Well, it all came down to a vote just before lunch. And the decision was that we will refer the King’s Great Matter (or at least, the Bishops’ amendment 5(1)(c)) back to the Bishops when they meet in September. And they will bring their revision to an extra Synod meeting in November.
Last night there was a lot of huddling and teasing-out of opinions in the bars. It was never clear, if Synod decided not to adjourn and went for a final vote today, whether (a) the WATCH opponents would really, actually, vote against the Measure, and (b) some traditionalist opponents might actually be sufficiently cheered by 5(1)(c) that they would vote in favour or at the least abstain.
Suppertime eavesdropping included a gathering of conservative evangelicals with one Bishop who was trying to establish what wording they would accept for a revised amendment. I got the impression that they had not really ever considered it might come down to this: choosing words they could live with, rather than simply trumpetting what they want and letting someone else sort it out. The general mood was that we ought to go for a referral back – but there was not much certainty that the Bishops alone could devise a revision that would command enough support.
I’ve written a lot about bars and tearooms this weekend. And I wouldn’t want you to think that’s all that happens outside the chamber. Synod has another source of life: the worship. The morning Communion service at 7.30 was attended by more people than is customary – including me. (I was reminded of the Falklands military chaplains who said that attendance at chapel grew daily as the Task Force got closer to the South Atlantic.) Minds were being concentrated, and people turned to prayer.
I found the Communion inspirational – worshipping with people who you know you disagree with, or who are known to be in turmoil about the debate, is a powerful thing. Then in the main hall, Morning Prayer was led by members of religious communities. There is nothing like having a nun in charge to calm the spirit, and the readings and hymns seemed just right for our nervous and passionate congregation.
I was reluctantly persuaded that adjournment was the Right Thing to do. There was no prospect of the legislation getting the required 2/3 majority in each House. But many, like me, were looking for signs from speakers that the four months between now and November would be spent wisely. Like many others, I had written a speech (with disposable paragraphs to allow for things others had said), but in the end I never stood to be called. Just as well, there were 130 people who wanted to speak…
What did we hear?
First the Steering Committee for the legislation were unanimously wanting it referred back to the Bishops. They recognised that the new 5(1)(c) in the Measure did not command support. And their Chair, Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, said it was imperative that a version that can be passed be prepared. Specifically, he said it was wrong because it put matters into legislation that were not there before; that Synod had not been given even a draft Code of Practice covering 5(1)(c); and that only some of the five principles the Bishop originally enumerated were in the Measure. Some pretty major defects, really, as he acknowledged.
Next significant contribution: the Archbishop of Canterbury. He used words like ‘penitence’, and agreed that the publicity for the decision was badly handled; while reaffirming that the Bishops want to see women in the House; and want to make provision for those opposed. Adjournment is not a panacea but offers an opportunity to deal with the hurt and opposition 3(1)(c) has engendered. Read his full text here.
There were loads of speakers, from all points of view. I was listening for key leaders making noises indicating that they were willing to negotiate, review, discuss. There wasn’t much evidence of that in speeches, but I gather there is some of that going on behind the scenes and through the ‘usual channels’. Our problem is those channels seem to have got silted up in the last 18 months.
The Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, floated the idea of using a phrase such as a Bishop ‘must have regard to’ theological issues in a parish that objects when seeking an alternative bishop for oversight. Tony Baldry MP (who speaks for the Church Commissioners in Parliament) reminded us that he could not get any legislation that looked discriminatory past Parliament when the time comes.
And at the end, we voted. There was a very tense silence after the division bell had rung: I don’t remember the chamber being so quiet. And then the result: 288 to adjourn, 144 against. Bizarrely, that is precisely 2/3 in favour of adjourning. But it doesn’t mean that 2/3 of each House will sign up to whatever comes out of the referral back.
So we could be into ping-pong between Synod and Bishops. In theory it could go back and forth many a time. But no-one has the stomach for that, so November will be the last chance saloon for this women Bishops legislation. Either we get a version that can be passed by 2/3 majorities in each House, or we don’t. And if we can’t it will fall away until a new Synod in 2015 (with a new Archbishop, of course.)
So we hope and pray that the Bishops, and the key figures in WATCH, Forward in Faith and Reform talk to each other and try out various ideas on each other well before the Bishops meet in September. And further, that whatever they come up with is somehow ‘road-tested’ with the key players and constituencies. There are bound to be people, who in the end, can’t accept women Bishops at all. But the maths is that a new amendment needs to come forward that honours the 42 dioceses who voted for the original Measure, and that can gain at least a 2/3 majority.
The papers will say it is a fudge and the Church has no nerve. But the plain fact is if you don’t get the votes, you don’t get the women Bishops. So it’s got to be worth some concentrated, holy efforts over the next four months.
PS: back at home now. A very sensible assessment of the situation from Jeremy Fletcher here