Wednesday 21 November 2012

My reaction? Incredulity, hurt - and anger.

So, the vote is no. Which doesn't close down the debate and allow us to get on with other things, but simply condemns us all to another 5-10 years of working on this. I am stunned that anyone, whatever their views on women bishops, could feel that is a good use of our time and energy in the next decade.

I suspect some of those who voted against are similarly stunned. From the looks on some faces, and brief conversations as we left, I get the impression that some - probably more than 6 - wanted to register a protest but hadn't expected it to mean the measure would fall. If so, they badly miscalculated. The damage this has done, and will continue to do, to the reputation and moral authority of the Church of England is very great.

 But we knew the vote might be no. What has really upset me is the level and tone of some of the debate. Despite all the protestations that this was 'just' about 'more provision', what speaker after speaker said was that they entirely reject any leadership by women.

 We were told that God the Father is the head of the Trinity, so subordination is at the heart of God. That is blatant heresy.

 We were told that because the Bible speaks of God as Father and Son as favourite metaphors, God is male, and women can therefore only be second class approximations to his image.

Top quote of the day - not for offensiveness, but for sheer open- mouthed incredulity that anyone would even think of saying this, was 'Of course, women aren't just there to make the tea. Though that is an important aspect of diaconal ministry'.

 If I thought the Church of England believed all that, or expected me to teach it, I would have to leave now. Today. Forget the fact that I've just moved house, moved kids schools, started at a new church. I couldn't possibly be trying to grow the Church, support it, persuade others of its truth. I couldn't even be a member, let alone a priest, of such a Church. Allow me some conscientious objections too.

But the Church if England does not believe that. So please, please, can we start having this sort of damaging nonsense challenged by the men in authority, not pandered to? Such speeches should not have been tolerated by the Chair. They should have been rebutted by the bishops. Instead, people fell over themselves to offer reassurances that those with these views would be 'protected' from women bishops who clearly can't be trusted to behave as bishops and pastor their flock.

We need to grow up and use the Bible maturely, and not be bullied into agreeing that any quotation can be applied directly to our own context, or that any interpretation is valid because it is 'my deeply held theological conviction'. I know this applies to all of us. I know it is messier than pretended certainties. But it is also more honest.

The gloves came off in this debate. Opponents have generally  tried to be polite about women in recent years, realising that blatant rudeness damages their cause. But the ugly attitudes and damaging beliefs about women have not gone away, and they surfaced yesterday. Speaker after speaker against the motion grounded their opposition to this measure in a view of sex and gender that sees male and female as irreconcilably different and unequal. One is more godly than the other. One is destined to be in charge. 'Equal but different' was the rallying cry, but the difference was spelled out as one being in leadership and the other not. What value does the word 'equal' have here?

And, of course, the elephant in the room was homosexuality. Because those opposed implacably to women having authority rightly fear that if they give ground on the essential difference of the sexes, they undermine what coherence there is to their arguments in support of their visceral distaste for same sex relationships.

Those opposed from a 'conservative evangelical' perspective (redefined, as Elaine Storkey pointed out, to mean you are only a conservative evangelical if you believe in male headship) complained that they couldn't trust the legislation as there were no conservative evangelical bishops. Two points on that. Firstly, if you define your constituency so narrowly as to exclude anyone who would be able to work respectfully with ministers of other views, thinking they don't believe the Bible, then of course they can't become bishops. Secondly, I refer you to my previous blog post entitled 'Pick your own bishop'. This legislation would have guaranteed any parish a male bishop if that is what they demanded. It could not and should not guarantee everyone a bishop who agrees with them.

I am left feeling rejected by the Church that accepted me for ministry. Among all the talk of promises and assurances, what price the promise in my ordination, that the Church believed I was called to this ministry and that it had the authority to ordain me? It is all very well to say that we want to go forward together, but that was the offer yesterday and it has been ripped up and thrown in our faces.

So why not resign?

 Firstly, because I do believe I was called by God, 20 years ago, to be a vicar. I might pray 'take this cup away from me', but at the moment I am strengthened by the memory of that initial moment of call. I will continue to try to follow.

Secondly, I think back to the Minster service during Synod in July. The first reading was from Ezekiel 2. There were several wry smiles as the prophet repeatedly spoke of a 'rebellious house'. But the words that spoke directly to me were: 'I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord God. Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.' All we can each do is say what we are given to say, do what we are called to do. I need to remember that success or failure is not up to me. I trust God won't judge me on whether I manage to get the whole Church to agree with me.

