I write to make a number of points in response to your letter to the Archbishops of 26 June. Your letter makes a series of charges against the bishops of the Church of England and I have no doubt has caused hurt to LGBTQIA+ Christians and their friends and family. Your threat of schism means that we find ourselves on the front pages of the national press on this issue even in the midst of a General Election campaign when the world faces so many challenges and problems.

  1. The extent of the Alliance

You say that your network is supported by more than 2,000 clergy within the Church of England but I see no real evidence that this is the case (and I note that the Catholic signatories seem not to have signed the latest letter).

I know that there are many clergy and lay people in our own Diocese who themselves could not in conscience use Prayers of Love and Faith. They are loved and cherished. I have a deep respect for those who hold these views on a genuinely difficult question of theology and ethics and am in regular dialogue with them. I also accept that there will be a need to recognise those who hold this view in good conscience in the provision of safeguards and in the provision of specific and defined episcopal ministry.

But the number of clergy and congregations who say they require the degree of legal/provincial differentiation proposed in your letter is very small in my experience. Almost every congregation contains a range of opinion and for the most part people are content to accept this diversity, solve problems locally and get on with the mission of God. If the proposals currently before Synod are followed there is literally no risk whatsoever that churches and ministers who support the Church’s current teaching would have to act against their conscience or depart from that doctrine.

  1. A departure from doctrine therefore B2

You argue that what is proposed in the Synod papers is clearly indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in an essential matter. I genuinely do not believe that this is the case. The settled position reached after over more than ten years of debate and consultation is to make three modest but helpful changes towards greater inclusion but each builds on existing practice. This is not a watershed moment.

  1. The authorisation of Prayers of Love and Faith (even as stand alone services) simply gives alternative liturgical provision to enable services which could legally happen without PLF. All of you as signatories have been part of a Church for many years in which these services have happened.
  2. The replacement of Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance is proposing to extend to clergy the same freedom of conscience in the ordering of their relationships as has been given for more than 30 years to lay Christians (including lay ministers). All of you as signatories have been content to be part of a Church which offers this freedom of conscience to the majority of its members.
  3. The proposal to remove existing disciplines from clergy entering same sex marriage is also a modest change. When this happens under the present disciplines, clergy are not subject to CDM procedures nor deprived of their living nor their license. The new proposal is simply to remove the requirement for such clergy to receive a formal rebuke and to be able to move to new roles (and therefore to enable ordinands in same sex marriages to be treated in an identical way). All of you as signatories have been part of a church in which clergy in same sex marriages continue to minister.

Not a single one of these proposals therefore amounts to a change in the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage. The B2 process you have consistently proposed is in any case limited to the first of these proposals; and appears simply to be a device for blocking any kind of change.

I readily accept that a B2 process would be needed for the Church of England solemnising same sex marriage in Church. This would be a change of doctrine. I accept that there is not yet a settled majority for this across the Church of England. These modest changes are therefore a step towards love and inclusion which enables us to minister in better ways to the whole of our society.

As I have argued previously, a successful B2 process on PLF would, I believe, make it harder for parishes and clergy to opt out of prayers which would have a much higher authorisation.

  1. Western elitism?

You level against the bishops again the charge of Western elitism and ignoring the views of the Global South. However, your own letters pay no attention to the very considerable consensus at the Lambeth Conference in 2022 about accepting different views on sexuality yet still walking together.  You make no mention of the persecution of LGBTQIA+ Christians in many parts of the world, often tacitly supported by the Church. Nor do you recognise that many Provinces of the Communion are genuinely debating these matters and contain a rich variety of views.

  1. Catastrophising language

Once again your letter deploys doom laden and catastrophising language to attempt to put pressure on the Bishops and the General Synod (“a matter of deep regret”; “the cause of incalculable damage to the structure, integrity and mission of the national church”).  I wonder, where is your sense of Scriptural perspective and the themes of mercy, love and joy and the priority of gospel proclamation?

  1. Fracturing the body of Christ

You have wrapped your threats in veiled language: “we are proposing a positive way forward…”. You argue that if these extremely cautious and modest proposals are enacted you have will have “no choice” (but you do in fact have a wide range of choices) “but rapidly to establish what would be in fact a de facto “parallel Province”.

I am afraid this has to be named for what it is: a proposal for a deep and disproportionate schism in the life of the Church of England and, surely, a proposal which will grieve Anglicans in every place.

On the one hand you are openly criticizing the bishops for uncanonical processes. However, at the same time, you declare your intention to act unilaterally, outside any formal and transparent process of consultation or Synod or legal structure or theological reflection or recognisable ecclesiology but through a set of actions determined in closed rooms.

The mind of the majority House of Bishops now seems to me to be settling on questions of pastoral reassurance after many months of uncertainty. There is a now a reluctant acceptance of the need for some regional provision of episcopal ministry to recognise divergent views on marriage and same sex relationships, supported by a House of Bishops statement, Code of Practice and Reviewer. However, the House is also clear that going beyond these arrangements to diverse jurisdictions, a third province and a church within a church undercuts the very essence of Anglican ecclesiology and represents a red line we cannot cross.

