Questions of poverty and inequality are at the heart of our discipleship. Each of us will need to navigate the spiritual challenges, dangers and temptations of relative and sometimes actual wealth. As a church we have a calling to serve the poorest in our communities. As a whole church we have a responsibility to maintain and if we can to deepen the way in which our society lives out the call in the prophets and in the gospels to justice and a fairer society.
An (unauthorised) background paper for the General Synod. Read more
Address to General Synod
2017 was BP’s biggest year of exploration since 2004. Shell boasts on its website: “We have no immediate plans to move to a net zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years”
At Shell’s annual meeting in May this year, only 5.5% of investors supported a resolution calling on the company to set emission-reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.
According to a 2017 report from ShareAction, Shell and BP’s ‘base case’ scenarios for business planning were both found to be ‘consistent with 3-5°C+ of global warming (source)
The world is on a trajectory to catastrophic climate change if nothing more is done. We need a much greater urgency in this debate grounded in a hope that things can change.
I sit as a member of the Advisory Board of the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute, one of the most respected global institutions for interdisciplinary study on these themes. I was asked to join the board 18 months ago in recognition of the key role that faith communities need to play in the change we need to see.
Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science at the ECI and closely involved in the IPCC. Myles has argued that the most important figure in the Paris Agreement is not 1.5 or 2 degrees. The most important figure is zero: we need net zero carbon emissions to stabilise global temperatures at any level: 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees.
We potentially need to reach net zero as early as 2050 if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met. Any company making 40 year investments that does not have a plan for net zero by 2050 is either counting on Paris goals not being met or neglecting its duties to its shareholders.
The goal of the Paris Agreement is to see global peak carbon in 2020 and a reduction to net zero by around 2050.
Therefore the most important question to ask fossil fuel companies now is what are your plans for the reduction of carbon emissions to zero by 2050? What are measurable the staging posts along the way? How will you remain profitable through that transition?
I am sure that the period 2015-2020 (or thereabouts) is the right period for engagement. I am really grateful for all that NIB’s have done and for the Transition Pathway Initiative. The work has been outstanding. I think TPI will be needed for a long time into the future whatever the outcome of our debate today.
But there is a growing global community of churches, institutions and investors who are realising that engagement alone is not enough. Laboured and incremental change is nowhere near what is needed. Internal engagement needs to be combined with external pressure to make radical change.
We have a very serious ethical issue before us as a Church. Achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement requires 30% of oil and 50% of known gas reserves to remain unburned. If we continue to invest in these companies beyond 2020 we will be making money from practices which will harm the poorest people on earth and the planet itself.
The threat of imminent divestment beginning in 2020 is not an alternative to engagement but a vital part of that engagement. We will not be walking away. Engagement can and should continue by different means.
The Church of England has a responsibility to lead on this issue within the United Kingdom and internationally through the Anglican Communion. That moral leadership depends on aligning our investment practice and our lifestyle with the global vision for a net zero carbon world by 2050.
8 July 2018
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:
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.
The Sheffield Diocesan Synod met this morning just a few days after the General Synod debate on the Measure to enable women to be ordained as bishops. At most Diocesan Synods, the Bishop gives a Presidential Address. This is my address from this morning. It’s slightly longer than usual because of the subject matter. You should be able to find a downloadable document and a video of me giving the address sometime today on our website: http://www.sheffield.anglican.org
Update: video version now online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLRJfqKIWDQ&feature=player_embedded The Bishop of Sheffield Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod 24th November, 2012
I am deeply saddened that the Measure to enable women to become bishops was not passed by the General Synod on Tuesday by a very narrow margin in the House of Laity.
However sincere the convictions of those who voted against the Measure, it is my honest view that the standing of the Church of England in our nation has been damaged, I hope temporarily, and that this decision will make it more difficult in the months to come to proclaim the gospel with joy and confidence which is our calling and responsibility before God. We have been in difficult places before. We are a Church who believes in hope and resurrection and that God is at work in every situation. However, on any understanding, these are serious matters.
I give heartfelt thanks to God this morning for the ministries of the women who are priests and deacons in the Diocese of Sheffield and more widely. I deeply value and cherish their ministries as do the parishes where they serve. Alongside their male colleagues, they serve sacrificially, wholeheartedly, with great skill and dedication. Many, I know, feel bruised by this decision not because they want to be bishops but because they feel their own ministries as priests and deacons are again called into question. To live a sacrificial life as a priest or deacon is hard but to do so knowing that part of your own church is questioning your ministry is a difficult calling indeed. I hope every person here will take time and trouble to affirm and celebrate and appreciate the ministry of our women clergy in the Diocese in the coming days and weeks.
