General advice during General Synod, part II

Well, that’s a bit embarrassing.

For the measure on women in the episcopate to pass, it needed a 67% majority in all of three houses: bishops, clergy and laity.

It got 94% in the House of Bishops (Yes 44; No 3; Absentions 2), 77% in the House of Clergy (Yes 148; No 45) , 64% in the House of Laity (Yes 132; No 74). So it lost by a whisker, really. Six votes — or fewer than that and a few abstentions.

Here’s some more advice for churchy types:

1) Don’t believe the headlines. Lots of them will say “Church of England says “No” to women bishops” or similar. This is not what has happened. The Church of England has NOT rejected having women in the episcopate; rather it has affirmed, many times over, that it will have women in the episcopate. What has been rejected — by a very slim margin — is this particular legislation. Yes, this is a significant and, for many of us, sorrowful delay. No, it is not the end. This issue is not going to go away.

2) Continue being gentle with yourself and others. This hurts. I know it hurts me, and I’m not even ordained. I know that those who oppose the ordination of women will be worried that next time there might just be a single measure, with no provision. I know that many women will be feeling rejected, impatient, raw. What I said in my last post still applies, perhaps now more than ever. Take things one breath, one prayer at a time. Be patient with one another, and with people who aren’t normally church geeks and may not understand point 1). Take breaks from the most argumentative social media if you need to. Allow yourself to lament, allow yourself to grieve, but in spaces where that is going to be safe for you and others. Otherwise, focus on the tasks at hand, the ways in which you can do good here and now. It might feel as if the world is ending and the church is falling apart, or maybe the Church of England is ending and the world is falling apart, but that homeless shelter still needs your help, that carol service still wants to be sung.

3) When you’ve recovered a bit, get involved, and get other people involved. At the end of the day, General Synod is made up of people who have turned up. It’s clearly not enough to assume that they will act as representatives rather than on their own opinions, and to an extent, that’s understandable. But it’s worth giving consideration to exactly how this happened, and what each of us might do differently in future. I don’t think it’s just down to the voting by house or the supermajority requirement, though without those structures the vote would have been very different. I think what is needed in the C of E is actually a huge cultural change, a huge re-imagining of who we are, overwhelming renewal of who we are, who we are for, what we do and how we do it. I don’t know what this will look like, exactly. I think we need to engage better with the current systems and structures, but I also think we need to talk together, dream together, pray together, work together. I believe we can build a better Church of England, and a better society in general, without destroying all that we have. I know we can’t any of us do it on our own.

Addendum (Tuesday evening):

I’m seeing a lot of people, committed C of E people, talking about leaving the C of E over this. I refer you to point 1. I also think it’s worth bearing in mind the concepts from Ignatian spirituality of “consolation” and “desolation”, and that one shouldn’t make any major decisions when in “desolation”. I can’t decide for you whether this applies — I’m just writing a blog post, honestly! — but I think it’s worth thinking about. And of course, the fewer of us there are to do the work in point 3) above, the harder it is going to be.

12 thoughts on “General advice during General Synod, part II

  1. Very well said. A sad day, but not the end of the story- important the world is informed this was no to a particular clause in the legislation, not a no to women bishops entirely as is being reported.

  2. This is a really good post full of stuff that needs to be said. I particularly like your Ignatian reference in the Addendum (I would, wouldn’t I?). It is always tempting to quit if things go badly, especially in relation to stuff that has been worked for hard and long. But I plan on sticking around and continuing to fight this battle as long as I can. Bless you.

  3. Really glad you posted this. Tired of reading/hearing ‘the church’ refused to allow women bishops. What went wrong with the laity? well, I suspect we have all imagined that our elected reps would vote as we wish. Using the ‘yes2womenbishops’ site allowed thousands to let their Synod reps know they wanted a YES. but it seems that the ‘resisters’ were voting on their principles.
    If we allow the next elected Synod reps to be nodded through [as happened in our experience, where the sitting rep was re-elected in a village with a woman Rector, by pro-women people who had no idea he disliked all women clergy: I asked him and voted for an alternative] then this disaster can be repeated, whatever the subject.
    Is there an argument in favour of changing the format of Synod? one house, not 3 [Bshops, clergy and laity] or is that full of pitfalls, too?

    1. Bene,

      I’m not sure changing the format of Synod would solve the main problem: that the church is run by the people who turn up, and the rest of us are happy for this to be the case until those who turn up decide something on our behalf that we don’t actually agree with…

      How many people in parishes know their Deanery Synod reps, let alone who speaks for them at General Synod?

      1. Needs thought, then, on how we find our representatives. Given that we elect only every x years, we need people with vision to help shape a compassionate church
        As you say, we get people on PCCs who are there out of ?duty, but whose views might not represent the congregation very closely. That isn’t such a disaster as we can replace them more easily [?] but synod reps.. I feel there should be a panel/box stating the views of the potential reps; so they can’t avoid saying eg that they don’t like women clergy… but what questions would we ask them that have a future content.

  4. As a woman priest in the Church in Wales, I grieve for the Church of England, and not just for its women priests and their supporters. Here in Wales we have a situation of complete stagnation in which the Church is in terminal decline. I can’t help feeling that this is entirely due to the absolute exhaustion of our reserves of love for one another. Love for one another, worked out in the honouring of one another as persons, and not just men, women, gay or straight, is a visible measure of our love for God. Could it be that there is a serious deficit of love for God in both the Church of England and the Church in Wales? By their deeds you shall know them. As Bishop David Jenkins was once heard to say, ‘no Church can keep a good God down’, so keep loving that God and draw on the energy of that love to love a world in which love is so badly needed.

    1. Lorraine,

      I think it’s easy to feel the church is in terminal decline, and I agree there are problems. But the picture I see now is not one of stagnation but of change. I don’t always agree with how the church responds to these changes on a national or local level, but I wouldn’t call it stagnant, here. And I came to the Church of England late — and at least partly because of the love I was shown.

  5. Thank you for some insightful advice. Put away the anger and bring on some love and grace. Have to go with that.

    Reminds me of a poem I read somewhere about keeping your head, while madness is all around. Probably Rudyard Kipling.

  6. Thank you so much for these wise counsels. I aspire to follow them – but I am not there yet (by a long way!)

  7. It is always darkest before dawn. Perhaps the grief and pain everyone is experiencing (and this may include some who now regret their former position in regard to women’s ministry) is the dark soil in which love might begin to germinate. It is essential that love and trust begin to take hold again, especially where love has been betrayed and trust broken. The way women are treated by the Church (and not only the C of E)is causing many people to begin to question the Christian faith itself. Many rightly believe that the heart of the Gospel message is one of loving relationship between human beings and God, and between people. Some who I have spoken to in the last couple of days also sense that the Holy Spirit is a dynamic force for this love, rather like the weather blowing outside my window as I write this, a force which is regenerative and always moving us forward from the old to the new, to new contexts and new relationships where love can take root and grow. What many people are seeing in the Church is, I accept, not so much stagnation (see comment above), but a certain brittleness, an absence of real joy, the kind of joy experienced by old friends when they meet again after a long separation. In all this pain, we have to start meeting again like old friends, or we shall be sending out a very mixed message when it comes to the unconditional hospitality offered to all in Christ.

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