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"It ain't working!"


In what Theo Hobson, of The Spectator, described as a "significant episcopal utterance," the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, told General Synod that, "The women bishops thing ain't working."

This 'thing' to which she referred, was the Five Guiding Principles , and the accompanying House of Bishops' Declaration, which broke the synodical deadlock over the introduction of women to the episcopate. In November 2012, those looking for proper provision for traditionalists, proved they had a blocking minority in the House of Laity by voting down the original measure. It was an embarrassing defeat, and the House of Bishops were under pressure, including from the Prime Minister to, "Get with the programme." A novel approach to the legislative process was needed and - in what the Bishop of Dover called the 'Women bishops thing' - found.

This 'thing' kept the measure simple and put the detail of the 'deal' in two documents - the Declaration itself and a statutory Code of Practice, both the creation of the House of Bishops. This by-passed the usual synodical scrutiny - leaving Synod to vote on the principle rather than the detail of the 'deal' - which they did successfully in July 2014.

This 'thing' maintains the role of the Diocesan bishop as 'Ordinary' (they remain the senior minister, chief pastor and father in God of all in the diocese), but allows PCCs to request pastoral and sacramental episcopal ministry from a male bishop.

This 'thing' set up two integrities:

  • The Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender.

While at the same time...

  • Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures

As Dr Ros Clarke, a lay member of General Synod, pointed out on Twitter, if Rose Hudson-Wilkin is convinced, this 'thing' ain't working she is "welcome to make representation to the House of Bishops' Standing Commission. Simply dismissing it as "not working" in the chamber, with the clear implication that minority viewpoints should no longer be tolerated was incredibly offensive and hurtful."

But why bring this 'thing' up in a discussion about implementing the Prayers of Love and Faith?

Rose-Hudson Wilkin was responding to Bishop Andrew Watson's suggestion that a similar 'thing' might be the "only way to square the circle," on introducing the Prayers of Love and Faith.

But before those who have been seeking a structural solution get too excited by the possibility that the bishops are discussing such options - it might be wise to listen to Bishop Rose and her friends, because the Bishop of Dover is not the only one challenging this 'thing'.

WATCH (Women and the Church) recently tweeted, "#itsabouttime we now find a generous way to bring the arrangements to an end," with the Chair of WATCH, Martine Oborne helpfully suggesting a way this might be done:

WATCH is also campaigning for 'transparency,' from traditionalist parishes. In Ely Diocese, churches that have passed a resolution are now expected to communicate clearly the fact on their websites, in the about section on social media profiles, and in welcome leaflets or any information provided to newcomers. But it is not enough to just say that a resolution has been passed; The website says parishes should,

"Clearly explain how the resolution determines the ministry and life of the church. A woman may not lead a service or preach, for example. A link to a more detailed PDF statement of the theological conviction which underlies the resolution may also be helpful."

While this may be helpful for all involved, the further expectation that churches should state the date of the next parish consultation and PCC review of the resolution, begins to give the impression that Ely Diocese actively wants to encourage churches to reconsider their position. This view is confirmed when the only "support" offered to these parishes comes from the Diocesan Adviser for Women’s Ministry who "is happy to assist a PCC with the process and facilitate members of the wider church community to submit views before any meeting at which a resolution is to be considered."

This 'thing' ain't working.

On Wednesday, November 21st 2012, the morning after the first women bishops' measure was defeated, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams addressed General Synod.

"I have to say, however – and I hope you will bear with me in my saying this – that there was an unrealism around yesterday as well. The idea that there is a readily available formula just around the corner is, in my view, an illusion. There is no short cut here; there is no simple, God-given, dare I say, solution to a problem which brings people’s deepest convictions into conflict in the way in which they have come into conflict in this Synod and previously. Realism requires us to recognise that; to recognise the depth and seriousness of the work still to be done. The map is clear enough. The decisions we have to make are about the route and those decisions, given the nature of the terrain, will not be simple and straightforward."

But his successor, who was standing in the wings, took a different view. Before he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby was interviewed by Giles Fraser, who wrote,

"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.""

In July 2014, Justin Welby and his right-hand man, David Porter, may have convinced Synod to vote for such an illusion - but less than ten years on - the sharp bits of that circle are making themselves felt.

And it's not the only 'thing' that 'ain't working' - the vast majority of the Anglican Communion have seen through the chimaera of 'walking together', rejecting Welby's leadership in the process.

So, if this 'thing ain't working' for women bishops, and the wider Anglican Communion has shown it won't work for same-sex blessings, perhaps it is time to recognise that the magic is wearing off and sharp bits won't go away.

To quote Ros Clarke again, who also spoke in Synod's discussion about implementing the Prayers of Love and Faith.

"... but it may also be the case that there is simply no time frame that will be long enough to square this circle. I think we may have set the group an impossible task and I wonder at what point we could begin to admit that disagreement in this case is not 'good disagreement' and 'walking together' is not a realistic goal. So my question is this, 'Is there any room in the process which might allow that kind of thinking the unthinkable?'

 

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