Many others, lay people and clergy feel angry and bewildered. For many of us, the rightness of this development has never seriously been in question. Many others have campaigned for many years. Many are asking how the General Synod can vote down a Measure approved by 42 out of 44 dioceses, which has taken up so much time and energy over the last 12 years and which will now continue to take time and attention away from other vital matters.
The Dean has already described the events of the Synod in some detail and I will not go over them again. I want in this Presidential Address to address five questions as we move forward together as a Diocese.
First I want to affirm the Christian understanding of the equality of women and men before God in society and in the life of the Church.
Second I want to address those who are feeling angry and hurt by this decision.
Third, I want to make some comments to those have opposed the Measure.
Fourth I want to look ahead a little.
Finally I want to draw us back to the love of God and of our neighbour which is the heart and centre of our faith.
1. The equality of women and men before God
First then, the Christian understanding of the equality of women and men before God in society and in the Church. There is a great difference between what those arguing against this Measure in the Synod wanted to say and what our society heard. What they wanted to say was, this Measure is not the right way forward, the details of the provision are not right, we need to think again.
However what our society heard in those arguments was that women are not equal to men in the eyes of the Church. No-one who read the newspapers on Wednesday and Thursday, or who listened to the Prime Minister, or heard the radio and television discussions can be in any doubt that that was the message which came through.
So let me put the case as simply as I can for the equality of women and men in society, in family life and in the ministry of the Church.
It is a case built as it must be on the Scriptures.
In the creation narrative in Genesis 1 the whole stress is on the equality of men and women within a single humanity against the flow of the culture of the ancient world:
“So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.26)
Two genders, male and female, are both equally part of one humanity.
In the creation narrative in Genesis 2, the stress is again on one humanity, with the high point of that narrative the creation of woman. Twice we read that woman is to be a helper and partner. The language of partnership is not the language of subordination. The Hebrew negedo means at its root what is conspicuous or in front. The Septuagint translation is boethos homoios auto – “a helper equal in stature to him” (Genesis 2.18-25).
It is only after the fall in Genesis 3 that the subordination of woman to man and differentiation of function enters the biblical narrative as a consequence of sin. But the effects of the fall, we believe, are redeemed and transformed by the actions of Christ.
St. Paul stands firmly within the main biblical narrative when he declares in Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28).
Christ came to restore to humanity all of that which is lost. The equality of women and men before God is one of those lost strands.
The ordering of ministry in God’s church, the redeemed people of God, needs to reflect as far as possible the new humanity and order created by Christ rather than the old order. This means equality of gender not subordination in every order of ministry including the ministry of deacons, priests and bishops.
The earliest Christians were striving for that new equality. There is evidence for that all over the New Testament. In Romans 16 we read of Phoebe the deacon described as a leader of many. The Greek word is prostasis, the same root used and translated leader in Romans 12.8. We meet Prisca, named before her husband Aquila, fellow workers, echoing Genesis 2, who risked their lives. We meet Junia, prominent among the apostles. Women and men exercising ministry and leadership together in a way counter to the culture of the day.
It is true that a small number of , mainly later, passages give a contrary view and seem to prohibit women from speaking or being in authority. But those very passages are evidence for the practice they were trying to suppress. They stand outside the main flow of scripture. They need to be read carefully. The seeds and signs of equality between men and women in ministry are present and affirmed in the Scriptures.
All interpretations of Scripture on the question of women in ministry have to account for these two variant traditions in the New Testament. Which should we take as our guide today? Should we follow the dominant tradition and direction of Scripture which affirms equality and partnership in ministry as in the rest of life or the minority tradition in which the ancient Church was accommodating to its culture, we can only assume for the sake of the greater good of the proclamation of the gospel.
The Church of England has determined for some years that the majority reading is the right one for our times and, indeed, is our adopting it is overdue. That is especially the case because in our culture it is essential to affirm equality and partnership in leadership and ministry for the sake of the greater good of the proclamation of the gospel as the response to the Synod decision has made very clear.
This scriptural understanding of the equality of women and men lies right at the heart of the womens rights movement worldwide historically and in the present day. The early suffragettes took part of their inspiration from the Bible. It is a vital part of the Christian witness not only in this country but across the globe in relief and development.
