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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Women Bishops Part 1

The Bishop of Manchester had a tough job today. Having produced the next report on Women Bishops - chairing a group that was as diverse as the opinions you find in this Synod - he then had to present it to Synod this morning, after we had done a session of Group Work.

A word about Group Work. This is something that happens at every York session - I have only been on Synod since 2005 so I don't know quite how far back it goes, nor what the original intention behind it was, but I have to say I look forward to it. We are split into groups of 15 or so, we have a bishop and an archdeacon or two to keep an eye on us, and we are given something to talk about. There seems to have been a deliberate effort to mix us up as much as possible, and that's actually the reason why I like it - my group has Traditional Catholics, Conservative Evangelicals and every variety of middle-of-the-road Anglican in between. Given that many of us are not shy of expressing an opinion, it can be lively. The previous two sessions were Bible Study, but this one today was specifically about the Manchester Report, and it gave a chance for a genuinely free and frank exchange of views.

Anyway, softened up or not by the Group Work, there we were in the Assembly Hall in York, waiting for the bishop's introduction. I didn't envy him. The report puts forward a number of alternatives, and it is an inevitable consequence of such an approach that in articulating the various ideas in the report, the poor man was going to say something that would annoy just about every one of his audience. So what did he say, and how was it received?

Well - he picked out the bits of the report that he felt were worthy of particular attention, but there were a couple of remarks that might be of interest. The first was his insistence that despite the difficulties, now was the right time to be carrying on the debate. Previous Synod motions had created an atmosphere of uncertainty, and that meant that issues had to be addressed one way or the other. The second was that we should take seriously the 'Single Clause Measure' option, while being quite clear about the consequences. The third was that what we are really talking about when we talk about these various options and their consequences is what sort of Church it is that we want to be.

So then it was open to the floor, and there were a total of (I think) 27 speeches. Anything I tell you about these is of course impressionistic - I can't do shorthand - but there was some interesting stuff. At some point in the debate I wrote 'everyone's being so polite' and indeed they were - but not everybody was cheerful or optimistic. There was a sense that for many people, although their hearts were telling them one thing about inclusiveness, about unity, and about the need to hold everyone together, nevertheless their heads were telling them something else about the implications of some of the paths proposed in the report. Will a Code of Practice be enough for those who conscientiously object? If not, will actual legislated provision be a bridge too far for those who feel that womens' ministry is compromised by what they see as discrimination? Could it be that provisions for those who dissent will actually serve to institutionalise a lack of trust between the various different parties?

And yet... Speaker after speaker made it clear that they felt that the obligation for permanent provisions to be made for those who could not accept womens' ordination continued to be binding upon the Church. It is quite clear - to me at least - that the mood of the Synod was inclined towards compromise of some kind or other. Perhaps the last word ought to go to the Bishop of Manchester. The most telling part of his summing-up was this - that it is far more compelling to ba able to say to someone, "I trust you" than to say to them, "Will you trust me?"

You can find the Bishop of Manchester's Report here

Justin GS373

1 comment:

Adrian Beney said...

One can't help feeling that it's not the sex of the priest that is the Church of England's problem, the problem is sex.

I wish the Church would get as upset about money and power.