? That my 2 points about getting over the pain and the 2 sides meeting happen and that they find a way forward together. The Church of England’s greatest weakness is that it is home to so many opposing theological views. However this is also it’s greatest strength. It means that we will be constantly both tearing ourselves apart and trying to pull ourselves together. What better example is there on earth of how our Lord wanted us to be, than to be striving to remain as one DESPITE all the disagreements that we might have?

For those that are still reading and are still hurting, I know how you feel. I am as much in favour of women bishops as the majority of Synod and when the vote result came through, whilst I felt it was the right result I was numb inside because, having heard the debate in July, I knew how close we had come to getting it right! I urge you, please do not despair. Please pray for those that are influencing this to be open to doing what is right, for both parties. And this is why my title is “honour before glory”. The glory of the victory comes from outside, but we are not called to be acclaimed by the world. We are called to love God and our neighbour and in doing the honourable thing we show our love for what is right for others. I pray that we can move forward together in love.

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