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Thursday, 9 February 2006

The third bite; or the cherry swallowed whole? Women Bishops 3rd debate - (1) 9Feb2006

So the debate has been had, and the result of what was seen as one of the most significant debates and votes of this session of Synod are now known. A huge number (348) for and but a single vote against. But for - or against - what?

Since 1992, the CofE has been joined in the priestly ministry by some 2000 women. Even though there has been widespread rejoicing about this, it has come at not a little pain in some other parts of the church, both evangelical and catholic. These areas of the church maintain the ordination of women to the episcopate is a huge step - and perhaps a step too far. If the CofE makes this move, can those (both male and female, lay and ordained) still feel they can remain within the church that has nurtured them?

It is possible that the answer may ultimately be no, from some catholics, or some evangelicals, or both. But IF there is to be a possibility of them staying within the church, provision will rightly have to be made for them. Yet, if that provision comes in such a way that it so clips the wings of the Episcopal ministry of a woman in the church, then it cannot be.

So, a tight-rope is being walked here. Today’s debate was to explore the possibilities of future enabling measures.

There are 3 suggested ways forward: A ‘single clause measure’ (we are having women bishops, and bad luck if you don’t like it, and sorry if you are leaving); A Third Province (Canterbury Province, York Province, and perhaps another, maybe non-geographical* Province); or T.E.A.

Transferred Episcopal Arrangement - TEA for short - the key recommendation from the Guildford group, suggests that parishes, clergy and individuals who cannot accept the authority of a woman bishop have adequate provision made for them. This, so far, is the one way forward that seems to be able to include not only all those around the centre of the church’s theology and ecclesiology, but the conservative catholics, and conservative evangelicals too.

Many ‘huddles’ were evident in the hours before this debate. Plotting and intrigue abounded! A long list of amendments was put forward. I am not clued in enough to all the groupings at Synod yet to work out who is in with who, or what. The quality of debate, by and large, was excellent. One or two folk tried to sneak around the formal process - popping in a main motion speech during what should have been a debate just specifically on an amendment - but good chairing kept that to a minimum.

One of the most moving speeches was from one brother with one view, about how this issue ultimately could fracture filial relationships - possibly permanently - with the other brother. This family story, as the speaker suggested, stood perhaps as an ‘icon’, a vignette, a microcosm of what this large Anglican family was also dealing with. Many in Synod know one, or other, or both brothers well. Sobering; emotional; powerful.

It became clear, though, that many felt the best way forward for now is to go with the Archbishop’s motion, un-amended. At the end of three and a half hours debate, the chamber was all but unanimous in its support. July’s Synod will have the additional background material, the ‘ha’penny worth of tar’ to make sure this ship is not spoiled.

Alastair GS101

* (the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand operates a Province system a little like this, with three layers, three acetate sheets over a land-map, for each of three Tikangas; one for the Maori Anglican church, one for the Pakeha, or white settler church; one for the Polynesia, or Fiji, Tonga, Samoa etc part of the church. This model, working for nearly 20 years, has much to commend it - but it is not without significant, and some might argue fatal, flaws. Oh, I feel a maiden speech coming on! I must stop.)

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