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Christ The King Sunday and the General Synod vote – one Vicar’s thoughts.

Christ The King and Women Bishops.

GS = General Synod.

November 24th 2012.

This is a very personal take on the Synod vote and the theme for tomorrow’s service. I’m still working out my reaction to the events at General Synod on November 20th 2102. 

Having given her a couple of days to recover, I rang up one of our  our  Ely Diocesan Synod General Synod reps to see how she was.

“ I can tell you this “ were her opening words to me on Thursday “ The pubs around Church House were doing a roaring trade after that vote. It was indeed not at all pleasant”

I remember well the campaign of the 1980’s for women to be allowed to test their vocation as deacons and priests;  I was present in London when the 1992 vote for women priests was narrowly passed in the house of laity.

This time round I felt duty bound to listen to most of the debate last Tuesday via the internet.  I grew more and more despondent as a relentless number of conservative evangelicals  and  Anglo-Catholics stood up to speak against the legislation to approve the consecration of women as bishops.

It’s important to remember those last words. GS had approved some time ago the principle of women bishops, it was the draft legislation which was being discussed, legislation which aimed to give those who couldn’t accept women priests and bishops in all conscience  a safe place still in the C of E free from the ministry of a female bishop.

The cynical amongst us might say that those who spoke against the legislation are also implacably against women bishops anyway, and from the churning out of the old arguments it certainly sounded to me that many who were against the legislation just hoped to block it and put off what many view as the inevitable development of womens’ ministry.

In case you are wondering, the conservative evangelical wing of the church have a reading of scripture, both OT and NT which leads them to believe that and I quote “ women are by divine decree followers and not leaders, subject to authority not bearers of authority”  ( Sorry I cant give a source for the quote – I noted it down this week from the many articles written in the newspapers)

If taken literally then surely they should campaign for our Queen to be demoted as Supreme Governor of the C of E and all women who are serving  incumbents and head up their church communities should resign as their orders are fatally flawed. Women in all walks of life should not be in positions of authority and not least in the marriage relationship should be in a subordinate role to their husbands. To love, cherish and obey indeed.

Of course, not all evangelical christians in the C of E go along with that view, indeed the General Director  of the Evangelical Alliance, Steve Clifford wrote soon after the vote:

Personally, I think women should be able to hold all forms of leadership within the Church. It’s a view I came to a number of years ago through reflection, debate and biblical study.

And contrary to what reports in the press might have you think, the majority of evangelicals believe this too. In 2010, we surveyed more than 17,000 evangelical Christians and found that 71 per cent thought that women should be eligible for all roles within the Church. So do the most senior evangelicals within the Church of England – the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. ( From the Evangelical Alliance  web-site)

 

The Anglo-Catholic wing of the C of E as it were got into bed with the conservative evangelicals and oppose women bishops on the grounds that a women cannot be a priest as it must be a male person who represents Christ at the sacrament of the Eucharist. Some also feel that the C of E cannot make such a serious development without the RC and Orthodox churches moving at the same time in their practice and theology.

Again, not all Anglo Catholic Christians are against women bishops not least the Affirming Catholicism group who have campaigned hard for women bishops over the years.

Still  with me?  Yes, it is complicated, complex and a mess.  42 of the 44 C of E Dioceses voted clearly for the legislation and hoped their GS members would represent them in the London vote. On the day, the measure fell by just 6 votes in the House of Laity – it failed by 6 votes to reach the needed 2/3rds majority.  Overall 72.6 % of members voted in favour.

The picture on the front of the Church Times said it all with a disconsolate Rowan Williams hugging a fellow dismayed synod member.

 

What next? The Bishop of Ely issued a pastoral statement the next day:

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, responding to today’s General Synod vote on the consecration of women to the episcopate, said:

“I am deeply sorrowful about the failure of the General Synod to pass the draft legislation to consecrate women as bishops. The hopes of a very clear majority of churchgoers around the Church of England have been thwarted for the time being. It is terribly wounding not only for our devoted clergy who are women, but also for me and all who long for women to exercise the ministry to which God calls them in all three sacred orders.

“Now we need to pray that we may know the balm of God’s healing love in the pain of the Church’s failure to proceed. Beyond that, we shall look forward steadfastly to the reintroduction of draft legislation at the earliest opportunity which will enable women and men to flourish fully in episcopal ministry for the sake of the Church and the world.”