2. A word to those who feel angry or hurt by this decision.
I have spoken and corresponded with a large number of angry and hurt people since Tuesday evening. So great is their hurt and anger that a significant number have talked of resignation and withdrawal – from their posts, from additional responsibilities, from volunteering, from the life of the Church of England.
I can understand those feelings. They will take time to work through. In the end we must each reach our own decisions. However I want to encourage anyone in that position with all my heart to channel that sense of hurt and anger not into withdrawal but engagement and not into unthinking criticism of others which damages the body of Christ but into constructive work for the future: be part of the change you want to see and bring your passion with you.
I have been reminded over the last four days of the story of Elijah after the great confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah is drained by that encounter. He is led by God into the wilderness, to the roots of his faith. God ministers to him there. He encounters God not in earthquake, wind and fire but in the still small voice. What many of us need and what the whole Church needs in this moment is time apart, a long journey back to the source of our life and to hear again that living word, that call to us, to re-engage and move forward.
It is an old adage but a true one that decisions are made by those who show up and become involved. This may be a watershed moment for the Church of England. My prayer is that many will hold fast and deepen not lessen their commitment to transformation.
3. Some comments for those who have opposed the Measure
One of the features of the General Synod debate on Tuesday was that nobody won. In conversation with bishops, clergy and lay people who voted against the Measure there is no sense of victory. No-one wants to be in this situation. Everyone recognizes it to be serious. Over and over again in the debate there was a willingness expressed by opponents of the Measure to find a constructive way forward, a willingness which will be tested in the months to come.
In my view, those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops are in a worse not a better place because the Measure was defeated. It is true that the consecration of the first women as bishops has been postponed by a few years. However the Church of England as a whole is more determined than ever to pursue that course and we will be held to account by the society we serve. So the uncertainty about the long term future will continue.
Through the difficult debate on Clause 5.1.c between May and September, the House of Bishops discovered an important line in this debate. Clause 5.1.c as it was meant the Measure no longer commanded the support of those who most want to see women as bishops and the senior women clergy who would themselves be women bishops. It is very hard this morning to imagine returning to or beyond that point in terms of provision.
Conversely I can see every possibility of attitudes hardening and proposals emerging at the next stage which are less reliant on legal safeguards and more on building a culture of trust.
Even if the Church of England could reach agreement on such provision, there is another factor. Parliament has become deeply involved in this debate. For the first time in history on Thursday the Speaker allowed an emergency question to the Second Estates Commissioner. 24 MP’s spoke. Not one had a good word to say about the decision taken by the General Synod. Any legal provisions in the Measure will have to pass through Parliament.
I therefore believe that this next period will continue to be an extremely difficult one for those opposed to women as priests and bishops. The alliance between conservative evangelicals opposed to women’s headship and anglo-catholics opposed to the ordination of women will be subject to significant scrutiny. I expect these two very different theological positions will attract increased attention and criticism. Before Tuesday’s vote, these two positions had not been much examined and tested in public debate. They were simply respected as minority views held in good conscience. However they now, sadly, have much greater importance and will be subject to much closer scrutiny.
So let me say again this morning what I have said on a number of occasions. I want to affirm and work closely with parishes and clergy in these two very different traditions. I am glad that you are well represented in this Diocese. You stand high in my affection and esteem as clergy and people. I will do my best to continue to work with you, to support you and to provide pastoral support. I hope that our co-operation and our ways of working together will become closer locally as the debate continues nationally. Whatever the eventual outcome, I want to maintain a generous way of working together in this Diocese which is consistent with the current provision and pattern.
However I am not a neutral voice in this debate. I remain as I have always been passionately committed to seeing women ordained as bishops in the Church of England.
4. What will happen next?
What will the next steps be in this process? The House of Bishops meets on 10th and 11th December and this will be the main item on our agenda. Papers are being prepared for that meeting scoping possible ways forward. These will, I think, include the possibility of bringing something back within the lifetime of this Synod though all sides acknowledge that fresh thinking is needed. As you will see from the voting figures, the Bishops of the Church of England are very largely of a common mind on the question and I think very determined to press forward and to offer clear and determined leadership. However it will be some weeks before we reach a conclusion on what the next steps will be.
5. And Finally
I would have loved to have spent more time this morning reflecting with you on my recent visit to the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome and all I heard there about the worldwide Church and the transmission of the faith.
