Whose Hands are Tainted?
Over the past week there have been 2 consecrations in York Minster. Libby Lane on 26th January and Philip North on 2nd February. In many ways these two consecrations mark an important point in the life of the church.
To witness the consecration of the Libby Lane as the first woman bishop within the Church of England has been joyous and momentous. It is the culmination of years of hard work by many - especially within some of our partner organisations. We look forward to seeing other women nominated and consecrated as bishops soon. The consecration of Philip North as bishop of Burnley may not have been a natural place for Inclusive Church to be present. The National Coordinator was there because Philip had been in his youth group when Bob was a curate back in the 1980's. The Archbishop of York reminded us at the beginning of the service that it is the Holy Spirit who consecrates!
We are grateful to Sally Barnes, IC trustee for her reflection on some of the issues that the consecration of Philip North has raised.
Coming back from York, after the joyous consecration of our new female bishop, I could not help but reflect on attitudes held towards women regarding the notion of “Taint” and the so-called breaking of the “line of apostolic succession”. Apart from the deep offence both of these views hold for women, particularly relating to taint, serious questions need to be asked.
I pondered, “Who was it Christ actually laid hands upon?” It certainly wasn't to ordain men as priests or bishops was it? No! He laid his hands on lepers to heal them. He was touched by the woman with the issue of blood and, aware of her touch, turned and cured her. He touched and raised the dying and the dead, girls, boys, and adults. He spoke to the woman at the well, asking her for water - an act that would have involved her in touching the bowl from which he would have taken a drink. He accepted the touch of the woman who bathed his feet and anointed him with oil. Did he draw back from being touched by this woman? Did he wonder if she was menstruating at the time? No! He commended her, blessed her and rebuked his disciples for disapproving of her act of generosity and love. He told them, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mat 26 v 13). Jesus understood about generosity. He was rebuked for picking wheat on the Sabbath and not washing his hands. He had much to say to the Pharisees in response to their criticism; much that that they did not want to hear. We need to ask, “Who is the tainted one in all these stories? Whose hands (and therefore very Being) would have been thought unclean? Jesus, by his actions, in accordance with the religious, social and cultural customs of his time, would have been regarded as contaminated, tainted, unclean, breaking the mould, and yet, he repeatedly touched and healed those who needed him, male and female.
I wonder, then, “What he is saying to us today?”. “What is he trying to get us to understand?” “What are we meant to learn from this man who tried to turn upside down constructs we have created throughout time that seek to exclude those who are regarded as outside the Ecclesiastical and Social norms?” But then my train drew into Kings Cross and I ceased to wonder – just for the time being.
Sally Barnes. Inclusive Church Trustee
Response to the Consecration of the Bishop of Burnley, posted on behalf of WATCH January 29, 2015
We rejoice that as a result of the consecration of Bishop Libby Lane the Church of England is living in a new era. We therefore recognise that these are early days in finding expression of the five guiding principles in practices that reflect the highest possible degree of communion. Decisions made now will inevitably come under scrutiny. As actions are tested within the community of the Church, we will all be reflecting upon them, and on the shape of mature practices that will in due course emerge to express wide communion and enable mutual flourishing. It will not be easy to do this well, but WATCH is committed to making a constructive contribution to this process from the perspective of its own core principles. For the moment that involves asking sharp questions about this particular consecration, and asking that reflection be done on those questions in a way which engages the wider church as well as those immediately involved.
We recognise that the Archbishop has had very difficult decisions to make about the arrangements for the consecration of the Bishop of Burnley, and we know that he will have thought and prayed deeply about those decisions. This is the first significant test in practice of the Five Principles contained in the House of Bishops’ Declaration, and is therefore highly significant.
Given all of this, we would value an explanation of how the Archbishop reached his decision to be present but not to consecrate. We acknowledge that this is based in a wish to offer Christian generosity towards the dissenting minority. However, we are concerned about the theological and ecclesiological implications of this decision and its impact on the unity of the Church of England. Consecrations are public moments, of great significance, and the actions that take place within those rites, as with all Anglican rites, declare our belief as a Church, as much as any written documents. The visual symbol of a divided House of Bishops is a very powerful one, given how hard we have all worked to stay together in one church.
The Five Principles are the basis from which good practice needs to be worked out. In many cases it will not be straightforward to know how best to enable mutual flourishing within the highest degree of communion possible. Our hope is that when decisions are made which purport to aid the flourishing of all they will be carefully tested in terms of the perceptions they will create and their consequences, including the pain and offence they may cause. In our view, male bishops and archbishops will need to exercise particular diligence in this respect, as their common practice is so rooted in a previous male-only era. This will require significant efforts to hear the disparate views of all those most affected, and to help them listen to each other and work out a solution that all can assent to. It would be good to know that such collective wrestling underpins this decision.
What might the Archbishop’s decision to refrain from consecrating a bishop indicate? At the least, it appears to be a tacit endorsement of the rationale that his active laying on of hands would not be welcome by the candidate or a particular constituency that he represents. Given that, we believe it would be very helpful for the House of Bishops to invite the Faith and Order Commission to examine and explore this rationale and the theology underpinning it. That might help those who are perplexed to comprehend it, and therefore be more able to honour the faithfulness of its adherents.
Our greatest sadness is that the word ‘taint’ is in the atmosphere again. However much dissenters refute this as a basis for their beliefs, it is very hard to overcome the perception that because the Archbishop has consecrated a female bishop, he is now unacceptable as a consecrator of a dissenting bishop. This concept causes such deep damage to all of us but it cannot be avoided in these circumstances. We all know the message this conveys to members of the Church and wider society about how women are perceived.
All these issues have particular resonance in this case, as the Bishop of Burnley is a bishop for the whole church, not a PEV. We are concerned that he should be affirmed and upheld through his consecration as a bishop for the people of Blackburn Diocese, not as a bishop whose ministry will be directed solely towards the dissenting minority. He will share the cure of souls across Blackburn Diocese with female and male priests, and will minister across all parishes.
We are very aware of the individuals involved in this case who may find themselves in a spotlight that is unwelcome and unexpected. We pray particularly for them, and for grace and strength to live and speak faithfully in such demanding circumstances.
Hilary Cotton, Chair of WATCH and Trustee of Inclusive Church