Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What the Bishops Did Next

Just had this from our Diocese:


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Dear Colleagues,

You will have heard through the media of the vote at General Synod in York on Monday morning. I wanted to be in touch as quickly as possible to let you know how things stand.

In May, the House of Bishops chose to make two amendments to the legislation that 42 Diocesan Synods had supported. General Synod has decided, after considerable debate, to refer one of the amendments back to the Bishops. It is, in the jargon, para 5(1)(c), which puts into the Measure specific mention of how arrangements can be made for a parish to request alternative Episcopal oversight. It had attracted considerable criticism from supporters of women in the episcopate, although it had been seen as giving some comfort to those opposed, whether traditionalist catholics or conservative evangelicals.

The Press will probably treat this as a fudge and signs of indecision. Having sat through the debates, I think that is unfair. It was quite clear that everyone - including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Steering Committee - recognised that the amendment had not been subject to sufficient scrutiny and gave rise to serious concerns. There was no prospect that the Measure, as amended, would get the necessary 2/3 majorities in each of the three Houses of Synod as it stood. Had it been voted on, and rejected, then the whole women Bishops legislation would have failed, and it could not be re-introduced until a new Synod meets in 2015.

The timetable now is this. The House of Bishops will meet in September to further revise the Measure. Clause 5(1)(c) will have to be rewritten to avoid the current pitfalls, and the draft Code of Practice will have to be further developed to clarify the arrangements that will be put into place. That revision will be brought to an extra meeting of General Synod, to be held in November.

I hope this will be done in conjunction with the interested parties, rather than by Bishops alone. The Bishops must approach the further revision in a spirit of listening to the various sets of opinions. Exactly how the Measure will be further amended I cannot say, but I believe the leading constituencies in this matter (WATCH, Forward in Faith, and Reform), as well as key individuals, will be using the time to try and ensure the revised version is one that can gain the required majority, while offering the best possible safeguards to those opposed on theological grounds, so that we can move forward towards consecrating the first women Bishops as soon as possible: something that almost everyone now regards as desirable.

I will be meeting with representatives of our women clergy, traditional anglo-catholics and conservative evangelicals over the next few weeks. I will also speak about the situation at Diocesan Synod to be held at Millfield School on Wednesday evening next week.

Please join me in prayer for continued patience and a spirit of discernment among us all.

PS: Archbishop Rowan’s remarks on the situation can be seen on his website at (scroll down the page).
Helpful to know what's going on, the original Bishops amendment might have had a better hearing with some more background like this. A few thoughts:
 - I'm concerned that the various pressure groups are being given what looks like priveliged access to the process. Fair enough, they represent 'constituencies', but they also have a life of their own, and a lot of folk in the CofE are not represented by these people. Is General Synod supposed to function as a representative democracy, with individual delegates taking soundings from their own Dioceses, or in this case has it turned more into the House of Commons with whipped 'parties' supporting one line or another, plus a few crossbenchers? I personally wonder whether the time between now and November would be better spent in prayer, rather than rounds of press releases and position statements designed to influence the process and the outcomes.
 - I wonder if the trouble started with the motion the Dioceses were asked to consider and report back on: it referred to a Code of Practice which didn't yet exist, and left vague the question of how people who opposed women bishops would be accomodated (or not). So, if you were in favour of women bishops, but also in favour of accomodation for traditionalists, did you vote for the motion or against it?
 - As I said earlier this week, there is a deeper problem of lack of trust. A family only needs to resort to law and codes of behaviour if relationships have broken down. Traditionalists fear that WATCH stands for Win And Treat Conservatives Harshly, and that without explicit safeguards they will be simply be marginalised. If most of the parties are spending their time in conference with like-minded people within their lobby groups, and not with one another in an attempt to listen, understand and love, then I can't see the entrenchment slacking off.

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