Thursday, 23 October 2014

Women in the Episcopate Bill gains Royal Assent

It has just been announced in the House of Lords that the Queen has given Royal Assent to the bill that will open the episcopate to women.

Suddenly, things seem to be moving quickly. The only formal step remaining is for the General Synod of the Church of England to promulge the legislation (on November 17th), and from that date women will be eligible for appointment as bishops.

This is great news, and will enable the Church of England to choose from a much wider pool of talented and experienced candidates, which should make it much easier both to find bishops who are the right fit for each post, and to ensure that the College and House of Bishops as a whole includes a wider range of the skills, experiences and specialisms that we need as a Church.

Will there be tokenistic appointments? This is a fear that is regularly expressed - both by men and women. I think it is extremely unlikely. And this is even though the bottleneck of highly qualified and experienced women is so large that it would be possible for the next 10 or 20 appointments of bishops to all be women without it being a question of anything other than finding the right person for the job.

In practice, though, the way the appointments process works for bishops tends to produce compromise candidates. Certain groups within the process can effectively exercise a veto over anyone they find uncongenial, or fear others may find uncongenial. Some members of the Central Crown Nominations Commission are opposed to the ordination of women. And there is a fear around in at least some dioceses that 'if we appoint a woman, she will spend all her time having to be the token woman bishop at national events and won't have enough time to devote to us, her diocese'.

I hope and pray - and I know I am not alone in this - that at least two or three women will be appointed in fairly swift succession, if only to relieve the pressure on 'the first'. But each appointment will need to be made on its own merits, and so this may not happen.

I also hope and pray that when the first, second, third, fourth or fifth woman is made a bishop, people will be able to restrain themselves from diminishing her by asking sniping questions about whether she was a token appointment. Remember, there is that bottleneck of talent.

Finally, I hope and pray that male clergy and their friends will be willing to restrain themselves from bitterly asking whether their own 'promotion prospects' have been harmed by 'political correctness'. It is a truth rarely acknowledged in all this process that yes, of course, the chances of a man becoming a bishop will be diluted when the pool is widened. But I hope we can all see that as a cause for rejoicing in the widened pool, rather than complaining about the changed perspective that makes us seem slightly smaller fish.


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  3. I want to see women bishops and I agree about the challenges of tokenism etc. I'm also sure that there are many capable women who should be appointed in disproportionate numbers over the next couple of years. However, I'd like us now to give our attention also to the other appointments lacuna: the underrepresentation of those who were kids from comps and non-Doxbridge universities and/or whose parents were not wealthy upper middle class. There are a few, but really not many. I fear that the women bishops who will be appointed will replicate class privilege already being enshrined: would that the appointments' groups would read Owen Jones' latest