Sunday, 23 June 2013

Women Bishops - where are we now?

Women Bishops – where are we now? A personal view on GS 1886


The reasons why people voted against in November were varied.

·         There were those who voted against in principle because they opposed women bishops.

·         There were those voted against because, although opposed, they recognised that the Church of England was going to have women bishops, and they believed that provision for opponents could be improved.

·         There were those (particularly evangelicals) who were in favour of women bishops but voted against the legislation in order to secure better provision for those opposed.

There are, of course, overlaps and nuances in the positions outlined above. What I think opponents failed to recognise was that the Synod’s inability to progress the legislation in November 2012 was a game-changer. The legislative provision that was on the table in November was the most generous that opponents were likely to get, and the high-risk strategy of voting it down means that whatever is enacted in the future will have far fewer provisions built into it. The sheer incredulity that most Bishops met in the parishes, in Parliament, in the media and in civic life that we had failed to deliver the legislation was pretty universal. I found myself constantly having to apologise for the CofE. But the effect of voting down the legislation that was on the table has now given us far less room for manoeuvre. In particular:

1.       I cannot see Synod or Parliament now allowing us to pass legislation where there is overt discrimination against women priests and bishops on the face of a Measure (or even an Act of Synod).

2.       There is a groundswell of opinion that Resolutions A & B and the existing Act of Synod are no longer tenable or credible. (Conversations with parish reps to explain that they need to discuss whether or not to debate the resolutions during a vacancy leave them open-mouthed that the CofE still contemplates excluding women candidates!)

3.       Unless those of us who want to secure provision for those opposed can move swiftly to ensure that the non-statutory provision is as generous as possible, there is a danger that there will be almost nothing left for those parishes and clergy. I have recently been redrafting the London Plan (which is predicated on the existing legislation) with a view to working out how it will operate in a post-legislative climate. I’ve included at the end of this paper a flavour of what the working out of the London Plan looks like in the way in which we work between the Bishops in London. (Appendix A). It’s this sort of thing that we will need to be part of the arrangements.

I would hope that members of Synod can:

1.       Embrace the totality of the vision set out in para 12 of the Report:
    • Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;     
    • Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must then be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter; 
    • Since it will continue to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God; 
    • Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England will remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and 
    • Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England. 
 2.       Recognise that Option 4 is a non-starter (para 20 and paras 110 – 120)

3.       Recognise that the 1993 framework is no longer fit for purpose, and that Option 3 will not therefore commend itself to the wider Church or nation (paras 96 – 109). A new mechanism will be needed for parishes to request extended oversight.

4.       Recognise that an Act of Synod in this context has become a toxic, totemic and divisive mechanism, which makes Option 2 pretty tenuous. (Paras 89 – 95) It’s also provision by force of law, which on my reckoning won’t play with the Church or Parliament.

5.       Get behind Option 1 (paras 79 – 88). If we can embrace this together now, we have some real chance of getting something that is coherent and workable.  The more opponents attempt to block the legislation, the more likelihood that provision will be whittled down to nothing.

Of the four options in the HoB paper, only Option 1 has any chance of success. I would urge opponents to adopt realpolitik on this matter. It really is no good any more to argue for provision enshrined in law. The game is up.


Appendix A

Working Arrangements with the Bishop of Fulham

The order of issues in this list relates to the order (though not the numbering) in which they appear in the appendix to the London Plan

1.        Petitioning process for parishes seeking extended episcopal oversight.

Where a parish seeks extended oversight, a consultation process will take place

Stage 1            PCC indicates to Bishop of London that it wishes to consult on petitioning for extended oversight (copying the Area Bishop and Archdeacon)

Stage 2            Archdeacon and representative of Bishop of Fulham attend a PCC meeting to explain the process, hear from the PCC their reasons, and respond to questions and points of concern (this meeting would occur within 4 weeks of the Stage 1 notification to the Bishop of London)

Stage 3            PCC meet (on a separate occasion to the Stage 2 meeting) in order to vote on petitioning

Stage 4            If passed, then the Bishop of London would be formally petitioned. The Archdeacon would also submit to the Bishop a report based on the Stage 2 meeting.

Stage 5            After consultation with the Area Bishop, the Bishop of London would decide whether to accept the petition or require further consultation

2.        Sponsorship of ordinands by Bishop of Fulham

Discernment process will take place using Area Directors of Ordinands and existing Area systems, but the Bishop of Fulham will appoint his own examining chaplain to be in involved in processing candidates from parishes for which he is responsible.

