So the Church of England have published the results of the electronic voting on Women Bishops – no, I’m not linking to it.  Motions and questions in the House are being tabled and asked, and there’s lots of opinions from all sides available via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and doubtless other more mysterious social media at a computer or smartphone near you.  Some of them are very well thought through, some of them are a bit ranting. SNAFU, in engineering terms.  (If you don’t know, google it, but not if the F-word offends.)  

I agree that it is not enough to invite everyone to “calm down, dear.”  This isn’t a commercial (although it is a dreadful advert for church).  And yes, in my darker more selfish moments, I would invite everyone who doesn’t want woman bishops to naff off to a church which doesn’t have them, of the appropriate theological persuasion. But the appropriate response to that is to invite me to naff off to a church which does. This isn’t “my” church, any more than it is “yours”.  It’s God’s.  And if that hurts me, tough. It isn’t personal, and there are many more people hurting than me from all sides.

In my really dark moments, I might bang on about being a second class priest.  But actually my ordained sisters and brothers are all first class priests.  I am a first class priest whose ministry is inappropriate in some situations.  Think about that.  There are some situations where a ministry by someone “Claire shaped (including ‘remarkably fine breasts’)” is the best possible thing.  There are some situations that I shouldn’t be allowed near, with or without female attributes. Sometimes “Claire” works, sometimes “AN Other” is far more appropriate.  

My worry isn’t the parishioner who wrote “no women bishops, ever” on a post it note, signed it, and then came up to receive Holy Communion at my hands.  That, like the voice of opposition, is a reaction to change as much as anything else.  My worry isn’t the misogynists who are using this issue to hide their prejudices. If they lose this, they’ll find another way to express their dislike of women.  No.  My worry is those with deeply held theological beliefs which mean they cannot accept the ordination of women. Or it was.  I don’t want to get personal, but there are some good men and women out there, walking closely with God, who love the Church of England just as much as I do.  And, this issue aside, we have much in common.  And when I see one of those good men being installed by an ordained woman, and not looking totally miserable/angry/dismayed, but smiling and gracious, I have to have hope.

Because I don’t want to get personal, but it is in the up close and personal that relationship happens.  It’s in the up close and personal that we learn about each other.  And the more up close and personal we get with our fellow humans, the more we learn about them and ourselves, about our shared humanity and our shared view of divinity.  

No, I’m not trying to be nice.  Believe me, I’m many things, but nice isn’t one of them. What I want (gosh look how long it took before I said that!) is to be part of a debate.  A gracious, sensible kind debate, which acknowledges God’s calling to all Christians. If that means bringing my anger and pain and sharing that with others, then fine. But we have to move past anger sooner or later, because this is not our church, it’s God’s, meant to be a fit bride for Christ. 

I have said before and I repeat, I don’t think legislation of any kind is the answer.  I wouldn’t have Resolutions A,B or C and I would have bishops.  But I am comfortable that in some places, I’m just not the best person to minister, and I am happy to exist in a Church which allows people to say that. But not without plenty of dialogue and up close, personal experience on which people can base their decision. 


13 responses to “Fallout

  1. A measured and generous response to the current debate. You are kind and compassionate, which is something lacking on both sides of the argument sometimes, including from me.

    I just cannot accept that the Ministry of Women should be barred in any part of the church and that those who oppose it, need to give a little of that generosity that you give to all to allow a shared ministry of Service to our communities and in the end to God.

    The call to ministry felt by both women and men should be welcomed and celebrated, because I see that as us being obedient to God's will, instead of ignoring it and hiding behind scripture or tradition or male headship or sacramental assurance to as excuses for an unreasonable and irrational prejudice against the ministry of women.

    It's time for change of attitude, for charity, for generosity and for mutual respect from all sides, to concentrate on the mission of the Church of Christ.

  2. Thank you. I am finding the lack of compassion and care for fellow human beings quite horrifying. There seems to be a lot of blame and demonising of people differently made and still in the image of God – and this attitude diminishes us all. I want everyone to be able to follow their calling and minister as they are called. I don't want gender to be the basis of legislation. But there are some things I don't talk to men about, and other things I find easier to discuss with me than with women. It would be pointless in my view to deny the differences. Men and women are both capable of great and wonderful works and faith, and if their fellows chose to put them into certain positions to exercise those gifts gender should be no bar.

