General Synod Report - July 2015
Women can now be Bishops in the Church of England
The decision to approve the legislative package to allow women to become bishops in the Church of England dominated the entire weekend. Thinking Anglicans has reports of all the other debates, which can be found by scrolling down at http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/cat_general_synod.html
The general tone of the debate on Monday 14 July was gracious and affirming. Everyone agreed that the new legislation was much better than the legislation rejected in Nov 2012. This is now a simple Measure that enables women to be ordained bishop, and provision for those who are against in conscience is laid out in a House of Bishops Declaration, referenced in a new Canon, which also establishes a disputes resolution procedure, and which can only be changed by a 2/3rds majority vote by houses.
There was much graciousness from those against, especially from traditional catholics, who expressed a wish for the motion to go through and a recognition that this was the right move at the right time for the Church of England, despite the fact that in the main they would vote against due to their own conscience. A few prominent members of Forward in Faith and WATCH apologised for language used in the past and for how some of the treatment of each other had led to deeper divisions. Of course, in terms of dioceses, all diocesan synods except Europe had voted in favour of the legislation during March/April 2014 with a 90% overall vote in favour.
Archbishop Justin concluded the debate saying ‘this allows us to move forward together. All as faithful Anglicans and all committed to each other’s flourishing in the life of the Church’. He went on to say ‘you don’t chuck out family or make it difficult for them to be at home, you love them and seek their well-being even when you disagree… Today we can start on a challenging and adventurous journey to embrace a radical new way of being the Church: good and loving disagreement amidst the seeking of truth in all our fallibility; a potential gift to a world driven by overconfident certainties into bitter and divisive conflict. Jesus invites us to radical belonging to one another, so that all the world will know we are his disciples – not that we are perfect, but that we love one another as he has loved us.’
Naturally there was rejoicing at the result of the vote, with 95% of Bishops, 85% of clergy and 77% of laity voting in favour. This was a huge affirmation of women’s ministry; the Bishop of Gloucester had paid tribute in the debate to this when he said ‘in every diocese, the ministry of our women priests has been vital, deeply valued and transformative’.
There was something very significant about the tone of the debate and the general feeling that this was the right move forward for the Church, that all were committed to the mutual flourishing of the other and that this was best achieved through relationship and through the grace of God, rather than through legalistic constraints and divisions.
The press conference after the vote was interesting in that both Sky News and The Times sought to move the agenda on, and asked both archbishops how soon, now that women bishops were sorted, the Church of England would have bishops who were in same-sex marriages. Needless to say the answers given predicted no timescale for this. There is an audio recording of this press conference at https://soundcloud.com/the-church-of-england/women-bishops-press-conf
The Sky News questions come at the very beginning and The Times questions come at the very end (about 24 minutes in).
The Archbishop of York, replying to the question from The Times said:
… All I know is, that we need to find probably a language of conversation just like the Church in New Zealand, which talks about same-gender relationships, which is bigger than purely sex, that language is a more creative language. And if you have read Issues in Human Sexuality the Church of England is very clear that sexual orientation really, and that is what you are talking about has never been a bar to ministry or to anything else. Now a new thing has arrived, called same-sex marriage. That poses in terms of the doctrine of marriage, a problem for the Church of England but I still hope even when that happens, people will still be treated as made in God’s image and likeness and as children of God. And though you may feel that they don’t quite fulfil the exemplifying nature of Christ and His Church, nevertheless they mustn’t be diminished, they mustn’t be treated in a way that doesn’t give love and grace and care. And I actually think our two years conversation could give us a language of talking, so that people don’t automatically just cause all kinds of…. And the other worry that I have got, if for example you have got single people, we live in a society in which immediately, they assume if you happen to be a single unmarried bishop this must be xyz, and those kind of things worry me. And people casting aspersions and assuming people’s behaviour and life, when actually if you dig deep deep, that is not actually what they are standing for. So I want to find a new way of speaking, a new way of understanding…
Simon Sarmiento - Inclusive Church Trustee