Friday, August 31, 2012

Women bishops: a lot of ground for the Synod to make up (Contribution)

CONSULTATIONS over have been progressing slowly, it emerged this week.

Legislation to permit women to enter the episcopate is due to return to the General Synod at an extraordinary meeting in November. 

Before then, the House of Bishops has to decide what provision for traditionalists it will put in the final draft legislation, if any.

Last month ( News, 27 July), the steering committee proposed seven possible options in relation to clause 5(1)(c), the amendment inserted into the legislation by the House of Bishops in May, which prompted angry protests and led to the adjournment of a final decision when the General Synod met in York earlier in July.

Today is the deadline for responses to a consultation document about the options, which was circulated to Synod members by the secretary-general, William Fittall.

By Wednesday, only about one member in ten had responded. 

The General Synod Office reported "more than 50" submissions, the "great majority" from Synod members, but also some "from individuals and others from groups". There are 477 Synod members.

Such a low response will make it difficult for the House of Bishops to ascertain the mind of the Synod when it meets to discuss the Measure on 12 September, although several dioceses are planning their own consultations later.

This week, Synod members expressed preferences for four of the seven options.

Keith Malcouronne (Guildford) said that the diocese's representatives had met earlier in the month and had "collectively recognised that Option 2", simply deleting clause 5(1)(c), "was a non-starter if we wish to see the legislation finally approved in November".

A majority of the diocesan representatives favoured Option 1 (retaining the clause) "as providing the most provision of the options now open at this late stage of the process", he said. 

He cited the speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury in July, in which Dr Williams explained that referring solely to the maleness of the bishop and no other criteria could suggest a willingness to accommodate misogny. 

Mr Malcouronne, and others within the diocese, have suggested additional changes.

The Archdeacon of Nottingham, the Ven. Peter Hill (Southwell & Nottingham), said that the Bishop had arranged to meet representatives in late August to discuss the paper. 

Archdeacon Hill was "desperate to see women in the episcopate as soon as possible, but also to keep everyone on the C of E bus in some sort of comfortable seat". 

He believed that Option 7, which suggests that the Code of Practice would give guidance on the procedure of selection, is "the most deliverable route politically . . . largely because it knocks out theological conviction in favour of pastoral and sacramental practice".

Christina Rees (St Albans), who formerly chaired the campaign group WATCH, said that a meeting with her diocesan was planned for 4 September. Her preference was Option 2, deleting 5(1)(c). The clause "opens the door to endless wrangling", and "puts a very dark cloud over women's ordination".

A "silver bullet" could not be found, she suggested, because there is "nothing that can bridge the gap between those who think either women shouldn't or cannot be ordained . . . with the views of people who say 'of course women can be ordained'."

Option 2 is also favoured by GRAS. On Monday of last week, it warned: "The Church of England risks finding itself in a position where people who long to see women and men as bishops together will vote against the Measure, because the compromises it makes would be too damaging to the Church and to our theology of the place of men and women in creation."

A Chester Synod member, Canon David Felix, expressed unhappiness that no meeting had been convened with his diocesan bishop. He said that the introduction of 5(1)(c) constituted a "constitutional crisis". The adjournment in July had given the Bishops a "bloody nose", but "they still can't accept the bloody nose they have been given." Not producing a code of practice until the legislation was decided was "politically . . . a disaster".

The Canon Chancellor of Exeter Cathedral, the Revd Andrew Godsall (Exeter), said that he had invited all General Synod representatives, including the Bishop, to a meeting in early September. There was a "real willingness from people to speak across different traditions", he said.

As a member of WATCH, his preference was for Option 2; but he also had a "certain amount of sympathy" for Option 5, which would build into the provision a reference to the "suitability" or "appropriateness" of the person selected to exercise ministry. It would also refer to the process of selection, involving consultation with the PCC. He is "very optimistic" about the Measure's being passed - "but not at any price".

Emma Forward (Exeter) supported Option 1. "We should ask the Bishops to stand firm on clause 5(1)(c), especially the understanding of 'theological convictions' contained within it. Surely we all want an outcome that will honour those of a traditional integrity, so that future generations can thrive. The Church of England is always better together."

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