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The vote on women bishops is a triumph for our diplomatic Archbishop

But there is still a quiet minority for whom this is all very difficult

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

The result of Monday’s vote on women bishops, the Archbishop of York stipulated, must be greeted in silence, as is the convention at the General Synod. This, perhaps, was a misjudgment: it would have been more natural, surely, to allow an instantaneous mass-whooping for joy and an outbreak of uninhibited Anglican hugging, rather than to force everyone to sit tight through two or three tedious extra amendments and then to make them all stand up and start singing and swaying to ‘We Are Marching in the Light of God’, which was what happened.

But, say those who are delighted with the outcome of the vote, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury must be praised for their work in bringing this vote to fruition. ‘The Archbishop of York was an excellent chairman of the debate,’ said Sally Barnes, media officer of Women and the Church — ‘except at the very end. It was disgraceful to be told to keep quiet and not rejoice. Yet again the message to women was, “You may not rejoice.” One or two of us did stand up and cheer, and were scowled at.’ But as soon as the session ended and they were let out on to the York University campus, she said, ‘the joy just spilled out, and it carried on and on into the evening’.

I rang the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, early on the morning after the vote. (Clergy who live in cathedral closes are up and dressed for 7.30 Matins; you can ring them before breakfast.) Bishop John said he was impressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s work in getting people on opposing sides of the debate to talk to each other. This is not easily done: theological views, when stubbornly held, are notoriously hard to budge. Archbishop Justin Welby achieved a subtle toning-down of the extremes of violent disagreement with the help of a brilliant Northern Irish facilitator, David Porter, who is Canon Director for Reconciliation at Coventry. (Coventry has been a great centre for reconciliation ever since the end of the second world war, when the city vowed to make lifelong friends with Dresden to make amends.) Spurred to action by the vote against women bishops in 2012, which caused national outrage, Welby was determined to bring key disagree-ers to the negotiating table, with David Porter (toughened by his Northern Irish experience) as trained facilitator, steering their conversations and telling them that Christians should not behave like that and should try to trust each other. The result is that people who used to be hostile to and horrid about each other (for example, ‘headship’ Christians and liberals) are now a little less so.

Australia's First Female Bishop Ordained In Perth
Australia’s first female Bishop, Kay Goldsworthy Photo: Getty


Those who are happy with the outcome seem to agree that, with hindsight, it’s good that the vote didn’t go through in 2012, as this time the legislation is simpler, and nothing divisive is enshrined in law. ‘It demonstrates how God can bring good things out of bad,’ said Bishop John Inge. One of the Five Principles set out in the Measure states: ‘The Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender.’ Women priests love this longed-for clarity. ‘At last, after 20 years, women priests can stop feeling ambivalent about themselves,’ said Jody Stowell, vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Harrow. ‘I’m in a day-to-day situation where my colleagues are affirming me; but it makes a huge difference when it’s the institution itself that is affirming me.’

Still on the trail of the pre-breakfast clergy, I rang Bruce Ruddock, Canon Precentor of Peterborough, former director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and in close touch with Roman Catholics. How would this vote affect the relationship between the Church of England and the Church of Rome, I asked. ‘I don’t think it will harm the relationship at all,’ he said. ‘The Roman Catholics have been expecting it — it has been regarded as a given for some time that we will have women bishops.’

Anyway, he said, ‘ecumenism is not about trying to bolt together the hull of some great ship which was broken in the 16th century; it’s more about a flotilla sailing in the same direction. Unity is not uniformity. The mantra is “unity in diversity”.’ When the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope meet, Bruce Ruddock said, ‘although they do have theological discussions, they don’t talk endlessly about women bishops. They’re tackling other issues — for example, there’s a new initiative spearheaded by the Vatican and the Anglican Centre in Rome to tackle human trafficking.’ For which we are surely grateful.