However I do want to end with the bible story which forms the basis of the Pastoral Address from that Synod: the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well of Samaria.
It is the story of a woman. A woman who is like many in our global, secularized society. Her relationships are in chaos. Her religious ideas are confused. She is full of fear and suspicion. Her inner world is in Pope Benedict’s profound image, a wilderness and a desert. In every life there comes a moment when a woman or a man brings the emptiness of their life to the well, looking for water which quenches the deepest thirst, for the heart’s deepest desire.
Jesus is stripped of everything in this encounter. He has crossed over to Samaritan country. He has no disciples, no miracles to offer, no food, no bucket to draw water. He asks for help and shares himself and draws this thirsty woman to the living, healing waters. Her life is changed and so is the life of her community.
Jesus is a model for his disciples here, to be sure. In moments like this it will do us all good to leave the church politics behind and return to the simple tasks of going to where people are, serving them, sitting and listening and loving and healing. I’m sure that many of you have been doing that this week as I have and finding life and reality there.
But the woman at the well is a model for the Church at this moment as well. Angry, fearful, confused, conflicted, needing grace, thirsty for living water, sensing our need for Jesus Christ in the midst of the present moment.
We must come, all of us, with our thirst, to the well and come together and find the Way.
Today was not a good or easy day. After seven hours of debate and well over a hundred speeches the General Synod did not approve the Measure to enable women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England.
The Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Measure (44 to 3 with 2 abstentions). The Clergy voted substantially in favour (148 to 45 with no abstentions). The House of Laity voted in favour but by 64% not the required 66% (132 to 74 with no abstentions).
I spent much of the day attempting to speak in favour, rising to my feet every three minutes or so, but not being called. Once the speech limit was cut to one minute, I gave up. The speech was going to be about the biblical basis for the Measure. I wasn’t sure from the debate whether any of the Synod members changed their minds. The debate was well chaired – it was just that so many people wanted to speak.
My statement to the Diocese and the media is below:
I am deeply saddened that the Measure to
enable women to become bishops was not passed by the General Synod today by a
very narrow margin in the House of Laity.
I give heartfelt thanks to God this evening
for the ministries of the women who are priests and deacons in the Diocese of
Sheffield. I deeply value and cherish
their ministries as do the parishes where they serve.
I want to affirm my Christian understanding
of the equality of women and men before God, in society and the life of the
I want to affirm my commitment to seeing
women become bishops in the Church of England as soon as is humanly
possible. This is the view of the
overwhelming majority of bishops in the Church of England.
I will be making a longer statement as the
Diocese of Sheffield gathers for our own Synod this coming Saturday. The Bishop of Doncaster and I will be meeting
with the women clergy of the Diocese next week to consider ways forward.
I’m holding in my thoughts and prayers this evening not only the women priests and deacons from the Diocese of Sheffield but the scores of women ordinands who passed through Cranmer Hall in my time as Warden and who had looked forward to this day (several of whom are now on Synod); all the women who have been ordained as pioneers and the many, many ordained women I’ve worked with through the years who are doing such brilliant work. I hope that every congregation with a woman vicar or curate will find some way to show their love and appreciation in the next few days.
I know, of course, that lots of male clergy and many, many lay people will also be deeply saddened tonight as will the people who worked so hard on the Measure for so long.
For those who opposed the Measure, I can’t see that many gains at the moment. I think there is likely to be a reaction against the decision today in the Church of England as a whole which will make it more not less difficult to secure robust provision in the future. The Church of England intends to make it possible for women to become bishops so the uncertainties remain for traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals (and if anything those uncertainties are amplified).
Hard to say exactly. I think there will be lots of frustration and sadness expressed over the coming weeks and months and lots of questions to God and to the Church. I would imagine that in time that this will crystallise into a determination across the Church to see this business through sooner rather than later, to keep on listening to those who see things differently, to go on loving and forgiving and getting on with the business of the kingdom and to find new ways forward. I would imagine that there will be a more robust theological critique of the traditional catholic and the conservative evangelical positions on this issue. I don’t think for a moment that we will be distracted from our God-given priorities of serving the common good, making disciples and re-imagining ministry for mission.
