It is extremely positive to hear that the deaneries and dioceses are voting so overwhelmingly in favour of the legislation for women bishops. Having said that, there are disturbing reports from some areas of the level of animosity being expressed at some meetings and some concerns at lack of due process, or lack of clarity about the process. The following is guest post written by someone who comments from time to time on this blog.
Ever felt like a leper? You know, those poor individuals with a seriousinfectious disease, who used to be compelled to walk through the streets
shouting ʻUnclean! Unclean!ʼ This way of treating lepers was supposed to
have died out several hundred years ago. But guess what? The Church of
England can still provide you with a taste of that experience. Sorry fellas, this
one is for women only.
The CofE is currently debating the female bishops legislation through local
and regional levels (parishes, deaneries, and dioceses). As a veteran of the
debates about ordaining women to the diaconate and priesthood, I thought I
was pretty inured to the rough and tumble of it. I was wrong.
In my area the subject was on the agenda for 2 successive Deanery Synod
meetings. At the first we had 2 speakers. The first spoke for the Measure (to
ordain women as bishops) and against the Following Motion (legalising
discrimination against female bishops). He was followed by a speaker, R,
who argued strongly for the Following Motion. R used the most extreme
arguments I had heard for many years. The gist was that women are unclean
('nasty, dirty little things, ugh!' is how one woman present summarised it), and
that any man who ordains one or is ordained by one will transmit the taint on
down the line in perpetuity. His talk contained a number of errors in fact.
A time for questions followed, and I made an attempt to correct some of these
errors. I was silenced by the Rural Dean, who said that only questions were
being allowed, and the debate would follow at the next meeting. Following the
meeting it was clear that a number of women were upset and angry at the
way it was conducted. I spoke to two who had had no idea that it was still
legal for such hatred of women to be expressed publicly without challenge,
and entertained as a valid opinion. Itʼs tragic that their only experience of it
should be within their own Church.
Some of us were looking forward to the opportunity to correct the balance
and counter the misinformation at the next meeting, and I had prepared fairly
carefully for the debate. However, in the event no debate or discussion was
allowed. I challenged the Rural Dean pretty strongly on this but he denied
ever having promised a debate. He said the first meeting had been to provide
PCC's with information for their own discussion and decision, and the second
meeting was simply for the Deanery to vote. We were then not given an
opportunity to vote on the Following Motion. We were told that no deaneries
were voting on it, but he Diocesan Synod could add its own Following Motion
if it wants to. The meeting duly voted to approve the ordination of women to
After the meeting several people thanked me for speaking up, since their
recollection of the previous meeting and the process that had been promised
was similar to mine. They too were disturbed that at no time had a reply to
the extreme misogyny of the speakerʼs views been possible. PCCs had been
expected to vote on the basis of very limited information, and without ever
hearing the views of people in their own deanery.
I am not sure if the Rural Dean was right in saying that the procedure
followed in our deanery is the one being followed throughout the diocese, but
it raises some serious questions about the integrity of the process.
1) If deaneries were not to vote on the Following Motion, why was so much
time and attention given to it during the first Deanery Synod meeting?
2) Are the votes of parishes being recorded and passed up the line? If not,
weʼve wasted the time of our PCC, and the views of many ʻordinaryʼ
churchgoers are not being heard.
3) If the usual Following Motion, or a new one (as has just happened in
Manchester), is introduced at Diocesan Synod, how much weight does the
vote carry when there has been no opportunity to test opinion in the
4) Finally, I am left deeply disturbed that at an official meeting of the
Established Church feelings of such deep revulsion against women priests
should be allowed to be put without being challenged at all. These views
were so extreme that they shocked many of those present, and many of
those who heard of the meeting afterward. In a joint presentation someone
always has to speak last, but their views inevitably have more impact than
those who speak first. This is usually balanced by opening the subject up
for debate, or allowing each speaker a few moments' summary at the end.
In our Deanery Synod this did not happen.
Iʼve been left assuring women to stick with the CofE, there is still a place for
them in it. But how can I encourage lay people to get involved in the Church
of Englandʼs structures, if this is the effect it will have?