Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Painful Explanations

My ordination stole and gift of Chalice and paten
At lunch time I had to do some of that explaining which Archbishop Rowan was talking about this morning. To a (secular) youth-worker in the secondary school where I am occasional chaplain. She was outraged that the Church could discriminate against women when her job was all about building up young people's confidence and encouraging them to fulfil their potential. Wasn't the Church in that kind of business too? So why limit the potential of 50% of the population?

And then there was the dinner table conversation with my children this evening. Completely at a loss to understand why women can't be bishops.

In both cases, I explained that the Church of England had actually decided that it did want women to be bishops. It decided that several years ago. Yesterday was not about that. It was about the particular legislation which would enable women to become Bishops. General Synod, did not decide by a large enough majority that the proposed legislation offered the kind of protection that those opposed felt they needed, if their theological positions were to be properly respected in a way that allowed them to remain in the Church of England.
"Protection?!" exploded the youth worker. "Why does anyone feel they need protection from women in church?"

As I tried to outline the theological positions, or at least how I understand them, to her, I realised how hollow I sounded.
For you see, I have been sympathetic to those opposed to the ordination of women as priests (and therefore as bishops) I have read their statements and publications, many of them for an MA essay on the topic. I disagreed with them but felt with all my heart that one of the strengths of this church I have been called by God to serve in, is its very diversity. When we gain insights into God's character from other ways of worshipping and being, we are all enriched and gain a fuller picture of God.

On a personal level, I find, for reasons that I don't entirely understand, that I am deeply wounded that my calling is a source of hurt to others who also seek to love and follow Jesus. Jesus himself didn't say anything much about bishops (or if he did, the evangelists didn't record it for posterity) but he had quite a lot to say about unity. And loving one another for his sake. And about looking after those on the margins and whom society rejects. Those, perhaps with different views to the majority, those perhaps who feel that they do not have a voice.

So I really wanted to try to do that. I didn't add my name to the letter in the Independent because I wasn't sure that this was legislation that was the right legislation at the right time. I talked with my husband (who thinks I'm mad to worry about this) about my ambivalence towards the measure. I kept quiet and prayed.

At the recent church beetle drive someone (me) drew
 a female scarabeus episcopus
The strength of my own reaction to the news of the defeated legislation has taken me entirely by surprise. In a way I kind of expected it to fail. Those opposed to the measure had been very good at getting representatives elected in the House of Laity where the required two-thirds majority was not reached. Suddenly, those on the margins, whose views and beliefs I have tried so hard to respect and hear had achieved what they wanted to achieve, and in doing so have left the majority of Synod and Church members feeling they are the voiceless ones on the margins.

So, I've just read Bishop Alan's article and I think I may have been trying to be nice. And in trying to be nice I'm left explaining things I fundamentally disagree with to an incredulous youth-worker, who thinks that my ability to minister to young people, encouraging them to fulfil their God-given potential is fatally compromised; and also to my children who I otherwise encourage to know, love and serve God through his church.

So I will continue to pray and wait and listen. And I will try to respond and offer explanations with grace, respect and love. But perhaps I may have a re-think about how much I need to go on holding the pain of others who will never agree with me.
For right now, my own pain, and that of the vast majority of the Church of England is about all I can cope with.

For other, more intelligent views, and there are many more than these, but for a starteryou could do worse than  Bishop Nick BainesLucy Winkettmy very articulate friend, Revd Claire , the priest who waxes his kneesLaura the Lay Anglicana and this very interesting piece by Jemima Thackray


  1. Another 'graciously honest' piece - thanks Sheena - have been thinking about/collecting some of the stories here:

    1. Thanks for your comment Bex. Really good collection of stuff, some of which I hadn't seen. If you think it's OK and still want to, then do add it to your list.