    BUT there are things that I'm rubbish at. Things at which my sisters and brothers excel. So if I can understand that, and understand that sometimes gender makes a difference, I have to accept there are times those two circumstances collide. And I have to help others understand that in those circumstances, I will walk away, and that someone more appropriate will minister. I think that is the hard part – helping people to believe that this is about the work of God, not about me.

  3. Dear Claire

    I deleted my comment because I don't think your blog is the place for me to 'think aloud' about it.

    Prayers [']

    Pam x

  4. Hello Pam,
    I saw your comment via email, and am entirely happy for you to think aloud on my blog, any time you want. Your comment made an excellent point, that contributes to the debate.
    Equally if you prefer to do your thinking somewhere else, that's certainly not going to offend me!
    With prayers
    Claire x

  5. I replied to someone on Twitter yesterday, meaning only to further discussion, and it ended up with her apologising for making me feel bad – which she hadn't, at all. 😦

    I'm aware that different people are facing different circumstances as they react to this, and the last thing *I* want to do is make anyone feel worse. I think we all have to think this through as best we can, and of course, build and maintain good relationships wherever we can.

    I'll have a look at my comment and repost it if I think it will contribute something positive.

  6. Thank you. I'm all for anyone adding to my thinking on this. I seem to be carrying the word “grace” and also the need to avoid the words “I want”. I know you are always constructive, thoughtful, thought proving and often make me smile while I think!

    I am also aware that I am late to this particular conversation. Like most of the “middle ground” I assumed it was a no-brainer. S my thinking is probably about 10 years late.

  7. Your post reminded me of an interesting discussion I had with a doctor of Indian ethnic origin in Malaysia. She found that many Malaysian hospitals would not take her on – partly because of her ethnicity, partly because she wasn't a Muslim and mostly because she was a woman. When she finally got a post, she'd often have patients who simply refused to let her treat them. But, she noticed, that on the nights when she worked in the emergency ward, no one seemed to have a problem with her at all. She was there to keep them alive, to relieve their pain, to see patients through acute crises.

    I thought that was interesting to ponder on. Because I think ordained female priests are facing the same problems now as women doctors or doctors of colour faced. This isn't really about bishops. At its core is the idea, among some people, that only certain individuals have the keys to the kingdom, and they are born with them by virtue of their gender or the colour of their skin.

  8. That's a fascinating comparison to have made, thank you. And i would hope that the more people this doctor treated as emergencies, the more people learned through their experience that difference is not something of which to be afraid. Certainly I think that is true of women priests. It's also true of my “Claire-shaped” ministry – as more people get to know me, I am more accepted. It's increasingly common for me to meet non churchgoing families from our largest village who have seen me in other contexts, or at occasional offices for friends or distant family – and so in those situations I a, more instantly accepted than by people who have never heard of me. And some of those people, if asked beforehand, would probably have said they would prefer a man.

    It is very very hard for me to separate the theological arguments from the cultural ones in this debate – both boil down to “because you are a woman”. I think that's why I find the theological arguments to difficult to understand and to follow.

  9. Yes, she seems very confident that God has got everything in hand.

    Despite the initial reaction of shock and disappointment – which was more about the content of the discussion than the result of the vote, which I think we all knew was going to be very tight either way – I did have a great sense that 'all will be well' afterwards. And (like Viv) I'm inclined to think the measure that was voted down was just not the right way ahead.

    I don't think anyone would have been happy with a narrow vote the other way, the legitimacy of that decision would have been called into question just as much as this one is being, and there would still be a long and probably not very pretty process of working out an acceptable Code of Conduct ahead of us. So in practical terms I wonder how far it would have actually got any of us for or against – in terms of moving ahead together.

  10. Again I agree (very sycophantic of me). I hate the idea of complex legislation hedging round anyone's ministry. What I can't work out is whether we are all locked in a false dichotomy “total protection” v “we'll leave”.

    I think I am probably incredibly naive in hoping that people will try talking and listening. There was no sign of it at Synod, and I'm seeing precious little sign of it online or in the media. And without the trust, the relationship, I think the dichotomy is not so false. I just know that we all co-existed in my sending church, sometimes more happily than others, sometimes with a female priest as well as a male vicar.

    Will keep praying and talking and listening as best I can. 😦

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