Thirdly, of course, my parish. I have a job to do here, people to love and serve. People to baptise, marry, bury, teach, celebrate communion with, pray with and for. I owe it to them not to walk out on them.

And I apologise to them - as I will on Sunday - for the time I am going to spend on this over the next few years. I was hoping that wouldn't have to be the case, but my call is both to serve them and to say what I have to say.

And so we go on.



  1. Last night I wanted to walk. This morning I still thought it might be an option. Eventually I have decided, I think, to stay but this time I have to get off my backside and really work for it rather than expecting others to do it for me. I hadn't realised how much it meant to me until it was taken away.

  2. The trouble with the Church of England is that it is upside down! In a Congregational model, authority rests with the church members, male and female, and certain powers are granted to the various levels of leadership in the church, firstly the Diaconate, then the ministers, regional ministers and the national leadership team, but authority, and therefore Headship, comes from the congregations as they seek to determine God's will. It makes no sense to discuss whether the person in the 'Top Job' is a man or a woman, as that person's authority only extends to what the congregations have allowed them to have; whoever they are, male or female, they are under the normal church members.

  3. Thank you. Very eloquent and helpful. But please, you were called to be a 'priest' not a 'vicar'

  4. Don't delete my post because you don't like it Miranda. That is very poor...

    1. I didn't! Wouldn't do that. I'd seen your post in my email inbox and was waiting for it to appear here to reply, but it never turned up. I reproduce it here from my email:

      "Speaker after speaker against the motion grounded their opposition to this measure in a view of sex and gender that sees male and female as irreconcilably different and unequal. One is more godly than the other."

      As one who is very disappointed we did not get a "Yes" vote yesterday, can I point out that it does the ongoing debate no good if you misrepresent your opponent's position like this. You know as well as I do that the conservative stance is NOT that men are more godly than women. Indeed, speaker after speaker yesterday was at pains to point this out. The conservative position is that God calls different sexes to different roles but that does not mean one is better than the other, just different. I am increasingly unsure that I hold this strict conservative position anymore, but being someone on a journey in this area and therefore well acquainted with the thought on both sides I know for sure that what you have written above is NOT the conservative position.

      You might feel today as though that was what people, and this very disappointing vote, were telling you, but it is unequivocally not the stance of conservatives. Yes, there is a lot of pain around at the moment, but we have to make sure that we don't turn our lament into a lynching party for a straw man.

    2. So here's my reply:
      I know that isn't the conservative evangelical position. That's why I quoted Elaine Storkey's frustration. But it was presented as being that in the debate, which was horrible to sit through. People explicitly said that because God is a man, only men can represent him.

  5. Let me apologise then in return. I thought that my comment had been deleted because it was there when I posted it and then it wasn't.

    And in the spirit of the gentle and fair debate that we need to have, is it not true that "because God is a man, only men can represent him" is patently not the same as "men are holier then women"?

    1. ah, Ok. Failure of language! By 'godly' I meant 'god-like' rather than 'holier'.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Well said, Miranda.
    I particularly support your call that outrageous theology is challenged immediately and not given support.
    The argument that "all persons in the Trinity are equal but different and God is the head" just beggars belief.
    Whatever one might think of women's ordained ministry this level of ignorance must be challenged loud and clear by everyone who is interested in honesty and truth in this debate.

  8. Could not all female priests go on strike, rather than resign, to show their anger and frustration and the true impact of rejecting women's ministry? And if only men should represent god what the flip are women doing as priests in the first place? I have recently been looking into faith communities and I have been practically completely turned off Christianity when I looked at it through the eyes of a conservative evangelical church in my area. The message this vote sends out is so negative and does the church no good. I for one am looking at the quaker church now to avoid all issues of leadership and to have a personal relationship of worship with god thank you very much.

    1. Whilst this would have a significant impact, the impact would be on parishes where the ministry of women is already present, appreciated and valued. Those who do not values women's ministry would not be affected.

      Miranda - thank you for your considered response. For myself, I was at a Vocations Advisor's Residential on Tuesday evening, and when we heard the news, we just sat stunned. The bitter irony of being together as Vocations Advisors on the day that women with a vocation to the episcopate were denied the opportunity.

      I am so pleased that you are not resigning. As a male priest, I cannot begin to understand your pain, but I do stand with you and all female priests, and pray that you may find strength in God, and love and support from those many, many people who value your ministry.

  9. I know where you find the strength. I find it very hard to believe and they wounder why young people don't to be part of this Church.