Always there is the quiet minority for whom this is all very difficult. These are the people who will now be required to live alongside women bishops in an atmosphere of ‘mutual flourishing’ (another key phrase from the Five Principles). At 9 a.m. I rang Canon Roger Job, who resigned his Church of England post in 1994 after the vote to allow women to become priests. ‘The Church of England seems to spend a lot of time endearing itself with society,’ he said. ‘I mean, so what if David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are thrilled about this vote? As Pope John Paul II said, you cannot determine what is good and what is bad simply by reference to its popularity.’ Canon Job believes that ‘the admission of women to the sacred ministry without any reference to Rome or the Orthodox church is a terrible mistake. Any pretence to being a united church is shattered, and unity with the Catholic church is now quite a lot further off.’

It remains to be seen how mutual the flourishing will actually be. This is one of the concerns of those in favour of the vote: there will still be ‘flying bishops’ ministering to parishes opposed to women priests. These bishops will be visiting parishes and taking school assemblies; it will be all too easy for them to steer well clear of women bishops whose ministry they don’t recognise, and a very frosty atmosphere could develop.

All the more important, then, for women priests (and soon bishops) to sharpen their act: to look good, dress well, preach well, sing well, and lead well. The best way to convert people to women’s ministry is to let them experience it: but it needs to be top-notch.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham is the author of The Church Hesitant.

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Show comments
  • mandelson

    Hmm why didnt Christ ask the people what they wanted you know by a show of hands and a group hug, instead of all that miracles, sermons and ultimate painful death and resurrection malarky. Anglicanism appears to have nothing to do with Christianity except for a soft left touchy feelyness and appears to be embarrassed by the enormous life and death seriousness of the Bible.

    • Liz

      So you think Anglican bishops should be dictators because Jesus was? Bishops aren’t the sons and daughters of god. They are just English blokes.

      • Terry Field

        mini-blokes really – and how many queers, how many paedos????????
        Rock of ages
        More like Rock Hudson of ages

      • Bonkim

        and not Christians.

        • mandelson

          Indeed, passing themselves off as Christians fraudulently in the same way as they would be if they called themselves brain surgeons.

    • Bonkim

      In any case they only look at the New Testament – without the cumbersome old.

    • rtj1211

      Old Jesus wouldn’t have got far if he hadn’t abided by the traditions of the day. Suggesting that women ruled 2000 years ago would be like telling Saudi Arabia to adopt homosexuality today.

      The question you must ask yourself is whether Jesus would have adapted had he lived for 2 millennia or would he have pickled himself in the conditions he found as a 30 year old man??

      • AsYouSay

        Actually, priestesses were a common feature of the religious groups that operated around the Mediterranean basin in Jesus’s day. The Church consciously was going against the grain then. There were reasons, you see. But Anglicans don’t understand the concepts of Church and Tradition and obedience.

  • Terry Field

    Since most C of E priests are so effeminate, will it be possible to tell the difference.
    They need to stamp themselves ‘from more than one gender’ like supermarket sausages.

  • Bonkim

    Good politics but bad Christianity – which in any case does not exist. The established Church with its trimmings is far far away from the Christianity of the Bible – so perhaps it does not matter if women become Bishops – it looks good though.

    • rtj1211

      Oh, I don’t know. ‘Honour thy Father and thy Mother’ could just as easily be interpreted as a call to women Bishops as telling children to cook mum and dad lunch every week or so…….

  • intellectone

    What did you expect from the Anglicans. After all, they have that nut Henry the VIII as the head of their church. There is nothing to salvage, Anglicanism is done.

    • Gwangi

      Actually, Henry VIII had no intention of breaking with Rome but having an English church too – it was just a power struggle and the Pope, then as now, personifies the power-hungry corruption, wealth and greed of the Church of Rome. Charles I and II died Catholics too. All about power really not religious doctrine.
      Anglicanism is not done at all. However the mad Africans may leave and they want to hang gays and exorcise demons by murdering children. Good riddance, really.

