Posts

Three processes in one: today’s Synod debate on Bishops

What was achieved at the General Synod this weekend?  Everyone is trying hard to find a way forward.  Lots of time was given to facilitated group work on Saturday and to the debate today.  As you may have seen from the news reports, there was a substantial majority in favour of moving forward on a basis of what was an enhanced Option 1 in the original paper (called variously during the day Option 1.5, 1.7 or 1.75).

The official Church of England press release following the debate is here:

http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2013/07/general-synod-votes-to-restart-the-legislative-process-to-allow-women-to-become-bishops.aspx

There are also audio files here if you want to listen to the debate though I wouldn’t recommend them!  The debate was important but also very dull.

A Common Vision

Synod was not unanimous on the wording of the motion and debating the various amendments took several hours.  However there was, I thought, quite deep agreement across the Synod in three important and different areas.

The first was the urgency of keeping going, trying again and re-engaging with a new process.  Many of us are quite weary of this subject from all sides of the debate but there is an acknowledgement that we need to keep at it until we find a way. In its way that perseverance is impressive.  The second was a determination to have a different kind of conversation and process. There was widespread support throughout the day to a proposal from Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, to set up a Steering Committee for the new Measure which would contain different perspectives and aim to bring something back which could be revised by the whole Synod. There was also widespread support for further use of facilitated conversations.

The third evident agreement in both the small groups and the Synod debate today was in the area of the five fold vision for what kind of Church of England we want to be in the future.  The five points of this vision emerged from the in depth facilitated conversations held in February.  They were owned by the Working Group and then adopted and amended slightly by the House of Bishops.

Although we didn’t vote on it as such today, it feels as though these five points, serve as a key common starting point.  It’s worth repeating them in full.  I would strongly recommend that they are reproduced in parish magazines and newsheets across the Church of England in the coming days and widely discussed and debated.  Synod will return to debate them in the coming months and for the present they seem to carry substantial support.

  • Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  • Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must then be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  • Since it will continue to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  • Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England will remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
  • Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

The debates today were not about whether we should do all of this but how and by what balance of legislation and other provision.The House of Bishops document and Working Party report are here: GS 1886 Women in the Episcopate – new legislative proposals  The five points above are quoted directly from paragraph 12.

Three Processes in One

The next step is that a Steering Committee will be established and will develop draft legislation. However in my view it is important to recognize that there are now three kinds of process going on. Each is important and feeds into the others. Like three strands of a rope we will need all three as we move forward.

The first is the continued theological conversation about the substantive issues at stake in terms of the calling of women to the episcopate.  I haven’t heard much conversation at this level over the Synod weekend.  A feature of the last process has been that we largely stopped having the theological and biblical conversation once we had begun the legislative process.  We must not repeat that mistake.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you will know that I edited a collection of essays with Paula Gooder which was published just before Easter which is designed to help small groups, individuals and parishes to engage with these issues.  It is called “Women and Men in Scripture and the Church” (Canterbury Press). It will be vital to move forward a process of theological conversation and education to undergird the debate (and the change which will eventually come).

The second is the mediated conversations aimed at helping us to understand each others positions better, to be reconciled to working together and being part of one church into the future.  A good beginning has been made here though the facilitated conversations on Saturday were undoubtedly extremely difficult for some.  These conversations continue and need to deepen. We have a small group working to design an indaba type process for the Diocese of Sheffield on this issue in the autumn and I suspect other Dioceses are taking similar initiatives.

However we must not and cannot disguise the fact that through our Synodical processes we are also called to a process of discernment about ways forward which are ultimately determined (humanly speaking) by votes cast at the end of a long process of debate.  Everyone on all sides of the debate needs to remember that reality even in the midst of theological exploration and mediated conversations.  It will also be vital to continue to organize, to marshall support, to campaign, to plan and think ahead.

It is helpful I think to keep these three different processes in mind as we move forward. They are not alternatives.   But they are also quite distinct from each other.

May God lead us and guide us together to find a clear path to fulfill the vision on which we are (almost) agreed.

Women and Men in Scripture – a new book and study guide

Women and Men in Scripture and the Church

A Guide to the Key Issues

Edited by Steven Croft and Paula Gooder

Canterbury Press, March 2013

As most readers of this blog will know, on 20th November, the Measure to enable women to become bishops did not gain the required two thirds majority in the General Synod of the Church of England.  The Measure therefore fell.

