Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Going round in circles: Women bishops and change

As you may have noticed, I am moving between things that are meaningful to me personally and things that are [or perhaps should be] meaningful to all Episcopalians. Of course, I am referring to the state of reactionary "feathers ruffled" in our esteemed [or is it steamed!] Communion. Even ++Rowan is uncertain, now that women will be allowed--in principle--to be consecrated bishops in the Church of England...well, at least by the year 2012. And now there is talk of schism in said Church because once again the reasserters are stuck in the Old Testament and have not yet come to grips with the fact that Christ not only fulfilled the Law but improved upon it, which God is allowed to do since He created it in the first place. That said...

I give you this clear and concise article, published on the website, by the craftful Stephen Bates, who is not shy about attaching musical endearments to certain friendly Archbishops, particularly our friend in on, you will see what I mean.



by Stephen Bates, July 10, 2006

I like the style of John Sentamu, the first black archbishop in the Church of England's 470-odd years' history. Apart from a slightly annoying tendency - at least to us fuddy-duddies - to get out his bongo drums to beat the rhythm during services at York's medieval minster (he was at it again during Sunday morning communion for the general synod) he has shown a refreshing briskness in despatching synod business.

Given the thankless task of initiating the synod's umpteenth debate on women bishops on Saturday - a debate which, as he pointed out, has been going on for about 90 years now - he dealt almost brutally with those weighty and ponderous bishops who were urging that the whole thing was going too fast and with too little consideration. This has become one of a number of delaying tactics by the decreasing rump of Church of England members who are still not reconciled to women clergy.

Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham, who is making portentousness and pomposity an increasingly tedious habit, told Saturday's debate that there was a need for much more theological reflection. Unfortunately he'd left (to attend the Durham miners' gala) before Sentamu had a chance to get to his feet to remind him that many people have been reflecting on the subject for decades and didn't need to be told to start now.

Similarly John Hind, the Bishop of Chichester, a man who is opposed to women's ordination on principle and could probably never be convinced otherwise, was almost brutally answered when he pleaded for more delay. His amendment, arguing that the church should "note" rather than "welcome and affirm" the majority view that women could be promoted to bishoprics, was summarily dismissed by the archbishop. Another opponent using another delaying tactic was told: "Make it short. I am in the hands of synod. I wouldn't vote for it though." And neither did they. Speaking the truth in love was never more of a pleasure, or less of a duty.

The point is that the women bishops' debate has been circling for many years, if not decades. There are no new arguments, just scare tactics from the opponents. Saturday's scare was the threat that the anti-women's ordination brigade would take £1 billion-worth of property out of the Church of England if women start becoming bishops.

This apparently on the basis of some legal advice they've received that they could lay claim to the freehold of church property in their parishes. It also sounds like the sort of property disputes that are beginning to infest the US Episcopal Church. Actually freeholds here are held in trust for the Church of England and are not disposable by their current holders. The sub-text was in the small print - this would be threatened unless there was a generous financial settlement for the dissenters, agreed through Parliament and imposed on the female-friendly Church of England.

The dissenters still want their comfortably-cushioned bolt-hole, even though they failed to take advantage of the last compensation offer when women were first ordained to the clergy in the mid-1990s. Then the opponents of women's ordination fled, in rather fewer numbers than they'd predicted, to the Roman Catholic Church.

Their advantageous terms caused those of us who have always been Catholics a certain amount of resentment, since it seemed they were coming aboard not because of whole-hearted conversion (they could have done that at any time previously) but because of a politically-charged disagreement over one issue. Some of them even imported their disputatiousness with them. This time round the English Catholic hierarchy seems less inclined to welcome the Johnny-come-lately apostates with open arms. The word at Archbishop's House is that they'll have to take their place in the queue like everyone else and that Anglican clergy cannot expect any special favours or speeded-up reordination processes.

When I saw the Archbishop of Canterbury on Sunday, he asked me how I thought Saturday's debate had gone. He nodded in agreement when I said that it seemed all the arguments had been made before. I wish he would take a leaf out of the Archbishop of York's book and tell what he described as his "currently confused and struggling church" a little more bluntly how he feels.
I asked him how he felt and he replied sadly: "You don't want to know." Actually, I did. But deep gloom seems to be surrounding the senior staff that the covenant plan to save the Anglican communion is falling apart even before anyone's started discussing what might be in it. One senior figure admitted he did not think the communion could survive until the next scheduled meeting of all the world's Anglican bishops in 2008.

+Katharine Jefferts Schori has been invited for an early meeting at Lambeth Palace within the next few weeks. They hope to integrate her more closely into the network of Anglican church leaders but this seems a vain prospect given that so many parts of the church's world still don't accept the idea of women in leadership, any more than gays.

Mention the name of Nigeria's conservative (and outspoken) Archbishop Peter Akinola and a strange convulsive, wringing, motion comes over Rowan Williams's hands. If only he would...if only he dared.

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