3.        Placing ordinands in title posts

Subject to suitable training incumbents being available, ordinands sponsored by the Bishop of Fulham can be placed in “Fulham” parishes, subject to funding being available. They will be counted within the relevant Area Bishop’s allocation.

4.        Licensed Lay Ministers and Commissioned Ministers

Candidates will be agreed by the Bishop of Fulham for training, licensing and commissioning, working with the relevant Area Wardens of LLMs and CMs. Commissioning paperwork and entry on database to be done through the Areas.

5.        Permissions to Officiate

The Bishop of Fulham will not process PTOs. PTOs will be processed by the Area Bishop of the Area in which the priest is working (or by the Bishop of London where the PTO applicant is in a national post). The Bishop of Fulham may be asked to sign PTOs where this would be pastorally appropriate.

6.        Collations, Institutions and Licensings in parishes under the oversight of the Bishop of Fulham

These will be carried out by Bishop of Fulham with the relevant Archdeacon

7.        Authorisation of lay permissions in parishes under the oversight of the Bishop of Fulham

To be processed by the Bishop of Fulham, with a list of those issued to be sent to the Area Bishop for safeguarding and database purposes (Safeguarding checks as normal)

8.        Authorisation of admission of children to HC before confirmation, by the Bishop of Fulham in relation to those parishes under his oversight, subject to Diocesan Regulations

9.        Confirmation returns to be kept by Bishop of Fulham for confirmations he carries out.

10.     Blue files of clergy serving in parishes under the oversight of the Bishop of Fulham – to be kept at Old Deanery and available for consultation by Bishop of Fulham and relevant Area Bishop (the Chichester review made it clear that we should not have two separate clergy files)

11.     MDR – to be run in Areas. Episcopal Review to be carried out by Bishop of Fulham

12.     Appointment to parishes under the oversight of the Bishop of Fulham – Bishop of Fulham (and Patron) to run whole process with Archdeacon and Area Dean. Area Bishops to meet candidates before they are appointed.

13.     CDM process for clergy under the oversight of the Bishop of Fulham  - to be referred to the Bishop of London for his determination on process



  1. I appreciate your thinking, Pete, but I still hope you and others who can shape a future for traditionalists like myself won't be cowed by the aggressive secularist agenda that's increasingly at us all. Let's not be conservative in the sense of conserving favour with a post-Christian culture that does what's right in its own rather dim sighted eyes. John

    1. Fr John,

      I am sorry that we inclusionists are not, apparently, vocal enough about this, but it is *offensive* to suggest that we are "cowed by the aggressive secularist agenda." Most of us are quite, quite clear that supporting full inclusion is very much a matter of Gospel imperative – we are all called to witness the glorious, ridiculous, gracious love of God in Christ.

      Dan Barnes-Davies

  2. Interesting take. It seems such a shame, however, that we can't find a way to accommodate traditionalists' interpretation of the Bible on this. To bend towards the majority without accommodating the minority at the same time is to give in to political tinkering and to appease the public will, over and above unity with our Christian brothers and sisters. I'm praying for a result which God and the church would be pleased with, and one which would help us to refocus our efforts on what matters most, so that the public would see a church excited about a transformational gospel. Thanks Peter!

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  4. So, Pete,you are agreed that "the game is up" .. I seem to recall someone saying that a while back at a Forward in Faith Assembly; and since then, thanks to Benedict XVI, there is an entirely new game available,called Anglicanorum Coetibus. No point pursuing the dead game; you should be encouraging those still opposed on principle to women in the episcopate to join in the new game. It's great.

  5. Plenty of choices. Personally, I'd been you folk, I'd have swum the Tiber properly, and not just stopped in the lagoon halfway across. But for those who want to stay Anglican, we need to make the best possible provision within the political realities we now inhabit. A quick settlement, and we can ensure real bishops for those opposed.

  6. Women bishops aren't "real" bishops? Possibly "male" better choice of language. However, congratulations on such a constructive and well-received intervention in General Synod.

    1. "Real" not in contradistinction to "women". What I mean by "real" in this context is male bishops who do more in a parish than merely confirm. The danger is that we give parishes who are opposed a bishop who has no real pastoral functions or duties - which is why I've put the London Plan out there