  10. Ive just lost a long and reasonably coherent ( for me) comment, which Im not about to try & reproduce in full, but like you Miranda I have been today sustained by the memory of my clear & distinct calling to the priesthood on 12th March 1994, and the knowledge that I have a job to do, today, everyday.
    For me the complementarian argument finally breaks down in the practical application -it would hold more water (well in a leaky fashion) if there was anything in the church that men were not ALLOWED to do (as opposed to not being encouraged to do). This is where in my conversations with cons evangelicals they have often said "be a wife and mother" which I hardly find helpful. This morning I woke suddenly with that gut wrenching realisation, common to anyone who has been bereaved in any way, that last night was not just a bad bad dream, so today I got up, mothered my children, prayed, led worship in school. presided at the Eucharist, had difficult, and easier, conversations, ( including with said children) and got on with getting on, through the tears. There is time & there are places for anger, there will be time for thinking, and time for acting, and I will continue to fight & work and pray for full and complete equality for men & women in the church and everywhere while there is breath in my body. So help me God

  11. All well said. Am currently on a sabbatical year from full-time stipendiary ministry in the Church in Wales. Our vote is due to come up again next year, I think, having been failed by two or three votes last time, a couple of years ago. I have been asking myself whether I really want to be in a church where I am seen as 2nd class because I have the wrong equipment. Trouble is, much as I might like to kick the dust off my feet, I am called to be a priest of God in his church. Full stop. I've been consoled by Daniel 8 - he doesn't like what happens or what he hears, but he picks himself up and carries on with the job God has appointed him to.

  12. Saw this on Facebook and thought you might like it Miranda!

    10 reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained For Ministry.

    10. A man’s place is in the army.

    9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

    8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

    7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

    6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

    5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

    4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

    3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

    2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

    1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

  13. The only sensible step is to start organising - properly - for the quinquennials starting next week.

  14. Comforting {{{hugs}}} from an Episcopalian across the Pond. Compassionately suffering w/ you. After the Cross, comes the CROWN!

  15. Miranda - thank you - for your reason and thought about contiuing your walk. I found your reports upon the content and quality of debate absolutely jaw dropping. Is there a Hansard type of record for the proceedings? I have gathered from a friend that one may find out who voted what - is that also included? (not that I am consdiering a lynching). I am looking at ways in which we may encourage others to take up places within church governance.

    1. Yes, there will be the report of proceedings with a verbatim record of all that was said, and voting lists, up on the website at some point. I can't give a link as it isn't there yet, but you find it by going to, then you need the 'about us' tab, then General Synod from the menu then Reports of Proceedings.

  16. I am in Thailand and listened to the debate until 1:30 am via the internet. I didn't think I would be so upset, but for two days I have still been stunned! I am neither a woman nor a member of the Church of England. I am a gay man called to priesthood. Because of my geographical location I am going towards ordination in the Open Episcopal Church - the Anglican Church in South East Asia, who ordained (male) bishops for the "Anglican Mission to the Americas", are hardly likely to ordain me!! I listened to some of the comments about women with disbelief.

    By the grace of God, perhaps something good will come out of this: I noticed that not one speaker for women's ordination mentioned gay and lesbian people - I suppose for fear of scaring away the undecided. Perfect love casts out fear!!! Perhaps we all now need to start speaking the truth in love, and reject misogyny and homophobia for the sins which they are!

    Whether the Church now approves a "one clause measure" or parliament invokes equality legislation, perhaps a more positive way forward is possible than would have been achieved through the appeasing measure which failed on Tuesday!

  17. Thank you for your passionate response. I used to worship at St Mary Magdalene until a year ago when I just couldn't face being an active member of an institution I felt increasingly uncomfortable with. I miss it - badly sometimes - and on cold Sunday mornings tucked up in bed - less so. I continue my relationship with God but right now am finding it hard to be a guest in His house.

    1. Thank you. I almost wrote 'I know how you feel', but that's one of the things clergy aren't meant to say!!
      Do consider coming back to St MM's knowing that I feel as grim about the institution as you do...will be preaching on this on Sunday if you want to give us a try?
      Or try St Laurence in Pittington - which has just voted to go on the Changing Attitude list of 'Welcoming and Inclusive Congregations', and were bemused that any church might not!

  18. I think it is very relevant. I'm kicking myself for not having written the book I intended to write in my last job, and am wondering whether I can find the time to ring SCM with whom i was in discussion about a contract for it and restart plans! In the meantime i hope to write more on this soon...but not this soon.

