Bathwellschap is unusual in that it’s mostly a ‘report from the floor of General Synod’. Those who can’t follow the live streams (available from here) or who find the various Twitter posts too ‘bitty’ have been kind enough to say it helps them get the feel of what’s going on. I’ve got enough to do round here while we wait for the announcement of a new Bishop of Bath and Wells, but I have grabbed some time to reflect in advance on next week’s Synod, when we will return to the King’s Great Matter. It’s going to be significant, because we’ll be addressing how we can proceed to the consecration of women Bishops. Again…
The key document is the Steering Committee’s report (GS 1924 – read it in full here or for an instant summary, try this Law and religion UK post). There has been a huge change in mood since the July debacle, and the report is witness to it. I spotted three developments:
Moving (very) quickly on…
First of all, there is some speedy work happening. Partly, I suspect, because we have a new Archbishop who wants to ‘move on’, but also because everyone apart from the most dense realises that we lost a large amount of credibility and goodwill in July. When it gets to David Cameron telling the Church of England that it needs ‘to get with the programme’, things are bad. So from July to November, a huge amount of work has been done to find a way through the mire. If we make progress next week (and the signs are that we might), then more speedy work is in view as the House of Bishops (and its new representative senior women clergy participants) will have to get a lot of work done in time for the February Synod.
They agreed with Pete!
Secondly, we are working differently this time. GS 1924 doesn’t actually use the words “I agree with Pete” (see here if you don’t understand that phrase) but it’s evident that facilitated conversations and a much bigger Steering Committee have been a great leap forward.
- Those who under the old system would either not have been on the Committee, or would have registered votes against (that is, representatives of Traditional Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals) have taken a full part.
- They have registered (honourable) abstentions rather than indicating they want to vote the whole thing down
- Tuesday morning will see us praying and meeting in small groups before we get anywhere near a debate or a vote. This is something we did in July and was warmly appreciated.
- The House of Bishops will have those senior women with them when they meet in December to take things forward. (We’re very proud in Bath and Wells that Archdeacon Nicola Sullivan is among these pioneers.) This is a huge step – changing the face as well as the tone and the dynamics of Bishops’ meetings for ever. We hope.
The curious incident of the dog in the night
Thirdly, in Conan Doyle’s Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes draws Inspector Gregory’s attention to the curious incident of the dog in the night: surprisingly, the dog did not bark (and so, Holmes deduced, the horse-thief was known to it). General Synod is hardly Victorian England, but we have not had the usual anguished howls in response to any new proposals on women Bishops. Forward in Faith have come out asking clear questions, and gently pointing out what they see as shortcomings, but the unremittingly negative ‘Ulster says no’ tone is gone. Their response is here. And it sounds to me as if they are preparing their members to abstain when it comes to this vote, at least while they wait to see what detail the House of Bishops put into the next steps in February.
Mind you, there’s nothing official from Reform. Either they have been too busy with GAFCON in Kenya, or they are keeping their powder dry till next week. Perhaps the rather strange concept of an Anglican Mission in England will emerge to comfort those who can’t see any hope in what we’ve got at present. But for the moment, silence.
The small print
One last thought. The Report spends ten of its thirty-four pages spelling out how disputes will be dealt with. (In other words, what happens when a PCC feels their Bishop has not dealt properly with their requests for alternative episcopal oversight.) This matter has been the source of considerable discomfort to ‘traditionalist’ opponents. Basically, there will be an independent person the PCC can appeal to. But what will s/he be called?
The Press have enjoyed writing about an ‘Ombudsman’, as if we were thinking about maladministration by the General Purposes Committee of the Borsetshire County Council. The Report actually only uses that bureaucratic term as an illustration: it chops and changes between “independent adjudicator” and “independent reviewer” – both occur a number of times. Maybe that’s just a sign that it was all written in a hurry…
I’ll endeavour to be in my usual ‘from the floor’ mode on the key days – Monday evening, when we get a presentation about the proposals; Tuesday morning’s groups (almost certainly subject to an omerta wall of silence); and then Wednesday’s deciding debate. I’m delighted that Church House are asking people to pray for us all – details and prayers are here.
Don’t go on holiday, or you’ll miss it all.