General Synod: Speech Moving Motion on Women in the Episcopate
Wednesday 16th February 2005Parts 1 and 2 of a 2-part speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Thank you, Mr Chairman, and thank you all for an extremely probing and honest and helpful debate.
A few points by way of a general response, but first of all a general clarification. We are, as I noted earlier, asking if time will be made available for Synod to determine whether it wishes to set in train a process. In other words, at this stage we are still very much at the beginning. Much of what has been said this afternoon may be said again appropriately at later stages in the process when we have to take further decisions. I hope that in the light of that that, people won't feel that today's discussion unduly or unfairly forecloses the decisions we still have to confront.
Robert Cotton made the important point that we don't discern when we've stopped disagreeing; we discern within the process. That's the process that we're in and I hope that this motion will enable this process to go forward.
Father Houdling pointed out where some more work needed to be done on both sides of the discussion. How far are we buying into a notion of equality which, while we may take it for granted, may still have some theological questions hanging around it? How far on the other side are we buying into notions of symbolism which in fact need some criticism or expansion? I hope that's exactly the kind of work that I hope will be going on in the months ahead in dioceses and elsewhere. Though I should say that the group that the bishop of Guildford will be chairing isn't there primarily to take up theological issues as in the body of the report but to look at the more particularly at the practical issues of how we go forward.
Jenny Thomas made a crucial point about the high representation of women clergy among clergy of ethnic minority origin and, I think, stressed for us a point which we are constantly in danger of losing sight of; that there are major issues around the representation of ethnic minority clergy in our church and that this issue is not wholly divorced from that question given the demography of the clergy from that constituency that we have.
I've commented already on David Bowen's amendment and here with gratitude and appreciation his sense of the distinctiveness the call to episcopate as opposed to priesthood. Whether it has the conclusions that he wishes to draw, members will make their own judgement - I'm not convinced, I have to say.
Sheila Cameron's point, looking back over a long history of debate reminded us that in 1990 that there was an agreement that you couldn't really sustain quite such a level of distinction between ordination to the priesthood and the episcopacy is worth pondering; that's part of our history as well.
Sir Patrick made some very salient points about the practical and other difficulties in July and noted that this ought to be an election issue for the next synod. I rather suspect that it might be anyway, if I'm honest, and there is another point that perhaps ought to weigh with us just a little; that the Rochester process began with the end of the last Synod, it would be a shame if this Synod which has begun to take on board that work didn't continue it a stage further.
Christine Hardman's comments about the characteristic slapdash expeditiousness of the Church of England's methods will ring bells in many quarters, I'm sure. But she reminds us that whatever we do in voting on this and whatever lies ahead in the process our priority should be constantly 'what is it that makes the gospel credible?'
Penny Driver I think quite movingly noted that she and I suspect many others in this chamber whoa re not looking for women bishops 'at any cost' to the church but that discernment was already upon us and that God's way forward might be less clear to us than the various ways forward that we might at this stage map out for ourselves but that we had to trust something in the process and something of the work of the Holy Spirit in that. The idea that we should be modelling working with difference is I think precisely what this whole debate should oblige us to reflect on and work at.
I take the point about the representation of just one woman on the group; I think that will need to be considered further. The view from Rome is a delicate matter; but I think, as was said by a later speaker, we simply have to use our sense and our sensitivity as and when such circumstances may arise.
I would want to endorse very strongly what Dr Christina Baxter said about the fact that this is the synod that has done the exploration and therefore has some responsibility to think about the next stage. As she said, we don't bind our successors and, as I've repeatedly noted, options remain open and it's open to our successors to halt. We don't bind our successors though I hope that we can take it for granted that there is some proper continuity from synod to synod so that we're not starting from scratch every time we have a new election.
Margaret Brown reminded us very forcibly that we are of course answerable for our belief not to society, not to the House of Bishops, not to the will of the majority but to the revealed faith of Jesus Christ, as she put it in her opening remarks. I hope that there is no-one in this synod who disagrees that this is indeed what we are answerable to. Such disagreement as there is is about the scope of what that revealed faith of Jesus Christ enjoins at every point in Church order, not about the fact of revelation its priority and our call to obedience.
I forebear to comment much on the history of women's football in the twentieth century, but the question which bishop John put to us 'Have we heard enough to stop us moving forward?' puts it, I think, very challengingly. And the challenge in his words also to bishops to work out rules with sensitivity and imagination, even if not enshrined in full legislation is a very significant element in this discussion. If we do go for single clause legislation that will indeed be a challenge and that might lead people to lean one way or another on the question, depending on how much you can rely on the sensitivity and imagination of bishops, and I'm not the best person to comment on that.
I was delighted to hear David Banting's hesitation about disagreeing with the Archbishop of Canterbury ... but David's plea for sensitivity to genuinely felt conscientious scruple and his very apposite warning about the tyranny of the majority I think Synod will have heard and, I hope, heard prayerfully and responsibly. It's an extremely important point and relates to what was said earlier about what we are in fact responsible to, or rather whom we are responsible to and I'm glad to have that comment made.