  19. Miranda, I'm a member of the US Episcopal Church, and I was devastated by the result of the vote. One of my online English friends was present at Synod, and she described the experience as "ghastly". What I was amazed to hear was that a number of younger women spoke of the necessity of headship by men in the church, which is quite discouraging for the elders amongst us who have fought for equality for women for a long time.

    I'll be quite interested to know how many members who were in favor of women bishops cast protest votes. The motion was, in many ways, a poor compromise, but I learned long ago that protests votes are not the way to go. Vote what you want the outcome to be.


    June Butler

  20. Thank you for this hugely helpful post

  21. Speaking as a Catholic I can only say that Gods ways are not mans ways.

    When we say "me, me, me" and "I want, I want" we turn towards Satan's secular world and turn our back on Gods ways.

    I wonder what the theological heavyweight Blessed John Henry Newman would have thought about all this.

  22. Speaking as a former Roman Catholic, the Father-knows-best approach in church leadership seems to me grossly lacking and ineffective. Sometimes Mother knows best, but for all leaders, the way of the Gospel that Jesus teaches is that those in the highest places are to be servants of all.

    And we would all, leaders and led, do well in our imperfect humanity to walk humbly in our assertions of knowing the mind of God.

    June Butler

  23. I rarely comment on blogs; not because I'm an unreconstructed technophobe at 63 but because I prefer well considered views to instant responses - well considered views such as your original post, might I add.

    My reason for responding here is that you have misrepresented my wife and many who think like her. She is Mary Judkins, Wakefield 421.

    You quote her - disparagingly, if I read you correctly - as saying "Of course, women aren't just there to make the tea. Though that is an important aspect of diaconal ministry." In so doing, you lumped her, or so I read it, along with all those you say "entirely reject any leadership by women." Wrong.

    Mary is a leader - an Education Officer in Kirklees, working specifically on interfaith teaching in the area that spawned the Dewsbury bomber of July 2005 Fame. She talks regularly with muslim leaders, many of whom hate the concept of women leadership, yet they accept and respect her (probably because she is as confident in her christianity as they are in their islam, but that's by the bye). Reject leadership by women? I think not!

    Both of us have fallen out with our evangelical roots in recent years. Not for 'theological' reasons, but because we are no longer in sympathy with the over-rigid and often judgemental stance their 'label' groups take on so many issues. She made very clear in her opening remarks that she has "not signed up to any groups so am speaking as an independent. My own vicar is a woman. I am speaking from my heart, as a lay woman seeking to follow Christ daily - as his servant!" Christ's servant, note, not the servant of men - a day in our house would convince you that in no way is Mary subservient to men!

    There was no way the conservative evangelicals could have swayed the laity vote on their own. There were three distinct groups in that debate: those in favour, those against, and a substantial group who felt the Measure as tabled was insufficiently clear to proceed. It was too open-ended, with the Code of Practice not spelled out - which still left the Measure open to hijack by the ungracious in any camp!

    Mary was in that last group; she and I were as saddened as you by some of the more mean-spirited views expressed by some of our former evangelical friends. She wants clarity, confidence, no ambiguity as has characterised the introduction of women priests. Her words to Synod, and please read them with great care, were: "This is not to say ‘no’ to women bishops; this is a plea to get it right, to go for gold not accept silver or bronze."

    But what about those who have been so strident and deeply personal in their attacks on those who oppose them? Deep hurt at this outcome I can understand; anger I can understand. But vitriol? And nastiness? Aimed at fellow Christians, however misguided? If any of those, men as well as women, were made bishops I'd join the bulk of my family in the Methodist church!

    So, back to your quote from Mary's speech. In two parts, if I may: 1: "Of course, women aren't just there to make the tea." This remark picked up, disapprovingly I might add, something said on television earlier in the day by one of the more strident campaigners for women in the episcopate. 2. "... though that is an important aspect of diaconal ministry." Hasn't it been said "once a deacon, always a deacon"? Why assume she meant women only?

    The best example I can think of was my uncle, a Methodist minister, who in retirement went every day to the church hall ... to sweep the floors after the various groups had finished using it. As June Butler ('Grandmère Mimi') puts it so well, "Jesus teaches us that those in the highest places are to be servants of all."

    Dr Keith Judkins
    Lay Canon, Wakefield

    1. Thank you for that background to Mary's comments, Keith. Can we assume that if a single clause measure comes before synod in the next few years, then, hat she would support it?