Friday, 27 September 2013

Women Bishops: Crest of a Wave

I should be in a really good mood. What a fantastic month it has been for those of us who have been immersed in advocacy for women's equality in the Church!

First, we heard that Helen-Ann Hartley has been elected as the next bishop in New Zealand. She will be the first woman ordained in the Church of England to become a bishop, even if it is still only possible the other side of the world.

Then, the Church in Wales - much nearer home - voted to open the episcopate to women. Even better, they voted to remove any statutory discrimination from the draft legislation.

Thirdly, the Church of Ireland announced that the first woman had been elected to be a bishop there.

And finally, for now at least, we have heard that the Church of South India has elected their first woman as a bishop, too.

Yet despite all this good news, I have been feeling strangely down this week. And I think they are connected.

All these announcements are bitter-sweet for us here in England, aren't they? Even if you don't think women should become bishops, I'm sure you can empathise with the mixed feelings such announcements have brought with them.

First, they bring back all the pain of last November's 'No'. Rather like remembering a bereavement all over again when you hear of another death, seeing all these wonderful announcements means we can't continue to compartmentalise that hurt and sense of rejection. I read my blog post from November again today, and yes - those feelings are still raw, just below the surface. We have of course been ignoring them, suppressing them, just getting on with the day to day work of being a priest or a laywoman in Christ's church. But they are still there, only lightly scabbed over, and this month they have been itching.

Secondly, I am mourning what might have been. If the vote had gone the other way, we would be close to hearing our own announcements now. The new bishop of Durham could have been a woman. The back log of bishop appointments could have become a wave of brilliant women whose gifts could have flooded in to the House of Bishops. Instead, we are gathering up the crumbs under the rich man's table: a few women are to be permitted to attend the House of Bishop's meetings. Tweets pour scorn on those doing so as 'silly women' accepting posts as 'pseudo bishops'. Though a more accurate reading of the situation might be that the bishops are begging them to attend, to make them look better and to make their meeting dynamics work better, and the women concerned are graciously accepting the invitation, choosing with great dignity and calm not to be insulted. Hats off to them.

Thirdly, all these appointments remind us again and again that nowhere else in the Anglican Communion has the admission of women to the episcopate been hedged about by conditions, restrictions, provisions for opponents or discriminatory regulations. Every other province that currently allows women to be bishops - whether or not they actually have any yet- has simple legislation. Yet the Church of England is still agonising over how and whether this can be done, and what complicated arrangements might be suitable for those who wish to reject women's ministry. We appear unable to simply follow the lead of our brothers and sisters around the world, in a huge variety of contexts - from Canada to the Sudan.

And of course, all these appointments have provoked once again the usual statements of disapproval from the usual suspects, forcing us to hear once again that women are unequal, women should be subordinate, women can't be what many of us are - priests, deacons, bishops, co-workers with God on equal terms with our male colleagues. The arguments are the same, the rhetoric is tired, and our wince is a familiar one.

So I just feel tired, and a bit down. I wish I could rejoice, but at least I've worked out why I'm not feeling as great as I thought I would be.

There is a wave cresting, but it seems to be taking an awfully long time to break on this shore.


  1. if you stand on the shore and watch the waves they gradually work up to the biggest the seventh. The seventh wave is building,getting ready too crest and break and when it breaks they won't know what's hit.

  2. Yes, yes and yes! I empathise with all that you say, including 'only lightly scabbed over'. I think part of the problem is that we have been through a good deal of pain, and in my case it has been over very many years - one of the major events of my teenage years was Una Kroll shouting 'we asked for bread and you gave us stones' from the gallery. And here we still are, in 2013.
    I hope with every fibre of my being that prayers and layers is also right.

  3. Una Kroll, the Anglican woman vicar who gave up her ministry to become a Catholic:
    Interesting if uncomfortable reading. Peter

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