But basically for all of us it will be business as usual tomorrow. The Synod debates the Living Wage. On Friday I’ll be attending the final meeting of the Sheffield Fairness Commission and then the rededication of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sheffield. We have our Diocesan Synod on Saturday (largely about budgets) and on Sunday I’m looking forward to being in the parish of Warmsworth and in Chapeltown for confirmations.
The call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength remains as does the call to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Thanks be to God for all his goodness, for faith, hope and love among his people, for the Church and for the Church of England and for inestimable, wonderful treasure which is the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Today is St. Hilda’s day and I’m on a train this morning travelling to London to the General Synod. The Synod is due to debate and vote tomorrow on the Measure to enable women to be made Bishops in the Church of England.
The vote has been a long time coming. It will be very close. I found it strangely comforting when I was praying this morning that the Synod’s day of preparation is dedicated to Hilda.
Hilda is one of the great Saints of the north of England. Her life is recorded in Bede’s history (mainly in IV.23 but with references elsewhere. She died in 680 AD at the age of 66. Bede tells us that her life was divided into two parts: she lived for 33 years “most nobly in secular occupations” and another 33 “even more nobly in the monastic life”.
Hilda founded a monastery at Monkwearmouth then a year later moved to the new community at Hartlepool. Some years after that Hilda moved to Whitby to “found or organise” the monastery there:
“She established the same regular life as in her former monastery and taught the observance of righteousness, mercy, purity and other virtues, but especially of peace and charity. After the example of the primitive Church, no-one there was rich, no-one was needy, for everything was held in common and nothing was considered to be anyone’s personal property. So great was her prudence that not only ordinary folk but kings and princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it. Those under her direction were required to make a thorough study of the Scriptures and occupy themselves in good works to such good effect that many were found fitted for Holy Orders and the service of God’s altar”
The monastery at Whitby was a mixed community. Hilda had authority over women and men. She taught from Scripture, exercised oversight, counselled individuals and established institutions. Bede goes on to tell us that no less than five men from this monastery later became bishops “all of them men of outstanding merit and holiness”.
Hilda’s reputation spread far and wide: “she brought about the amendment and salvation of many at a distance who heard the inspiring story of her industry and goodness”. For the last six years of her life her body was racked with a fever, “but during all this time she never ceased to give thanks to her Maker or to instruct the flock committed to her both privately and publicly”.
Hilda lived in a moment of great cultural change and great missionary opportunity. Monasteries were alternative communities striving to set a model of radical discipleship. They were lively centres of prayer and scholarship and mission and points of stability around which a civilisation was able to grow. Hilda was not the only woman with the responsibility of leading such a community. The names of other women in similar positions are scattered through Bede’s narrative.
1,400 years ago, at the beginning of the Church in these islands, the English church found a way to use the gifts of women in teaching from scripture, in leadership and oversight, in mission and pastoral counsel.
We live today in a moment of similar cultural change and great missionary opportunity. We see the beginnings of alternative communities of mission. The Church of England in our generation must not miss the opportunity to make the very best use of the women God has given to us in teaching, in leadership and oversight, in mission and pastoral counsel. In our generation this means saying yes, tomorrow, to the Measure to enable women to become bishops.
Earlier this year, I was invited to lead a seminar at Soul Survivor, a Christian festival for young people, on women in leadership. I shared the seminar with Jude Davis, a colleague from the Diocese of Sheffield and one of the youngest ordained women in the Church of England. Soul Survivor positively encourages women in leadership and ordained ministry but many of those who come are from churches which are much more cautious (often on scriptural grounds).
Hundreds of young people, mainly women, came to the seminar. Many of them were keen to serve God with the whole of their lives within the Church and in wider society in leadership roles. Many of them were being held back by the hesitation they sensed in the Church towards women in leadership and, in particular, the Church’s hesitation about women as bishops. How many of them, I wonder, were the Hildas of our generation with the capacity to lead many to Christ, to bless God’s church, to be leaders in God’s mission?
Of course we must respect those who cannot accept this move on grounds of their reading of scripture or tradition. Of course we must make provision for them. Of course we must build trust and behave in such a way as to deepen that trust within the body of Christ.
But there has been enough delay. It’s time to move forward. 2014 will be the 1,400th anniversary of the birth of St. Hilda. It will be a fitting year for the consecration of the first women as Bishops in the Church in her native land.
who made the abbess Hilda to shine like a jewel in our land,
and through her holiness and leadership blessed your church
with new life and unity:
help us, like her, to yearn for the gospel of Christ
and to reconcile those who are divided