Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Bishop Libby: Feeling Like A Whole Church

I'm blogging unfashionably late on Bishop Libby's consecration. It's not news anymore, and for that I am thankful - that it has become so normal, so quickly, to have a woman among our bishops shows how right and overdue this was.

It has taken me a couple of days to sort through my feelings. Some of them have taken me surprise.

It was - astounding to be there, in the minster, as Libby was consecrated. I felt nervous, as if something was bound to go wrong, to stop it happening. It didn't feel as if this day could really have come. There was the inevitable objection, of course. But when it came, the pathetic lone voice against the echoing joy of the affirmation of the 2000 strong congregation served only to emphasise just how right and welcome this was.

What took me by surprise was my emotion at the moment when +Libby was consecrated. Tears came to me, so that I could only nod and smile, not speak, when an older, male priest next to me turned and said to me, as the bishops hands left her head, 'At last, we're part of a whole church'.

Why was it so emotional? Partly, the satisfaction of something achieved, a task laid down. Partly, the enormity of watching history in the making. But mostly, I think, an overwhelming feeling that somehow my own ordination was changed in that moment. Now it was complete - I was finally ordained in the same sense as men have always been. It felt that something we had hardly noticed was missing had been restored, to me and to all women, in that moment of grace.

Others clearly felt the same. Many women have said how profoundly they felt that moment. And not just women - many men, like the man next to me, have said similar things. Our ordination feels complete, whole, healed.

Taking communion immediately after the consecration felt amazing. I was so conscious of this being the first time we had eaten and drunk Christ's meal together as this new, healed church. That was the first communion of the rest of our lives.

But the greatest surprise was how I felt about our opponents. They may tell me I'm completely wrong about what follows - so I stand open to being corrected here - but I wonder if I perhaps empathise rather more, now, with those who feel that their ordination is somewhat diminished or diluted by the addition of women to the mix?

Having felt, in that moment, this new sense of completion, I wonder if they have been feeling the reverse, all this time? As if having women priests, and now a woman bishop, lessens the validity of their ordination compared to that that men have always had in the past? Is that the emotional reality that all this talk of 'impaired communion' is trying to express?

In the interests of honesty, I have to say that this new sense of empathy doesn't mean my heart is bleeding for them! I am trying very hard to resist the temptation to say - and feel - that it's their turn to feel like that. I'm only succeeding about half the time.

But I am wondering how - if there's any truth in this empathy - we can stop this feeling like a zero-sum game. I wonder if that's what the Archbishop of York is trying to do, in giving into the demands of Forward in Faith to hold off from laying hands on Philip North at his consecration next week? Is he hoping to let people who currently feel like losers feel that they've won something?

Nice idea, but this isn't about winning and losing. It's about feelings. And just as my mum always used to tell me 'two wrongs don't make a right', I'm sure that two hurt feelings don't make for a whole church.

Indeed, I fear that decision may in fact play into such rhetoric of 'winners and losers' and actually entrench the feelings of hurt and diminishment that it was perhaps intended to alleviate. It will sadly also mean that diminishment being enacted, as one consecration with over 100 joyful co-consecrators is contrasted with another, rather sad and lonely one.

I don't know how we go about healing hurt feelings, but my instinct - perhaps my instinct as a mum - tells me that such a 'there, there, have some sweets'  response is almost certainly inadequate. Prayer, I guess, and more prayer. And I can't help feeling that the answer to feelings of impairment of communion is not less communion, but more of it.


  1. A very good response, Dear Miranda, to the episcopal ordination of Bishop Libby. I, too, feel that the distaff side of the arguments about women's ordination must be feeling somewhat diminished at this time, while the rest of us - who really believe in St.Paul's dictum about "In Christ, there is no difference between male and female" - are experiencing a more expanded sense of the ministry given by Christ to the Church. It is only the extension of the 'priesthood of ALL believers.

    In Aotearoa/New Zealand, we have long experience of women as both priests and bishops, and are all the more complete because of their ministry. I pray for Bishop Libby, and for those women who will also be called and ordained to follow in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle of Christ.

    1. "distaff side" surely doesn't mean what you perhaps think it does, and I'm pretty sure whatever you think it means is going to offend someone.

  2. Miranda,
    I think you probably are right, though I suspect it would be more accurate to say that there's a sense of ordination being distorted rather than diminished or diluted fro hose unable to rejoice in Libby's consecration. That said, maybe "diminished" is right, in that it feels for many "Traditionalists" like a lurch towards being Protestant (since it's away from Rome). Perhaps the exact word doesn't matter. It's a gut-reaction wrongness for many, I guess, which is why it's not really amenable to rational argument. As you say, it's about feelings. Changing people's guts (their "reins" as the Psalter wonderfully has it) takes time and human encounter, and yes, prayer.