‘Let’s build on this’

It has been a hard and intense day in the Synod Chamber and inevitably there will be some people who will be disappointed at the result of the votes that have been taken. That is always the case but today we were engaged in two significant subjects which will both, in their own ways, shape the future life of our church.

After Morning Prayer in the Chamber we began debating Women in the Episcopate. As you know, Saturday was given over to ‘facilitated conversations’ which has become the buzz phrase of this Synod, along with, ‘I agree with Pete.’ But more of that later.

We had just begun and there was a call for a Point of Order, which always stops the business of the Synod. One member called for an adjournment of this business until tomorrow on the grounds that the House of Lords was debating Equal Marriage and the bishops needed to be in the Lords. There was a groan, and the Point of Order was quickly dispatched and we were able to carry on.

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Bishop Nigel Stock (who has been appointed the new Bishop at Lambeth) introduced the debate in a very irenic tone, which was just the way that was needed. It seemed in many ways to be the tone in which the debate was conducted and there was a feeling that Saturday had produced benefits for today – we did, at times, behave differently.

There were 8 amendments on the Order Paper, each of which, in some way, tested aspects of the other three options in the report, the House of Bishops having recommended Option 1. You will have to look at the papers to see what all this is about but one thing I will include here are the Five Principles, which were very much welcomed by speakers from across the range of views represented in the Synod.

These principles came out of the facilitated conversations that took place in February and it seems clear that they will be significant in what happens next.

 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.

Bishop Nigel was clear that the motion sought to preserve ‘the richness and diversity of the church we love’. The Bishop of Lincoln, the first speaker in the debate, quoted St Augustine, a quote carved into the floor of the chapel of the Royal Foundation of St Katherine in London.

St Augustine of Hippo.

St Augustine of Hippo.

‘We come to God not by navigation but by love.’

It is a lovely quote and sets the desire for some for tighter legislation – navigation – against the need for grace and trust – love.

Bishop Pete Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden, came up with a cunning plan. He encouraged the Synod to request a larger Standing Committee to take the work forward and to not go for the normal Revision Committee stage but to hold that in the Synod. ‘If you are with me just say ‘I agree with Pete.’ And many people did!

Rebecca Swinson, a younger member of the Synod, said that she had grown up with priests, men and women, and she was eager that her children would not have to hear the words ‘women bishops’ but just know bishops. She urged us to get on with an urgent task.

There were so many significant speeches, I cannot mention them all. Tony Baldry MP, the Second Estates Commissioner, warned the Synod that many in the House of Commons are ‘hostile to the Church of England’ and he told us that they would not welcome us looking for further exemption from equality legislation. He said that ‘I can hold the line ’til 2015 but there are those … putting their minds to how to sort it for us.’ It was a truth we needed to hear.

The Chamber during the debate.

The Chamber during the debate.

We then began looking at the amendments. In the end two were passed and six were defeated. The two accepted had the effect of including in the final form of the motion, a mandatory grievance procedure and facilitated conversations. Remember, all of this is a steer to the Steering Committee, nothing is really yet on paper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke towards the end of the debate and it was he who said ‘Let’s build on this’. The amended motion was a good place to begin working towards something that we can, as a church agree on, and will result in women being ordained bishop on the same basis as men, whilst giving security to those who, in conscience, are unable to accept the ministry of ordained women.

But it will be a hard call. The final vote was

For 319; Against 84; Abstentions 22

But if you look at the votes we took during the debate on the amendments by houses you will see the challenge

Bishops
For 7/10 Against 34/28 Abstentions 0/1

Clergy
For 48/55 Against 137/128 Abstentions 4/8

Laity
For 75/93 Against 115/100 Abstentions 4/4

These record two sets of votes on amendments favoured principally by those who are opposed to the Option 1 way forward which is supported heavily by those wishing to see women ordained as bishop. It is obvious that there is not a 2/3rds majority in the House of Laity. The houses of Bishops and Clergy are clearly of a mind. So it is in the House of Laity that hearts and minds have to be changed – but we knew that at the end of the vote in the November Synod. It that sense, nothing has changed.

It will take some analysis of that final vote to see how the laity voted. But we have to trust the Holy Spirit in all of this – and it may be that this present Synod cannot deliver this legislation and that Final Approval will have to wait until the election of a new Synod in the summer of 2015. It will be sad if we are unable to complete the task – but if we can’t we can’t and others will have to be elected who can succeed where we fail. But all of that is a long way off.

This debate had gone into the afternoon – don’t worry we did break for lunch. What followed immediately after the episcopate debate was one on the reorganisation of the three Yorkshire dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield. It was an interesting debate because I genuinely was unclear what to do. To be honest, I am not convinced by the plans, I was also concerned that one diocese – Wakefield – was not in favour and that this seemed like a ‘shotgun wedding’ and I am unclear about the ecclesiology that says three cathedrals in one diocese is ok.

But as I listened to the debate I decided that the right thing to do was to abstain and not to vote against the motion and that, unusually, is what I did. I look forward to it achieving all that people say it will achieve and if it does, we will all learn from the experience. And that may be where we have seen something that may change the face of the future Church of England as much, perhaps, as women in the episcopate.

Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield are three wonderful dioceses, each of which I have had a great deal of experience. So I will pray for them in the months ahead as the prepare for the coming into being of the new Diocese of Leeds.

Lord of the church,
bless the church in the dioceses of
Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield.
Fill their bishops and people with your grace
and make them eager for all the future holds.
Amen.

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