There was a lightning strike at the university during the afternoon, which killed our Internet access, and was seen by some as a divine statement about our presumption n debating women and the episcopate again…
Friday afternoon’s separate meetings of the Houses (laity, clergy and Bishops) were a formal chance to send the legislation on for full debate on Monday. A simple majority was all that was needed, and it went through in each meeting. What was interesting was the underlying stuff.
I’ve spent 7 years on Synod expecting Forward in Faith and Reform to be the ones opposing moves towards the goal. Things have changed. They are now rather at sea: some will accept the current proposals, others won’t. But there is a now very strong move from WATCH (Women and the Church) to prevent the legislation passing in its current form. In the Canterbury Convocation (to which I belong) we had many speeches (from women and men) saying ‘Pass it today: but on Monday, rather than accept it (or defeat it) press for an adjournment of the debate so that the Bishops can have another go at amending it.’ The point at issue is the Bishops’ introduction of a Clause 5, which writes into the legal Measure some rules about how a diocese must respond to a parish objecting to oversight from a woman Bishop. Those wanting an adjournment object to this, and want the Bishops to think again.
The mood of our meeting was to adjourn back to the Bishops on Monday. A lot of people (not just women clergy) really feel strongly that what is on offer is not what 42 out of 44 dioceses voted for, and it enshrines women as ‘second-class bishops’. However, I spoke to say that this was a risky strategy for those of us in favour of women in the episcopate. There is no guarantee of what the Bishops will do! I dared to say that the House of Bishops is not Disneyland, where dreams come true. It is a body that will struggle to agree any fine-tuning, and is unlikely to want simply to say ‘Oh we were wrong, we’ll take Clause 5 out again’
I gather that the other separate House meetings were similar – though the Laity had a larger proportion of people voting against the whole thing even at this stage.
So what’s going to happen?
The Bishops meet in September. If we vote on Monday for adjournment, they might remove the offending clause, and make the objectors happy. But that would have the effect, when it comes back to Synod at a specially convened session in November, of alienating those Anglo-Catholic and conservative evangelicals who might (just) vote for the measure as it stands. The result would be that the legislation would fail to get a 2/3 majority in each House, and that would be the end of the project until a new Synod is elected in 2015.
Alternatively the bishops might decline to make any changes, and just send the legislation back to a November Synod, who would be faced once again with exactly what we have to face on Monday – but with no escape route any more. And if it can’t get 2/3 majorities now, it is unlikely to do so in November. End of project again.
So we’ve got till Monday to talk and pray our way through this maze. In the tea-room, we’re talking of nothing else. How will certain key players vote? Are WATCH bluffing? When push comes to shove, rather than risk the Bishops getting stuck, will WATCH accept what’s currently on offer, compromise that it is? Or, at least, will some of them go for compromise. And even if they do, can they get a 2/3 majority in each House on Monday?
It’s very hard to detect what changes the Bishops might actually come up with, and unless some of them come up from behind the parapet during Monday’s debate and give us a clue about what they think they could offer, it’s hard to see what is gained by adjourning the matter to them.
The old proverbs come to mind: ‘better half a loaf than no bread’ and ‘Do not make the best the enemy of the good’. I will willingly vote with the pressure to adjourn if there is any prospect of a better deal coming back from the Bishops, and getting the majorities it needs in November. But is that going to happen?