Since 20th November I’ve been involved in many different conversations with clergy and lay people, with those deeply disappointed by the outcome, with those opposed in conscience to this development and in the Archbishops Council and the House of Bishops as we seek to find new ways forward.  As many UK readers will know, the House met yesterday to listen to a progress report from the Working Group and made a key decision to invite eight senior women clergy into our meetings until there are six women bishops in the House.

One of my conclusions during and after the Synod debate was that our focus needs to move again back to theological debate and reasoned argument.  It must not simply be about finding a new process. It was also clear to me during the debate and in conversations afterwards that there is a need for simple and straightforward material to help individual Christians, small groups and parishes engage with the subject in a way which brings life and especially to engage with Scripture.  As Christians we make our decisions and discern the way ahead for our church in dialogue with the Word of God.

This need was articulated very clearly in a meeting I held for women clergy in the Diocese of Sheffield with my colleague Bishop Peter just a few days after the Synod vote.  The educational task was seen as vital and people were crying out for fresh resources. A few days later, I was talking over breakfast at the Archbishops Council with the Revd. Rosalyn Murphy a fellow member of the Council, who also described the need for good biblical resources in her own parish in Blackpool.

A little light went on in my head and in our conversation.  I went away and talked with Canterbury Press, with Paula Gooder and with others.  Paula agreed to co-edit the book with me.  We pulled together an outline and people kindly agreed to write their materials at very, very short notice in order to produce the material as soon as possible for the Church.  The writing was finished by 4th January.  We’ve turned the proofs round this week. Women and Men in Scripture and the Church will be published by Canterbury Press in the last week in March, in time to use after Easter.

There are six chapters, each of which has study material for a home group or discussion group but which can also be read as a normal book.  The first, by Jo Bailey Wells, is on gender in Genesis 1-3. Stephen Cottrell has written on Galatians 3 and women and men being one in Christ.  I’ve contributed a chapter on women in ministry in the New Testament on Romans 16.  Ian Paul has written the chapter on the three passages which seem to prohibit the ministry of women (1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14).  Joanne Grenfell has written on women and men in family life in Ephesians 5. Rosalyn Murphy has contributed the final study chapter on women and men working together based on Romans 12.  Paula has written some brief and more technical notes for each study chapter.

There are two supplementary chapters.  Viv Faull has written a very short history of the recognition of women alongside men both in the governance of the church and in recognized ministry.  Emma Ineson has drawn together some brief answers to frequently asked questions in the wider debate.

The style is accessible and open.  We’ve drawn as much as we can on recent scholarship but in such a way that any interested reader can explore the questions.  Some of the proceeds from the book will go to Christian Aid to support their work for gender equality throughout the world.

At the moment we don’t know what shape any new legislative proposals to Synod will take. However once they are published there is likely to be an extended period of debate in the wider church about the ministry of women as bishops.  The Synodical process will need to include another referral to diocesan synods (which will mean once again discussion in deanery synods and Parochial Church Councils). It is vital that this debate is better resourced than last time around and our hope is that the book will play its part in that resourcing.  It is also vital that we have a life giving message to share even in and through the debate.

However that’s not the most important reason that I have helped to draw the book together. The most important reason, I believe, is that the Bible’s message on gender is such good news for both women and men.  To quote from our introduction:

We believe that the account given in the Bible of the role of women and men in God’s purposes is profoundly good news for humankind. It is an account that affirms the equality and status of both men and women and their call to partnership in society and family life and in the Church. It is an account that is radically different from many others in ancient society and down the ages. It is good news that liberates women from subservience to men and also sets men free from gender stereotypes.

 

 The Christian Church is an imperfect institution. It has not always lived out or practised the message of the Scriptures. However, the Bible’s account of gender is liberating good news for older women who may have grown up with the idea that they are called by God to be subservient or to restrict their life choices. It is good news for younger Christian women considering God’s call on their lives. It is good news for men, old or young, who can now work fully alongside both women and men in the service of the gospel. It is good news for the many cultures in the world where women are still treated as less than equal. It is good news for all those working in international aid or development, where the subjugation of women in culture is a major issue in combating poverty.

One of the most painful consequences of the General Synod debate in November was that this profoundly good news was obscured by our internal debates – though this was no-one’s intention.  My hope is that as people read Women and Men in Scripture and the Church, both individuals and small groups and whole congregations will see afresh the equality of women and men in scriptures and in their call to ministry and that this will be life-giving and faith renewing.  Even where people cannot accept the conclusions we draw as a group of authors, our hope is that those who remain unable to accept the consecration of women as bishops will see more clearly that there are good reasons for advocating this on biblical grounds.

Please look out for the book when it comes out, pass on the news to others and use it in your churches.