Well, it looks like a very dull Synod. Hugely significant, but dull. The significance is that we have reached the end of the road on the King’s Great Matter, and we will pass the final amending Canon Number 33 today. The dullness is the rest of the agenda, which is basically ecclesiastical Polyfilla, justifying the time and cost of hauling us all up to London by spinning things out to a day and a half of business.
The Women Bishops document is just two sides of A4. But it is the distillation of years of work, debate, anguish and a little peace-making along the way. The impact will be huge, affecting not just the church, but the wider community that has seen this issue as something of a symbol of how out of touch the church can be. Hopefully, now the ‘stained glass ceiling’ has been broken, those opposed will find they are still loved and valued, and that the processes now in place will be enough to enable them to flourish. I really don’t expect to see lots of triumphalist noises made after the vote, though there will be quiet satisfaction and some discreet celebratory gatherings tonight. Archbishop Justin is giving a Presidential Address after the vote, so watch out for some significant signals in that.
What will happen next in the public domain is that there’ll be huge speculation about who will be the first woman to be consecrated Bishop. Or, if these things can be stage-managed, which two or three women. There’ll be unhealthy and unhelpful pressure on the supposed likely candidates. I pondered on the unhappy role of speculation a while or so ago, and take the liberty of cutting and pasting my thoughts in again in blue.
What have we learned?
I do worry about people’s simplistic approach to how women will actually be appointed when the time comes. They all seem to forget there is a discernment and nomination process that requires the diocese or the Crown Nominations Commission to sort out a role description first. Only then can they look at individuals who might meet that description. It’s not like politics. Or the X Factor. We believe in discerning God’s person for a post – and there is a process, immersed in prayer to help us do that.
We might spare a prayer for a number of prominent women in ministry, who – whether they feel called to episcopal ministry or not – are going to be the subject of endless speculation and profiles in the papers over the next few months.
- I can see the Daily Mail headlines now “IS THIS BRITAIN’S FIRST WOMAN BISHOP?” (which would be both unfair and inaccurate, other Anglican churches having got there first).
- Or, worse, “ENGLAND’S FIRST LADY BISHOP: SHE BUYS HER CLOTHES AT M&S”.
- They will also know they are being talked about in diocesan gossip parlours and synodical tea-rooms.
- I am privileged to know some of these people reasonably well. They don’t deserve the treatment they may get which, however well-meaning, will embarrass them. So let’s pray for them in these next few months, that they may have extraordinary reserves of grace and resilience.
What about the dull stuff?
Back to November. If you dig deep there are one or two little nuggets. I expect some hoo-hah about the draft Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy. This is not a rulebook, but (as it says on the tin) a set of guidelines. However, we have been caught out when it comes to safeguarding matters. There is an apparent contradiction between what is popularly known as ‘the seal of the confessional’ (i.e. what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional) and the (obvious) moral and Christian duty to act when sex abuse is disclosed by someone.
Actually, the C of E does not have much in the way of rules about confession, other than a Canon of 1603 (which is probably not actually about confession as it is practiced today anyway. So the lawyers are going to have to crawl all over this four hundred year old law and try to see how to amend or remove it in the light of twenty-first century concerns, The whole document is up for ‘taking note’ and it will have to be revised in the light of legal advice which is being commissioned. Don’t hold your breath.
There is a heap of other legislative stuff. Probably more significant is the presentation and debate on Tuesday morning about the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. It’s a subject that exercises many of us – in this modern age we know about these things but can do little about them, save supporting people like Canon Andrew White in Baghdad. We have, for the first time ever, an address by an Islamic scholar, and it’s interesting (and painful) to see that some very conservative commentators have already had a go at us for inviting him. In the afternoon there is a major debates on progress in Anglican-Methodist relationships in the light of the covenant that exists between our two churches.
Let us pray?
As is increasingly the case, Synod will be bathed in prayer. There is a continuing praying presence within Church House while we are in session; we begin and end each day with prayer (and, tomorrow, a Communion service. And we’ll pause to pray after the Iraq/Syria item. You can join in if you want to…
*Bob Dylan – The times they are a-changing