Millions of words have been written and spoken since Tuesday in newspapers, online and on the radio.  I’ve spoken to people about it in the car park of Bedford Crem,  Tescos, out walking the dogs, in the dental surgery and at a fancy dress outfitters in Huntingdon.  Bishop David and Bishop Stephen  are having a meeting with women clergy  next Saturday morning to support and affirm us in what we are doing. I shall be affirmed from a distance as it’s the Advent Workshop at school at that time.

What got under my skin listening to the debate was the  theology based on a  literal interpretation  of  some of Paul’s words and a reading of the creation story  (clearly one of the two versions) that women need to be in authority under men; the headship argument leaves me cold. Worse than that, I believe that over the years the teaching that women should be in submission to men has led to all kind of exploitation and even cruelty inflicted onto women. I couldn’t believe we were still hearing these beliefs  after 18 years of women testing their vocation to the priesthood and in so many cases being found to be worthy and true to their calling.

At the end of the day, or rather by 615pm that Tuesday afternoon,  it was all about power.

Would the hard done by alliance of those opposed to the consecration of women and  who felt they were being pushed out by a liberal majority get their way and stop this legislation going through? The way that GS is structured at the moment, they were just able to do that. Everyone in the chamber and I expect across the country prayed in silence before the vote was taken. We know the outcome.

It will come of course. How long it will take no one knows right now. One of the most unfortunate things about it is that there will have to be many more hours spent by church men and women on revising the legislation which could be used constructively on other things.

All the while parish people and people outside of church circles look on and find the church at best an  embarrassment or at worst totally irrelevant. Many I can assure you just don’t understand what happened and haven’ t got a clue about the headship argument, submission in the theology of the trinity or the sacramentally  flawed presence of a women priest.

And why should they? Because my check on reality tells me what most people are concerned about their families, their loved ones illness, their stories of loss, their worries over money issues, their children’s well being, their own health and well being and hopefully the big issues facing the world such as poverty, global warming and senseless killing.  How sad that the established church nationally is  fighting over women bishops when there are real and pressing issues that need to be addressed. What do our years on earth mean? What’s the point of it all?  What happens after death and why do people suffer? Where is God in all of this?

 

After the shock of the result I took stock. Then I got on with doing what I do every day. I made contact with people who are struggling with life. I organised a baptism and a wedding. I took an assembly. I wrote things for 3 in 1 and took a funeral. I walked the dogs and went to see my daughter.

I did all those things because vote or no vote,  that’s what we are called to do.

Alongside each other we are called to minister to one another as Christ ministered to his friends and those around him.  Christ The King Sunday comes at just the right time for me.

The last Sunday before Advent, traditionally called Stir up Sunday. Stir up the wills, O Lord, of your faithful people.

It says wills not emotions. Yes, it’s been very important for all of us who were dismayed  by the vote to get the anger out and feel cross that something that should have been a case  for rejoicing, the full acceptance of women in the church, has been thwarted so cynically.

But our wills, informed by love, can tell us to forgive those who perhaps should have behaved in a better and fairer way.

 

It was grossly unfair that Christ died on the cross in the way he did. His treatment was totally undeserved and his kingship, his triumph came not after a power struggle with the  Roman authorities, but after a power struggle with all that was deeply flawed in the world.

His kingship wasn’t about scoring points and winning arguments, it was in his simple actions of servant hood and forgiveness. “ Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”

 

His disciples must have felt their lives had come to a full stop after he died. How could any good come out of what had happened? It was all so needless. But their despair was turned into joy three days later and what had seemed a disaster proved exactly the opposite.

 

I have a feeling that by following Christ our forgiving, servant King, we shall look back in a few years time and see that the resolution of this impasse and see that even good came out of the No vote.  All we must do is continually say Yes to God and let Him take care of the outcome and of our lives.

And, the church is being talked about!

What an opportunity to set people right about what we are really about and encourage them to join us. Maybe November 20th will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

November 24, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Here in the Presbyterian Church of South Australia there has been constant and unending pressure to remove women from all offices and bar women from becoming elders. We have over the last few years conducted campaigns against Freemasons, gays and women. Others pass in the night, but the anti-woman lobby is ever with us. Our Presbytery is comprised of 93% of the total land mass of South Australia and in an area that is bigger than either France or Germany, we have two ordained ministers. Women elders have been mostly pushed out of the churches in the metropolitan district and our country church is the only church left with a female Session Clerk. I do not know what the answer it and while we ponder theology the “church” declines. I am reminder of the Rabbi who was asked if he could recite the law whilst standing on one leg. He did – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. This is the whole of the law – everything else is merely commentary”

    South Australia 983,482 sq.kilms
    France 7674,483
    Germany 357,092

    Comment by edgar62 | December 3, 2012 | Reply


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