      • intellectone

        Baloney. It was definitely over the divorce which would never have been granted by the Pope. Divorce, to this day, is not in the nomenclature of the Roman Catholic Church.
        Anglicanism was done from the start. How long did they last?

      • mandelson

        “it was just a power struggle” tell that to the Carthusian monks and abbots and countless others brutally tortured and murdered.

    • rtj1211

      Your catholics have such a fine track record of male priests, don’t they?

      If they’d been rogering wives instead of trying to be ascetic, maybe fewer of them would have been homosexual paedophiles??

      • intellectone

        How many paedophiles are there or were there? One is one too many. The Homosexuals infiltrated the priesthood and will be weeded out. There are more than 44,000 priests in the USA. Jesus had 12 Apostles and even then (1)one betrayed Him. What Judas of Iscariot did was beyond psychological explaination. He was under the dominion of another power (satan). He said “I have sinned” and then he makes another tragic error, because Judas of Iscariot’s remorse, due to the betrayal, turns into despair. Now he sees only himself and his darkness. He no longer see the light of Jesus.
        The next thing you see him hanging from a tree. He had the wrong kind of remorse It was a remose with no hope.
        85% of the abuse was by the homosexuals. Yet, your Lawless and Godless government wants to teach your children in the public square and the public schools, on your tax dollar, that homosexuality is normal when it is objectively disordered and beyond…..?

  • Terence Hale

    Hi,
    “Women bishops at last”. It started with Pampers. The next step. Bi-polar castrated homosexual transvestites. A prayer is now classed as a Tweet and is a form of communication and fall under the jurisdiction of the GCHQ.

    • rtj1211

      So teenage pre-marital sex becomes bestiality, necrophilia and sadomasochistic whipping sessions, does it?!

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  • David Prentice

    The Anglican Church is now a beautiful and historically interesting carapace. Doctrinally, it has been hollowed out to the point of irrelevance. In embracing modernity, it has lost itself as a serious religion and been reborn as a trendy, BBC-friendly support group.

  • Alex James

    The Spectator is supposed to be a journal of conservative thought. This article offends both criteria: it does not proceed from a conservative standpoint, and it is not thoughtful. The subject is a serious one. Mrs Maxtone-Smith trivialises it.

    National outrage in November 2012? Confined to a few journalists and noisy MPs, synthetic and well organised. The reason the measure failed at that point is that some of its supporters, more principled than others, blocked it because it was unfair to the opponents. The synod could have passed the measure in July 2012, but its supporters blocked it because they thought it too fair to the opponents. Not much outrage at that point.

    You would think from the article that the debate revolved around the feelings of women (viewed, of course, as a monolithic block), as against the “difficulty” experienced by a recalcitrant (if quiet) minority. There are important theological issues here. People may legitimately disagree about them. But the view that the episcopacy and the priesthood are confined to men has been adhered
    to consistently by the Western (Roman Catholic and Anglican) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches, and is still vigorously maintained by the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. That view can hardly be called illegitimate. It is the conservative
    standpoint from which the debate proceeds. Some of the reformed Protestant churches differ. But Anglicans (even the Protestant Geoffrey Fisher) regard themselves as part of the one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, and until recently have actively pursued Christ’s vision of unity with Rome and the Orthodox.

    So the flying bishops remain a concern. Clearly Mrs Maxtone-Smith disapproves of them. Flying bishops were introduced in 1993, when women were first admitted to the priesthood. The synod undertook to Parliament that they would be a permanent element of the college of bishops, but they have been repeatedly undermined, and the synod has been more than willing to dishonour the undertaking in an attempt to
    pass the present legislation. My prediction is that, far from generous, the atmosphere will soon become very frosty indeed, as attempts are made to undermine the new settlement and its ineffective guarantees.

    Writing a pot-boiler about the Church of England should not qualify you to write an article in the Spectator. The editor needs to be more careful about
    whom he commissions.

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    Although confused about the sources of human intelligence, collectivists claim that society must be subjected to centralized control by small groups of quacks and academics.

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