  1. A new stream of ordination candidates?

Finally, you threaten action with immediate effect to open up a new pre-ordination stream for potential ordinands in partnership with “orthodox” bishops. You relate the current fall in ordinands to the current process on the basis, I would argue, of hardly any evidence. But guidelines for training and the funding of training and pathways for training all have to be agreed by the House of Bishops and the General Synod. They are not matters for unilateral action by one party within the Church.

And finally….

I am sorry to have to write to you in these terms. I do respect your views on marriage and sexuality and hold many of you in high regard. However, I believe the letter you have been persuaded to sign is a deeply unhelpful and misleading contribution to our present debate. I believe GS2358 represents a reasonable way forward for the Church in this most difficult of questions, albeit a costly compromise from all perspectives and that the General Synod should unite behind it.

On 9 February 2023, the General Synod approved the motion brought by the House of Bishops as the next step in the Living in Love and Faith process.

As you will have seen the motion laments our failure as a church to welcome LGBTQI+ people; welcomes the decision of the House of Bishops to draw up new pastoral guidance to replace Issues in Human Sexuality and looks forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith. You can find the full text of the amended motion here.

The Synod debate was demanding. Many of our Oxford representatives spoke at different points and reflected different points of view. All spoke graciously and clearly. My own contribution to the debate came near the beginning.

I welcome Synod’s decision as will many across the diocese. Some will be disappointed that the proposals were not able to go further than offering Prayers of Love and Faith and new guidance. Others will believe that the Bishops and the Synod have gone too far.

It is clear from the voting in the Houses of Clergy and Laity that whilst a majority are in favour of moving forward in this way, there remains a substantial minority opposed to change for a variety of reasons, and this is reflected in our own diocese.

The debate in the Synod chamber was both passionate and respectful. Synod rose to the occasion. It was also an emotional debate. People laid themselves bare. There were tears afterwards on all sides.

Please hold in love and prayer those from our own diocese who took part and those who led on the debate nationally. You may want to express your appreciation for this task undertaken on behalf of the whole Church to the Synod representatives who are linked to your own deanery.

Most of the Oxford representatives met together two weeks before Synod in person, and we spent four hours together working through the agenda. I know everyone took their responsibilities extremely seriously. We were thankful for your prayers.

The House of Bishops were present in the Synod to listen, especially in the group work. In March we will return to the task of refining and developing the Prayers of Love and Faith and to developing new Pastoral Guidance.

At present we expect both texts to be ready in some form by the July meeting of the General Synod. It’s important to stress, for the moment, that nothing has changed in the Church of England’s pastoral practice, although we do now have a clear direction of travel from the Bishops and affirmed by the General Synod.

Locally and nationally we will continue to listen carefully as this process continues, including of course to LGBTQI+ people and their families. There will be mixed feelings: for many a sense of welcome progress combined with a weariness that the debate will need to continue and disappointment that the Church has not been able to offer the celebration of equal marriage.

As bishops we will also be listening carefully to clergy and churches which are not able in conscience to affirm same sex relationships. We are already in dialogue with a range of individuals and groups across the Diocese of Oxford on this. As I said in my speech to the General Synod:

“My vision for the Diocese of Oxford is that we will be a diocese where all are affirmed and cherished, where same sex relationships can be celebrated and those who hold the traditional view are honoured and respected”.

This will be a demanding vision to realise and each of us has a part to play. I think all of us will need space for some prayer and reflection after the sometimes intense conversation of the last few weeks.

I would encourage taking good time for this in every place locally – but also encourage everyone to wait for the eventual outcomes of the national process before making local decisions which might flow from these debates. The four bishops and all the senior team are very willing to be in dialogue.

Finally, I’ve been drawn more and more over recent weeks into the parable of the two sons in Luke 15. All of us, I am sure, want the whole Church to reflect the radical, inclusive love of the father for the younger son in that powerful moment of welcome caught in Rembrandt’s painting.

The father sees him coming from afar and runs to meet him. He puts his arms around him and kisses him. He calls for the best robe, for a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. There is the most wonderful party.

But my own focus has been on the father at the end of Jesus’ story. The older brother stays outside the celebration. What does the father do? He humbles himself and goes outside to where his other son sits, hurting. He listens to him and urges him to come in.

There is no easy identification here of one group in the debate with the younger son and the other with the older. There are sisters and brothers in each part of this conversation who are bruised and hurt. Each of us might feel at any time as though we have left the party.

But those of us who are called to pastor the Church in this time are called to be like the father at this moment in the story: to go out to them and listen to the pain and, always, to offer the invitation to come and join the celebration. The father’s extraordinary humility and love should be our pattern.

We do not always know how to do this. We do not know the outcome of this part of the story in the gospel. But our calling to love beyond measure is absolutely clear. The Son who tells the story gave his life to draw us and all the world into a single new humanity.

With love in Christ in testing times,

10 February, 2023

Image: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Return of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project

This text was first published as a letter to people in the Diocese of Oxford

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

Further reading

Bishop Steven at General Synod

Time for divestment. Image of an empty fuel guage

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:

Update: video version now online here: The Bishop of Sheffield Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod 24th November, 2012

Dear Friends

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.