Saturday 26 October 2013

Women Bishops: Take Two...

Proposals for new legislation to enable women to be bishops, have just been published. They can be found here, on the Church of England website.

Overall reaction

Overall, I welcome this report and would support this legislation. It seems to me to provide a wise balance of simple legislation and guiding principles, giving effect to the wishes of General Synod as expressed in July.

There are points on which I have some serious reservations, but I can of course see that the same could be said by everybody in this process, and that some mutual compromise is necessary. For me personally, the biggest concession demanded by this legislation is the continued ordination of candidates who are against the ordination of women.

I welcome, however, the structure of the new proposals, with their four inter-dependent elements which need to be read as a whole.

Guide to the new proposals

The new package is designed to be seen and understood as a whole. Each element needs to be read and interpreted in the light of each other element.

There are four parts to this new package:

1. The Measure.
This is the bit that will become law, and that will need to be passed by Parliament as well as by General Synod. It is much simpler than before, as requested by General Synod in July. It basically says men and women can both be bishops, end of. The only other substantial provision is a single amendment to the Equality Act, designed to prevent legal challenges to this package.

2. The Amending Canon. 
This changes the internal rules of the Church of England. The  main point here is that both for priests and bishops, the rules will simply say men and women can be ordained and consecrated, without having separate provision for the ordination of women . A new Canon will also mandate the grievance procedure (see 4 in this list).

3. The House of Bishops' Declaration. 
This is the heart of the package for those who disagree with the ordination of women. All arrangements for dealing with the variety of opinion that exists are in this Declaration, which would have similar force to the current Act of Synod. It includes the provision that, once the Bishops have agreed this text, it can only be changed by a 2/3 majority of each House of General Synod.

4. The Grievance Procedure.
The newest element of the proposals, this will be an ombudsman-style process, and it will be made compulsory by being included in Canon Law. This means all clergy, including bishops, will have to comply with it. It exists primarily to provide a way for PCCs who don't think their theological convictions have been handled adequately to complain, but the stated aim is not so much to deal with such complaints, but to prevent them arising in the first place by providing an independent and national level of scrutiny over how (for example) bishops go about providing male bishops for petitioning parishes. It doesn't include penalties, but it seems likely that failure to comply with its recommendations would be grounds for a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

What now?

So, this November, Synod will be voting on whether
1) to give First Approval to the Measure and Canon and
2) to ask the Bishops to agree texts for the Declaration and Grievance Procedure.

If all goes to plan, the February 2014 Synod will then hold the Revision Stage of the legislation (the Measure), and will have the full set of documents agreed.
At the end of the February Synod, they will vote on sending the whole package to the dioceses again. The dioceses will only be voting on the Measure, but will be able to see the whole package so they aren't 'signing a blank cheque'.

This Reference to the Dioceses stage is expected to be fast-tracked, and should be back with General Synod by July or November 2014.

In theory, then, Final Approval could be given in 2014, or in Feb 2015.


  1. Why is it a problem that those who are opposed to this are allowed to be ordained? Throughout Church history, and Scripture, this has always been the case until the last few PC years. Why do some think that the status quo is so wrong?

  2. Anonymous, because your assumption that women's ordination is nothing but a secular "PC" movement is wrong.
    If your church has discerned that God actively calls women to be priests and bishops it would be wrong to continue to ordain people who oppose this (his!) will.

    1. No it wouldn't be wrong because it is the same God who calls those men to the Priesthood!

      We all in conscience have to decided through the free will that have, whether we can believe in certain issues and for some in conscience they can't

      The level of Charity from some of my brethren is unbelievable, anyone who holds such convictions needs to re-examine their conscience

    2. Chuchu,

      This is "the Tolerant are Intolerant" canard.

      Refusing to ordain due to one's God-given gender, is qualitatively different than refusing to ordain due to one's chosen, intolerant opinion.

      A woman can't change her gender (well, not her sex chromosomes, anyway). A man who holds that women can't be ordained, and (this is key) announces he will ACT on those beliefs, CAN change.

      Jesus spoke of the "house divided against itself", and then Abraham Lincoln expounded on that, that a country CANNOT be both for AND against slavery. Similarly, a church cannot be both for AND against ordination equality.

    3. Its a shame we don't take that approach to more aspects of church doctrine. I met ordinands in theological college who didn't even believe in the resurrection. If we wanted to establish some sort of litmus test for Church of England clergy then I think surely creedal Christianity would be a better place to start?

  3. Chuchu, I agree that traditionalists should be given provisions, as does Miranda who has clearly said that it is part of the necessary compromise. All she said is that it is a compromise she finds very hard. Some anonymous person asked why it is hard and I gave my own explanation.
    You can disagree with it, but it is still my explanation.
    If God wants women to be priests, then it is going against his will to deny women the priesthood. And if the church has discerned that God wants women to be priests, then it is very very gracious of that church to continue to accommodate people who go against God's will, but it is a major compromise.

    I am happy to accommodate you in the church but I reserve the right to believe that you are desperately wrong.

  4. As a woman putting myself forward for ordination I firmly agree with Chuchu. The same God that gives women vocations to priesthood continues to call traditionalist and conservative men too, and the Church must continue to affirm that vocation. The vast quantity of traditionalist men I know going forward for ordination are most definitely called, and will make phenomenal priests who will serve the Church faithfully and bring a plethora of gifts. Not only that, but the generosity and kindness they have shown to me is beyond compare. And as God is clearly calling them, just as he is clearly calling women, the Church must continue to recognise this. We might not understand what God is doing with this, but nobody said the right way would be easy, and it is absolutely not our place to get in the way of it just because it is uncomfortable. The C of E is the only branch of the church with such a broad spectrum of theology and is the only branch of the Church with true freedom of exploration and acceptance - it would be a real step backwards to lose that.

    1. Thank Rebecca for your comment! In response to Erika - I wouldn't say that those who can't accept women's ministry are disobeying the will of God but to a certain degree we have to discern what we believe to right or wrong.

      We will never get it right and we might in fact be wrong but we are still one in Jesus Christ! Throughout the history of Church, not everyone would have agreed with each others on issues of Doctrine and etc but if the Church took the position of not ordaining those that they believe don't believe in all that they believe - We would have limited priests

      Let us pray for peace, common understanding and all those discerning vocations regardless of their beliefs/doctrinal positions

  5. Thank you Miranda for providing us with this helpful summary, and prayers that next weeks General Synod will be full of the generosity of spirit that you have shown in your balanced summary.