“Have you met our new Bishop? She’s a lady, you know.” Or as Stan from Dinnerladies might have said “a real female woman”. It hasn’t happened yet, and there’s lots of quiet rumblings of ‘maybe by Christmas’ which all reminds me with a nasty thud that the last time ‘they’ said it’ll be done by Christmas that hopefully, the First World War failed dismally to stop. I’d rather it was done properly than quickly, by which I mean I want Bishops to be appointed because they are called by God and have the right skills for that particular context, and I want them to be able to exercise their episcopal authority regardless of their gender (and indeed regardless of the gender of their partner, should they have one).
But the point is slightly different tonight. I tweeted earlier “If a woman isn’t appointed to 1st poss vacancy – outcry. If she is, outcry.” It is the nature of being a groundbreaker that there are always critics. In fact being a ground breaker, literally or metaphorically is deuced hard work, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The first few women who are appointed bishop in the Church of England are going to be subject to all sorts of scrutiny and pressure simply because they aren’t male.
I do, to a very small extent, know what I am talking about. I was the only female engineer on the power station where I worked, and only the second technical female employee on the site ever (the first had long gone by the time I arrived). For a short window of time, you couldn’t pick up a brochure about the company without seeing my youthful visage, complete with hard hat. There were a few folk about who were convinced I got the job because I was a woman and it looked good to have a woman for the gender statistics. Of course, the really tough bit is that those few people may well have been right. I don’t know. My degree was adequate but not spectacular – and I have no answer for those who questioned my being there. In many ways it will be worse for early female bishops – the role is inherently high profile, and they will have been appointed by a process of discernment that isn’t the most transparent thing in the world. They are going to need prayers. I’d best get on it.