And finally, Joy Tetley has reminded us that 'God's right time' is not something that we can always discern simply by totting up a number of favourable signs in the overall environment. And that's important because some of the debate has, as it were assumed that when things are going in a positive, inclusive, gender-equal way in society at large, that must mean that this is the easy, the right, the obvious time. And that can't be the argument on which we base our decisions.
'God's right times are rarely pain-free', said Joy and I think we're all very much aware of that after the debates this morning and this afternoon.
So once again Mr Chairman, I'm very grateful to those who have contributed this afternoon and those who've sat patiently and I'm sure prayerfully through the debate; I'm happy to commend to you again the motion before you as a way of beginning a particular phase of our work, a particular phase of our discernment, where we shall need all those qualities of patience and listening that have been so many times referred to in today's excellent debates. Thank you very much
I beg to move.
After the theological uplands of this morning's debate, we move into the more shadowy though I hope not more boggy areas of the process. There will be a good many people who will regret that so much time is being given to this subject. They will include those who feel that it is so self-evident that the obstacles to women becoming bishops are insuperable that it isn't worth debating it; there will be those for whom it is so self-evident that we ought to proceed immediately that it isn't worth debating it. And it's no secret that there are those within the House of Bishops who probably veer to one or other of those positions. Yet the report which you have before you represents the agreed position of the House as a whole following a discussion in January where the outcome was, I think, of remarkable unanimity and convergence.
The starting point is of course that there remain deeply held divergent views on the underlying issues; views illustrated in this morning's very probing, very thoughtful and very responsible debate. We haven't finished grappling with those views and their differences and we haven't yet finished the task of listening carefully to one another before reaching decisions which are going to be major decisions for our church as virtually all the speakers this morning underlined.
So the case for the kind of timetable envisaged in the report from the House of Bishops is this. The report of the Rochester group was published a bare three months ago. And although we have, as we were reminded, no less than five diocesan synod motions on this subject, not every diocesan synod will have had the chance to look fully at the report itself and the view of the House is that it won't do us any harm to have that bit more time for discernment, dioceses having an opportunity to look at the report, the chance to digest some of what is coming in from our ecumenical partners as again we were reminded this morning.
And so the proposal before you is very simply that sufficient time be made available in July for Synod to decide whether it wishes to begin the legislative process enabling women to be consecrated as bishops. the exact steps are set out in paragraphs 9 and 10 of GS 1568 if Synod voted in the affirmative.
And if you look at that paper you will see that the idea is that in July Synod would determine what steps should then be taken, and there's a possible course of action for the House of Bishops in consultation with the Archbishops' council to bring a report by January 2006 for a debate in the corresponding group of sessions this time next year. And that intervening period would have enabled a thorough amount of work to be done on the various practical options involved. Because before legislation could be drafted, Synod would need to have decided on preferred arrangements and the extent to which they should be enshrined in detailed legislation rather than a single clause legislation backed by codes of practice, again, points that were raised and discussed to some extent this morning.
But before that decision is taken the House of Bishops would be grateful for the opportunity to offer Synod its own assessment of those options. And os with that in view, the House of Bishops has established a small group to carry out some further work on its behalf, evaluating the options – the practical options – canvassed in the Rochester Report. I've asked the Bishop of Guildford to chair this group and the Bishops of Blackburn, Lincoln and Willesden will also be membership, and Archdeacon Joy Tetley has agreed to act as a consultant to this group. It will meet for this time during this week.
The balance is not easy between undue haste and undue delay. The House of Bishops has attempted to find a way forward which allows, we believe, reasonable time for digesting the report, digesting also this morning's debate and beginning to form a mind on where broadly speaking the options should fall in framing legislation.
Paragraphs 11 of GS 1568 go into detail about the framework and timescale of decision making which we hope are realistic and I'll say no more at this juncture except to commend to you the mutual prayer and patience and mutual understanding that we shall need in going forward on this subject, hoping that in months between now and July there will be ample opportunity for more of the kind of constructive work that we heard this morning being adumbrated. More of the prayer and conversation and mutual listening which again I think we heard about - I think particularly of what Christina Rees had to say about the listening exercises she's been engaged in – more of that to be done – and, of course, we do need to think very hard about the practical options. These are, I don't think I need to remind you, sensitive and deep, far-reaching issues.
They are indeed about what kind of church we think we want to be; they are indeed about balancing the call for visible manifest catholicity and the call to fidelity to the Gospel as we believe we are receiving it. There are issues about the interpretation of scripture; issues about the very definition of the bishop's office issues about the symbolic order, issues about the proper and responsible use of the gifts of women and issues finally about our own capacity to model for the world around ways of doing our business responsibly, lovingly, and at the same time creatively and courageously.
I move the motion standing in my name.
© Rowan Williams 2005